I just finished up two amazing weeks of work in class at the seminary and I was reminded throughout those two weeks how much I love learning about God and growing in His love. The way this particular doctorate degree program is set up, the intensive class structure for each course doesn’t allow for much distraction in terms of other life responsibilities. I know it sounds grueling but it was actually a reprieve. I can share with you the obligations and responsibilities of my life but many of them are probably the same as yours. Our attention is often pulled in a hundred different directions at once. We have work and the duty to provide for the needs of our family. We have school and the pressure to fit in as well as the pressure to excel academically. We have sports and the relentless desire to be the best. We have family and the struggle to maintain and strengthen our most important relationships. We have friends and the demands to be present to all those we value. You may have a spouse and the promise you made to love and cherish them. You may have children and the commitment to raise and nurture them into responsible, self-sufficient adults. You have your personal possessions and desires and the constant drive to get more and do more. Take a minute and think about your life and see if I’m not right that many, maybe even most, of us contend with all of these things in our life to some degree. Sadly, what we tend to do is sprinkle a little God in there whenever it works out. Is it any wonder our lives are a frazzled mess?
While all those things remained a part of my life during my two weeks in class, I had to push them aside and focus on just One Thing: God and my relationship with Him. I’ll be honest with you, it was absolutely liberating! And you know what? The world did not stop spinning because I took two weeks and focused on just One Thing. I know it seems strange coming from a pastor. You’re probably thinking God should always be the One Thing that is in the forefront of my life. And your right, it should be! But it isn’t always. As much as I want to stay focused on the One Thing that is most important in life, I often let the things of this world distract me. It doesn’t happen all at once mind you. No, Satan is far too clever for that. Instead, it’s a little thing here and a little thing there and pretty soon the One Thing is just a little thing that I’ll get around to eventually and life is suddenly out of balance. If you’re like me, you find ourselves longing for that One Thing because you know when you pursue that One Thing you’ll be in a place where you are safe, where you can rest, where you become who God created you to be.
1The LORD is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid? 2When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. 3Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident. 4One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. 5For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock. 6Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the LORD.
This beautiful Psalm was probably written by David. Unfortunately, nothing in the Psalm gives us a clue as to when it was written and what David’s circumstances may have been that inspired him to write it. Therefore the best we can do is speculate that David is on the run from his enemies and has been separated from the temple, his family, and his friends. We know David experienced these events at various points in his life when he was being pursued by King Saul who desperately wanted to keep the throne from David and by Absalom who was desperate to take the throne from David, his father. David was still very young when Saul was trying to kill him and that experience certainly had to be frightening and confusing since it was God who anointed David as king in Saul’s place yet God had not removed Saul from the throne. However, being pursed by his son may have been David’s darkest days. By that point, David was much older and, having experienced many battles, was probably less fearful of death. Instead, David was likely deeply hurt by the actions of his son and lonely because he had to flee all the things that brought him joy—his family, his friends, his possessions, etc. In response, David longs for the One Thing that can soothe his brokenness and loneliness; the One Thing that is ultimately the most important thing.
1The LORD is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?
You have to keep in mind that the Psalms are actually prayers so it’s not intended to be narrative like much of the rest of the Bible. In v. 1, David is not so much telling us what he believes as he is reminding himself of what he believes as a source of comfort and confidence. All of us at one point in our lives have been a prisoner of fear—fear of loss, fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of being misunderstood, fear of the future, fear of sickness, and some even a paralyzing fear of death. “Yahweh is described as the psalmist’s ‘light,’ ‘salvation,’ and ‘stronghold of…life.’…these three terms provide nuances to the psalmist’s understanding of Yahweh’s protective role. Yahweh is the illuminating light that vanquishes the ‘[deep] shadow of death’ (Ps 23:4) threatening the psalmist. The light marks out the ‘paths of righteousness’ (cf. Ps 23:3; 25:4, 9), along which God leads the faithful. Yahweh is also the life-saving stronghold that delivers the psalmist from the attacks of his enemies. Because of that guidance and protection, he is unafraid.”
The opening verse of our Subject Text is a great reminder that we have nothing to fear in life because we have committed our lives to Jesus, the Light of the world (Jn 8:12), the one who has saves us (Acts 4:12), and protects us (Jn 17:12).
2When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. 3Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.
Some of you who read that first verse may have been tempted to say, ‘Yeah but you have no idea what I’m facing.’ To that, I say, you’re right I don’t know what you’re facing or having to endure right now. However, God knows exactly what you’re facing or enduring right now. Remember this a prayer to encourage us, comfort us, and remind us that the God is able to overcome even our greatest obstacles.
The language of vv. 2-3 conveys the idea that David once faced a ruthless enemy that seemed unbeatable. However, with God’s help, David’s former enemies were defeated. As a result, David can fearlessly face any present or future enemy. I know it seems like this doesn’t apply to most of us who aren’t facing any sort of military engagement (although I readily acknowledge that some of you do, in fact, live in that reality every day). But the principle is the same regardless of the battle you are facing—Cancer, divorce, bankruptcy, unemployment, academic challenges, social challenges, addiction, or even death, God is able to care for you either by helping you defeat your personal demons and enemies or by giving you the strength to faithfully endure the battle against them.
