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Oct 16 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 14, 2018 – Psalm 84

“A Body You Have Prepared for Me”
(Hebrews 10:5)

Every Christian I know loves the Psalms, and each person has her or his own reasons. Some of the psalms provide us with reassuring comfort and security, knowing that our God cares for his weak and wounded children and that he is a rock and fortress in times of distress. Other songs inspire us to worship God and provides us with words that help us give expression to our praise and gratitude. There are psalms in which we discover an empathetic poet, one that is familiar with our griefs and feelings of despair (and even depression!). Then there are those raw and violent prayers that call for God’s judgment on the wicked, the cheats, the oppressors, and others who have slandered or betrayed us. Even with all of this we are only scratching the surface of what we find in the Psalms.

I would want to say appeals to me the most about the Psalms is the way a few of these godly poets express their spiritual longings. For example:
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 in His temple 
(Ps. 27:4)
As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So my soul pants for You, O God (Ps. 42:1)
O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly;
My soul thirsts for you, my flesh yearns for You,
In a dry and weary land where there is no water 
(Ps. 63:1)

WARNING: These notes will be longer than those I used when I gave this message. Even still, I feel like too much has been left out that could have been said. One day, I’ll write another book.

Psalm 84 begins with this kind of strong desire for God
– in fact, it includes words and allusions from these other psalms
• here, the singer is on his way to Jerusalem
◦ the closer he gets, the greater his joy and anticipation
• do you remember going to a favorite childhood home?
◦ for me, it was the ride to my grandparents’ home
◦ grandma’s fresh-baked treats were waiting in the kitchen
◦ grandpa entertained us with tall tales and magic tricks
– the favorite home of the poet of Psalm 84 was the temple–God’s house
• so he looks forward to arriving in Jerusalem
◦ he is imagining his first glimpse of the holy city
◦ and once again enjoying the worship of Yahweh led by his servants
• what is the message of the Psalm?
◦ that worship in the temple is about a divine encounter
◦ it is where each local resident and pilgrim appears before God (v. 7)

I’m going to walk us through psalm, then share what’s on my heart

How lovely are Your dwelling places,
O LORD of hosts! 
Psalm 84:1

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”

That means, the experience of beauty is subjective, personal
– “lovely” – the Hebrew word suggests a romantic attraction
• for example, it is used to tell us what Psalm 45 is about — “A Song of Love” (title)
◦ it appears repeatedly in Isaiah 5:1, where it is my well-beloved (lover)
• the Hebrew root for this word means to boil
◦ it speaks of a strong, enthusiastic and emotional attachment
– not to the sacred buildings, but to the LORD of hosts
hosts refers to the vast numbers that are under God’s command and for whom he is responsible
◦ it is used of his armies (human and angelic) celestial bodies (sun, moon and stars),
◦ every living person and thing on earth, and of his people, Israel
• God’s presence in the temple explains the emotion of this psalm
◦ it is what makes everything about Jerusalem wonderful to the poet

My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the LORD;
My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. 
Psalm 84:2

The physiology of desire

The poet is describing what he felt in his body
– originally, the meaning of the Hebrew word for soul was “throat”
• how did it come to mean soul?
◦ we have learned how the Hebrew Scriptures uses “eyes” and “ears”
◦ they can refer to the literal organs or their function; i.e., sight and hearing

The book, Body Symbolism In the Bible explains, “when [someone] thought of an organ, [they] thought automatically of its abilities and activities at the same time.

• so “throat” was both a literal body part and what passed through it
◦ food and water passed through it
◦ air also moved through the throat, and that meant life, then the living person or “self”

Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being (“soul,” Gen. 2:7). The breath of God made the clay sculpture a living person.

