“ONE THING I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to BEHOLD the BEAUTY OF THE LORD, and to meditate [inquire] in his temple.” (v.4)
The Book of Psalms is a gem, a gift of the utmost preciousness. In it we see how OT believers loved the word of God (119:97); worshipped with exuberance (47:1; 150:3-5); had a profound spirituality (116:1); had many and varied rich experiences of God (34:8); were confident in the Lord (142:3-5) and were exultant in praise and adoration (148). By its standards much of our Christian spirituality today looks tame and superficial. It was the worship book of Jesus while he was on earth – and Psalms 120-134 were sung by the disciples after the Last Supper, and Psalm 22 was quoted by Jesus from the cross. It is one of my chief joys in life to go through this book in my private devotion every month. There is not a mood I am going through, a feeling, a heartfelt aspiration, a desire for more of God, a confession which are not covered in this book of songs and poems. The Celtic missionaries of this land were made to learn two books of the Bible off by heart – the gospel of John and the book of Psalms. That’s not a bad way to go about your life.
Psalm 27 is the middle song of three, which all deal with King David feeling insecure and fearful around his enemies. Life is hard, there are pressures on every side, and how is he going to maintain his peace. The enemies are all around him; they seek to destroy his reputation; they want to undermine all his achievements. Verses 1-3 exhort us, from David’s own experience, to seek the Lord in times of fearfulness; verses 4-6 tell us to focus on the Lord; verses 7-12 remind us that when fear returns we need to redirect our attention; and verses 13-14 remind us to continually reaffirm our faith in him who is our “light and our salvation.” He will come to deliver us. We will see his vindication. We must take courage and wait for the Lord to act.
As good as all that is, I want to concentrate on verse 4.
In Psalm 27 we have the King of Israel, who, one imagines, had enough national and political stuff to deal with of his own, making a singleminded, undistracted commitment to enjoy the constant presence of the Lord. He says, in effect, the best answer to distracting fears, to hopelessness, is to behold God, to dwell in his presence, to inquire/meditate (the word means both) of him. For David, being preoccupied with God’s person and his will is the essence of life – we might call it the very stuff of discipleship. In the very midst of distress and trouble, which encroach like darkening shadows all around him, he has found the Lord to be his light - the One who gives life, and knowledge of whose presence with him dispels all fear within him. By the way Psalm 27:1 is the only direct reference to the Lord being light in the OT. (There are glorious descriptions of what the Lord does by his light in the Psalms – eg 18:28 – and 104:1-2 describe the Lord as being “clothed with light”, but this is the only place where the direct statement is made, till the New Testament.)
Let’s look again at verse 4. And note this: it is David’s undying aspiration to see and savour the beauty of the Lord. What caused David to be so dedicated? Why was he so focused on worshipping in the presence of the Lord so intently? The answer is unusual for our day: it was the BEAUTY of God himself that was his fixed focus. It was his uncreated beauty, his indescribable splendour, his glorious majesty, his unfathomable love, and his incomprehensible grandeur. Here is the King of Israel and here he is wrapped up in the King of all glory. As Psalm 145:5 says, “on the glorious splendour of your majesty and on your wonderful works I will meditate.” It was both a settled determination and an ardent wish, a fervent longing which would run throughout his life – notice the tenses: future, “I shall seek” and past “I have asked.” This is the serious calling of David.
Do you ever think of the beauty of Christ? There is scarcely anything that is excellent, beautiful, pleasant or profitable which is not used in Scripture to describe Christ. Hence, he is called a lion, for his great power and utter conquests; he is called a lamb for his great love and pity and his humble compassion; he is called bread and water for the spiritual refreshment he gives; he is the true vine because all his branches (you and I) receive our very life from him; he is called rose and lily because he is transcendently wonderful; we know him as the bright and morning star because he is the dawning light in our lives; and he is termed the sun of righteousness because his pure beams of holy love have reconciled us to the Father. Think but a moment of him, reflect briefly on him and our hearts’ affections are warmed, our wills are strengthened, our eyes light up – he is not only the desire of the nations but he is also our chief delight.
Christ is beautiful because he is the highest – he is higher than all the kings and queens of history, all the emperors, all the celebrities. He is higher than the heavens, and higher than the highest of angels. All are like worms before him. All the nations of the earth mere drops in a bucket before him. He knows everything and there is no limit to his knowledge; his wisdom is perfect and none can circumvent him; his power is infinite and none can resist him. He is immense. He is awe-inspiring. He is inexhaustibly brilliant. There is no dimming or fading of his glory.