4One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. 5For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock. 6Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the LORD.
Of all the things David could have asked for in vv. 4-6 in the face of his enemies—he could have asked for greater weapons, more men to fight by his side, greater strength, or that God would simply grant him victory, instead he wants just One Thing: To constantly dwell in God’s presence. David knew that everything else he could ask for would only be a temporary solution for an immediate need. However, being in the presence of God provides a long-term solution to all our current and future struggles. It is the One Thing that endures; the One Thing that overcomes every obstacle. God knows that with His presence in our lives we will be more than conquerors and that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither present nor future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all of creation will be able separate us from His protection, provision, and love (Rom 8:38-39 paraphrase).
The text says that David wanted to dwell in the house of the LORD and to seek Him in His temple. You have to understand that ancient believers didn’t experience God in the same way that we do. “C. S. Lewis has unusual sensitivity for what is going on in statements like this (about David’s desire to ‘gaze upon the beauty of the LORD…in his temple’)…He begins by acknowledging the way we naturally distinguish between the forms of religion and the spiritual reality behind it. We think of an awareness of God or of God’s qualities entirely apart from the tangible elements of worship. But, says Lewis, for the ancients, including the ancient Jews, religion was not like that. The tangible and the intangible were not separated from them but rather were joined. They actually seemed to experience God in the temple. Thus their appetite for God was something to be satisfied almost physically. [Let’s try to understand that experience in the context of the Psalms.] ‘Their longing to go up to Jerusalem and “appear before the presence of God” is like a physical thirst (Ps 42). From Jerusalem His presence flashes out “in perfect beauty” (Ps 50:2). Lacking that encounter with Him, their souls are parched like a waterless countryside (Ps. 63:2). They crave to be “satisfied with the pleasures” of His house (Ps. 65:4). Only there can they be at ease, like a bird in the nest (Ps. 84:3). One day of those “pleasures” is better than a lifetime spent elsewhere (Ps 10).’”
For all of David’s faults I have no doubt about his sincere desire to seek God’s face and live his life in God’s presence. I know that for most people this is their desire for one hour on Sunday mornings but what about all the other hours and days of the week? How do we seek God’s face and fan the flame of desire to spend forever in His house? For some of you it’s easy. You’re desperate. You’re lives have been devastated by the death of someone close to you, by your own failing health, by unemployment, by divorce, by addiction, by hatred and war. For you, seeking God’s face and desiring to live in the comfort and protection of his presence is all you have. But what about those of you who have no real struggles to speak of in your life? You’re in perfect health. You’re happily married with healthy children and enjoy the company of your family and friends whenever you want. You live in relative peace and freedom. Your biggest struggle is trying to decide if you should buy a bigger house, a nicer car, or go on a more extravagant vacation. For you, it’s hard to imagine that you might still be missing One Thing since you seem to have everything already. Honestly, I think it is harder for you than for those who suffer and have lost much and have no choice but to cling to that One Thing because that One Thing is all they feel they have left. How do you shift your focus to the One Thing that is really the only thing that ultimately matters?
Let’s stay with David for a minute as an illustration. Here was a man who had everything—power as the king of the dominant nation in the land. He had possessions that we can only imagine including an endless supply of gold, silver, and bronze along with precious stones beyond belief. He lived in a magnificent palace and moved from place to place in the finest chariot pulled by the choicest horses in the world. He had at least eight wives that we know of and he was beloved by the people. David wasn’t in need of a single thing. He had it all. However, in the blink of an eye, when his son Absalom was determined to take the throne from his father, David found himself alone and on the run. Everything was gone—the power, the riches, the women, the “good life” was gone. At his most desperate hour, what did David long for? It wasn’t the return of all the things that we think define the “good life.” No, the One Thing David wanted was the One Thing that never changes and can never be taken away—God and his relationship with Him. If you want to know how to stay focused on the One Thing that matters most in life, remember that all the things of this world; the things you believe are so important in your life can vanish in an instant. Stop right now and think about all the things of this world you believe are so important in your life. What would you do if they were suddenly taken from you? You know it can happen! What if it does? What will you long for? If you long to have all those things back then you’ve lost your way; you’ve lost focus. If instead, you sense a growing desire for just One Thing—God, then you can be confident that you will be able to face any and all challenges in your life. Today I want to challenge you to try something, whether you are sailing through life without a care or life is crushing the life out of you, make a commitment that for today you will seek to know and be present to One Thing—God and His desire to be in a deep and abiding relationship with you! You can do that in many ways but in the spirit of this lesson, I would like you to do that by praying the first six verses of Psalm 27 with me. And then tomorrow, do it again. And then keep doing that until the One Thing becomes the only thing that you can say you honestly need in your life and watch what happens.
My friends, “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.” (Num 6:24-26)
(Audio version: Music--"One Thing" by: Hillsong Worship and "Better Is One Day" by: Passion)