– what did the poet’s soul do?
• it “longed” – the Hebrew refers to a strongly felt desire
◦ to go pale from wanting or to pine away
• “yearned” – suggests being consumed by desire

Moving from the soul, we come to:
– his heart: the center of a person’s internal life
• the body’s engine, moving the the limbs
◦ it has its own set of feelings, emotions and moods
◦ it also has a central role in forming thoughts
– his flesh: this is the whole body
• but especially that which lies closest to the surface

What are his heart and flesh doing?
– the NASB has, sing for joy, but other translations read, cry out
• the basic sense in the Hebrew language was volume
◦ whether in song or a loud cry, we are not hearing a quiet, reserved voice
◦ rather, his heart and flesh are feeling and vocalizing strong emotion
• to whom do the heart and flesh sing? Who hears them?
◦ the poet himself
◦ he listens to his body and hears its language of feeling and emotion

The bird also has found a house,
And the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her egg,
Even Your altars, O LORD of hosts,
My King and my God. 
Psalm 84:3

A metaphor: birds looking for a place to nest

These small birds look for a place that is accessible and safe
– and they find it near God’s altar
• and if birds, how much more a human person like the poet
• he knows God’s altar to be a place of redemption, of forgiveness and acceptance
– again, LORD of hosts – but he also, “My King and my God”
• I love the possessive pronoun, “my”!
• God has me, but I also have him
◦ the way a child has a parent or a sheep has a shepherd

How blessed are those who dwell in Your house!
They are ever praising You.
How blessed is the man whose strength is in You,
In whose heart are the highways . . . 
Psalm 84:4 & 5

Two beatitudes

The poet imagines that the people who live in the temple,
– that is, those whose calling has them there all the time
• must be very blessed, always being surrounded by worship
• and spending their days so close to the presence of God
– this beatitude is separated from the next one by a strange little word
• strange, because we have no idea what Selah means
◦ many scholars believe it is a musical notation, perhaps a rest
◦ a few think it means to stop singing and meditate through a musical interlude
• I’ve learned whenever I come to Selah to pause
◦ to take a breath and become mindful of the moment and what I’ve just read
◦ I’m convinced we could benefit from writing Selahs into our days

The second beatitude is not about people who live near the temple
– but those, like himself, who must travel long distances to get there
• this person receives strength for the journey
◦ strength is in You sounds a little odd — wouldn’t we say his strength is in them?
◦ but it is what they know is in God, and awaits them that gives them strength
• but they also carry the highways that take them there in their hearts
(again, the “heart”)
◦ they love the journey to this destination
◦ so, without trying, they have memorized the highways that take them there
– you might notice that I did not finish the end of verse 5
• that’s because it is unfinished in the Hebrew text (the NASB inserted “Zion”)
• naming the location is delayed until the end of verse 7
◦ this is a literary device that occurs in a number of places in scripture
◦ perhaps it is meant to build suspense or give special emphasis to the delayed word or phrase

Passing through the valley of Baca they make it a spring;
The early rain also covers it with blessings.
They go from strength to strength,
. . .
[Appearing] before God in Zion. 
Psalm 84:6-7

Even the desert trails are not oppressive

If you’re going to travel with a group, these are the best people
– its much better than traveling with a bunch of complainers
• they make it a spring – they make the dry places refreshing
• they’re not traveling from town to town, watering hole …
◦ but from strength to strength – always finding enough energy for journey
– now at last we are told their destination: Zion

O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer;
Give ear, O God of Jacob! 

Behold our shield, O God,
And look upon the face of Your anointed. 
Psalm 84:8-9

The poet asks the LORD God of hosts to hear his prayer

He came all this way to meet God,
– to make a request and get a response
– again these verses are separated by a Selah 
• so let’s pause and feel his need to be heard and helped

His prayer is for the king
– if the king is kept in God’s care, the nation will be safe
• and the temple will always be there, serving its purpose

For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand . . .
I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God
Than dwell in the tents of wickedness. 
Psalm 84:10

Again, a second location in line one is delayed
– we have to wait until the end of the verse to find out where he would rather not be
• meanwhile, one day in the temple courts is compared to a thousand days
• “threshold” is more literally, “stand in a doorway”
◦ or think of the humble place of a “doorman”
• he would rather spend one day in a lowly position in the temple,
◦ than live for years in the tents of wickedness 
◦ regardless of whatever comforts or luxury they may offer

For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
The LORD gives grace and glory;
No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly. 
Psalm 84:11

This may refer to anyone visiting God’s temple
– or specifically to the traveling mercies shown to pilgrims
• the sun enables travelers to see,
◦ the shield offers protection
grace keeps them going
◦ they experience the glory of God upon their arrival
• or to sum up all God’s care for his faithful servants:

No good thing does He withhold from those who walk [in integrity]