He is the Saviour – the merciful, gracious Saviour, before whom even eternity is too short to sing his praise. He found us alone, broken, improperly dressed – so in his infinite goodness he became our righteousness – and he clothed himself with us. And what do we find as we dwell on him, our hearts consumed with his worth? GRACE, just GRACE. I have used this quotation before but its very merriness makes it suitable to be repeated again tonight:
“Grace is the celebration of life, relentlessly hounding all the non-celebrants in the world. It is a floating, cosmic bash shouting its way through the streets of the universe, flinging the sweetness of its [music] to every window, pounding at every door in a hilarity beyond all liking and happening, until the prodigals come out at last and dance, and the elder brothers finally take their fingers out of their ears.” (Robert Farrer Capon)
We are a dull lot, more consumed with our daily life, the very rounds of living than dwelling, beholding and meditating as David did.
Nothing brings greater peace,
Nothing puts more life into our bodies,
Nothing empowers our wills more,
Nothing brings more perspective
Than meditating on the majesty of God; than knowing the surpassing glorious beauty of the Holy Trinity; than dwelling – being at home with – the greatness of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Oh to know and savour such a God!
You see, as we dwell beholding, as David did, we become like what we behold. And we gain a new perspective. This is the way to stoke your love for Christ. Heave your heart into your mouth and praise Christ for all his perfections. Offer up a sacrifice of praise – tell him you do not feel like worshipping him, but you are jolly well going to. Think more and more about your Saviour and less and less of yourself. I want to lose my heart to Christ day after day after day. I figure I was created to be engrossed by him. I reckon he wants me to be enamoured and thrilled by him – who he is, no less than what he does. What will it be like to be utterly enthralled by the immensities of his character? Or enraptured by his ways? I want to be excited by Christ, held in worshipful awe before his face. I want to be astounded and absorbed by the depths of wisdom and love I find in him. I want to be agog at his work in my life. I want to be staggered at all the ways he leads me. And still, I want more of him. And still there is more of him for me to know, enjoy, contemplate and become like. Why can’t I be even more thunderstruck and thrilled with Christ than any mad lover is with his mate? Because Christ is infinite, because he is the chief of thousands upon thousands, I want to be found wrapped in his presence, intent upon every thing he does. It seems to me that Christ stands before me in his beauty and I am amazed that there are folk who think I shouldn’t be electrified and captivated by such a vision! How could I not be? Let’s hear that verse again: “The one thing I ask of the Lord – the thing I seek most – is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, delighting in the Lord’s perfections and meditating in his temple.” I want to end with a familiar story – the contrasting tales of Ulysses and Jason (he of the Argonauts). On their journeys both had to sail past some rocks. These rocks were especially hazardous because there existed some demons called Sirens, who used to sing the most beautiful of songs, and which, when heard would completely bewitch the sailors so that they would be lured to their death on these awful rocks – that’s where we get the phrase ‘siren voices’ from. Now Ulysses thought he was man enough to resist the Sirens. He told his men to plug their ears with wax so that they would not be distracted; he, on the other hand, wanted to hear the full range of the eerie song, so he asked that he be lashed to the mast and left there to experience the fascinating horror of the Sirens’ voices. He nearly went mad with desire and he made a fool of himself so taken in, so enchanted was he by what he heard. When it came to Jason’s turn to sail by these rocks, he came up with a different idea. Neither he nor his men would have their ears waxed up. He didn’t want to be tied to the mast. Instead, he urged Orpheus, a marvellous singer and lyre player, to play a better tune, a more delightful song than the one the Sirens had. Jason was convinced that the Sirens would not at all enchant him and his sailors because they would be enraptured by what Orpheus sang and played. And Jason was right. The Argonaut sailed through the deadly rocks, ignoring the Siren voices – and all because they heard the more beautiful, more wondrous, more stunning song that Orpheus sang. Well, there are obvious parallels to our faith. The world, the flesh and the devil are constantly urging us to wreck our spiritual lives on the rocks of compromise, sin, fear and doubt. And there are a few foolhardy Christians who imagine they are safe, even under a prolonged assault. How sad. But there are those who, seeing the danger of living a Christ-like life in the midst of a hostile world, opt for Jason’s choice. These choose to lose their hearts to Christ. These fall before him in utter fascination and breathless worship at his amazing Person. These become more and more taken up with his beauty, his strength of character that they are only dimly aware of competing siren voices. They are pursuing the Son of God with all they have and all they are.