Psalm 27 – A Psalm of Yearning
(NB – Unfortunately there is no audio of this sermon)
There’s an old story of a young man who grew up on the wrong side of town. He was bright and full of good intentions, but down on his luck. Until one day, through a series of events he came into possession of a magic lamp that could grant his wishes. If you believe the Disney version, he was only allowed three wishes. And he couldn’t wish for more wishes, couldn’t wish for someone to die, and couldn’t wish for someone to fall in love with him. I wonder if you had Aladdin’s lamp, what would you wish for?
What are your deepest desires? Would you wish for fame, fortune, happiness? Maybe a good job, a happy family, and long life? A packet of Tim-Tams that never runs out? What would you wish for?
The writer of Psalm 27 could do with a few wishes. Right from the start of the Psalm we see trouble. Verse 1 is a bold expression of confidence:
1The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
Of whom should I be afraid?
But there’s also the hint that there is something to be afraid of. The next two verses use great poetical license to describe the situation. The Psalmist is surrounded by people who have it in for him. There’s a bloodthirsty horde out to get him:
2When evildoers assail me
to devour my flesh—
my adversaries and foes—
they shall stumble and fall.
3Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me,
yet I will be confident.
Towards the end of the Psalm we see that the attacks come from those around him too! Look at verse 12:
12Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries,
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they are breathing out violence.
The false witnesses aren’t foreign foes. They’re likely to be fellow Israelites who are trying to accuse him of blasphemy or some other capital offence. There’s no shortage of people out to get him!
The introduction to Psalm 27 tells us that the writer is David. If you’re familiar with his story you know this reflects David’s early life. He faced no shortage of confrontations! At times you could say he was without a friend in the world. Even his King and best friend were against him!
In this situation there are plenty of things that David might’ve wished for. He might wish for the downfall of his enemies. He might wish for his own protection. He might wish that he could live happily ever after.
But David only wishes for one thing! He doesn’t need three wishes. There’s only one thing he’s longing for. Look at verse 4:
4One thing I asked of the LORD,
that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the LORD,
and to inquire in his temple.
The only thing David is longing for is to dwell in God’s house. The temple is the place where God had especially promised to dwell. It was where God’s people could seek his presence. Coming into the sanctuary, coming into God’s presence helps us readjust to the reality of the world. It helps put things into perspective. In Psalm 27, we see it gives a sense of peace, of comfort and security.
Faced with all, sorts of trouble, it’s no wonder that David wants to dwell in the temple forever. But I don’t think we’re to take this literally. He’s not wishing that he could live in the temple 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks of the year! Sometimes that’s how much it feels like I’m at church, but it’s not something I wish for!
Instead, what David is yearning for, is for God to be with him always, no matter where he is. He wants God to be present in his everyday life, just as he’s present in the temple. He wants to be able to see God’s beauty all around him. He wants to delight in what God is doing in his people, as his plans are fulfilled. And David wants God to be with him, guiding him in his life. He wants to be able to inquire of God, to be taught and led on level paths as verse 11 puts it. He wants to God to be present with him as he journeys through life.
In this, David is echoing a longing that’s present throughout the Psalms. It’s something we’re all encouraged to yearn for, as Psalm 105:4 says:
Seek the LORD and his strength;
seek his presence continually. – Psalm 105:4
The Psalms tell us that there’s nothing better than being in God’s presence. Psalm 84 expresses it so poetically:
For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than live in the tents of wickedness. – Psalm 84:10
Really though, the Psalm’s are just picking up a theme that’s present through the whole bible.
Remember back in Genesis 3. After they’d sinned Adam and Eve heard God walking in the garden and they hid from his presence. Likewise when he rebelled Jonah tried to flee from God’s presence. The Bible tells us that sin separates us from being with God. It cuts us of from the blessing that comes from being in his presence. Psalm 51, reminds us that the worst thing that could ever happen to us, is for God to remove withdraw his presence:
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
– Psalm 51:11
Why is this so bad? We read in the Bible that God’s presence is where we find peace and joy. Moses knew that without God’s presence there was no point in the people going on after the Exodus. And think of that great picture that we are given at the end of Revelations. In his vision John sees the new heaven and the new earth as a place where we dwell in God’s presence forever:
3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” – Rev. 21:3-4
So in Psalm 27 David can say that the one thing that he wants, more than anything else, is to be with God, and for God to be with him. David yearns to dwell with God forever. But he’s not expressing a longing for heaven, a resigned trust that it’s only after death we can know the peace and joy of God’s presence. David longs for God to be with him in the present, in the here and now. And as he says in verse 13, he’s confident that he will see God at work in the land of the living. Though, of course we don’t see this hope fully fulfilled for some time. John tells us that God came to dwell with his people:
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, (lit. dwelt among us), and we have seen his glory, the glory of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14
Here’s the beauty, the fullness of God’s presence! We see it in Jesus. And now what’s more, now God dwells within us! We heard in our series on Ephesians that Christ dwells in our hearts by faith. That God the Spirit dwells within us, strengthening us in our inmost parts! And, God’s Spirit is making us into a holy temple, the church is the dwelling place of God!
It’s the promise of God’s presence that gives David confidence in Psalm 27. David knows that no matter how numerous, or how ferocious his enemies are, if God is with him they will not ultimately prevail. And did you notice that the thought of God’s presence doesn’t just give him confidence, it makes him overflow with joy. Verse 6 could be translated as making a noisy sacrifice. God’s presence leads us to make a holy din! David’s bursting with praise, because God is with him.
6Now my head is lifted up
above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the LORD.
It would be nice and easy if the Psalm ended here, wouldn’t it? On this confident note of praise. But did you notice how the second half of the Psalm goes? From verse 7 we see that yearning after God doesn’t mean the end of all our problems. God’s presence doesn’t make the bad things in life go away. In verse 12, the adversaries and foes are still there, still seeking violence.
So while he has renewed confidence and joy, he’s still yearning. He cries all the more strongly to God. It’s almost as if his yearning has gotten stronger, more passionate, more desperate. The more he knows of God’s goodness, the more he thinks about the blessings that come from being in God’s presence, the more he realizes he needs it in the here and now, so the more strongly he keeps calling out for it.
Desiring God’s presence is something we need to keep urging ourselves to do. In verse 8, David has to keep reminding himself to seek God’s face. Through verses 7-9, David pleas with God six times not to desert him. He might not fear his enemies, but what he does fear is that God’s presence will be removed. His greatest fear is total abandonment. Even having his mother and father forsake him would be tolerable, just so long as God remains with him. There’s just one thing that David has asked for, but it’s something he continually seeks, day after day. We have to be persistent in desiring God to be with us.
Yet in the end, the Psalm returns to that note of confidence and encouragement. It ends with a reminder that despite all distractions, despite all discouragements, the one thing we’re to long for above anything else is God’s presence. We’re to wait for the Lord. We’re to wait, to look for, to long for, to yearn for God’s presence. We’re to look to God for strength and courage. And we’re to have strength and courage as we persist in our desire for God to be with us.
What are you waiting for? What do you wish for? What does your heart long for? Psalm 27 tells us that the first thing, the most important thing, the only thing we should be yearning for, is God’s presence. We should desire nothing else than that God would dwell with us and that we might dwell with him. Would you trade in all your other wishes for this? Will you, as Jesus said, ‘Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven?’