O LORD of hosts,
How blessed is the man who trusts in You! 
Psalm 84:12

A closing beatitude

This blessing is not for the person living living in the temple
– or the person making a pilgrimage there
• but for all of us, because it is the only way to know God and stay in him
– last message of the poem is trust
• this is the place where God will always bring us
◦ the place where our circumstances will drive us
• trust, and not the temple, is where we must learn to live

Conclusion: Here is what is on my heart
(and it has to do with what the poet said about his heart–and his soul and flesh)

Any spiritual progress we will ever make depends on what we do with our bodies
– Greek philosophy separated the soul from the body
• it placed them in two different realities
• we still think that way, but there’s no such thing as disembodied prayer
– the human body stores emotions from past experiences
• when an experience is remembered, those same emotions are reproduced
◦ for me, this means an intense reaction to embarrassment, shame, and humiliation
• a friend of mine who is a massage therapist once told me,
◦ when working certain muscle groups, her client may spontaneously begin to cry
◦ yoga instructors have witnessed the same thing
– our bodies are trying to get our attention, but we aren’t listening
• we are so in our heads that we’re deaf to everything below our chins
• but you know what I mean by “heartache” — the feeling is real
◦ ignoring or numbing it prevents us from making psychological and spiritual progress

One way of learning to listen to our bodies can be A Prayer of Surrender

Begin with a slow deep breath as you relax into God’s presence

Listen to your body
• notice any tense or tight muscles
◦ check in with your jaw, the base of your skull, your neck and shoulders
◦ catch yourself if you are gritting teeth or wringing your hands
◦ pay attention to an upset stomach, heart burn, eye strain
• I’ve noticed when our cat or dog wake up in the morning,
◦ the first thing they do is stretch
◦ why do I think I can climb out of bed and start running around
◦ if I don’t check in with my body, I’m liable to throw my back out or end up with a stiff neck
• learn safe and effective ways to stretch
◦ you are likely to hear body say, “Thank you”

Jacob Caldwell has written that “all pains can be read for their messages. . . . We need to attend to the details of the pain, to the exact location and sensation, to what it is like.” (To this I would specify whether the pain is sharp or dull, if it stings or throbs, if it presents as a constriction or a weakness, etc.) “The language of the body isn’t all pain and restriction. It is also a source of pleasure.” (And here I would specify a deep breath, yawning, a spontaneous smile–in other words, don’t ignore the simple pleasures, but take a few seconds to listen to them)

Ask your body, “What are you trying to tell me?”
• the answer may be mundane, like, “You should not have eaten that extra slice of pizza”
• or it may be an important insight: “This person (or situation) situation makes me nervous.”
◦ your body is asking you to investigate why this may be so

Surrender your body and its messages to Jesus

Fr. Romuald, once counseled me to “connect everything to God. Even sin. Even the thought, ‘God, I hate this!’ If you can’t connect something with God, then you’re lost. . . . With the negative thought in mind, in the same breath say ‘Jesus.’ Jesus is not merely a word, but a person. To say his name is to invite him into your corner. To say his name is to intersect the two realities.”

In The Open-Focus Brain, Les Fehmi tells how he used his first EEG-biofeedback device on himself in an effort to produce alpha waves (a relaxed state, but one in which the person is still alert). Over twelve days, for two hours a day he tried everything he could think of to produce that restful state. He says, “Finally, in the thirteenth session, I was exasperated and gave up and accepted the fact that it was simply impossible for me to create more than baseline alpha on demand. Fortunately I was still connected with I have up. The second I deeply accepted my failure, the EEG registered high-amplitude alpha, five times the amplitude and abundance I had been producing before. . . . I had been trying too hard and didn’t know it. By surrendering I had slipped into alpha . . . .”
His body knew what to do without his mental meddling.

• surrender is not resignation
◦ you are not surrendering to your pains or feelings
◦ you are surrendering to God
• you are surrendering whatever attachments you have to pain or pleasure
• your are surrendering whatever your body brings to your attention
• surrender is a way of relinquishing our compulsive need to control

Why practice a prayer of surrender?
We listen to the wisdom of the body
to hear and know ourselves better,
to practice a greater honesty with ourselves
We surrender everything to God
in order to find our way into God’s rest,
in order to experience relief from
the emotional stress of our anxieties
and the physical strain that puts on our bodies
Bringing everything to God
–and leaving it with him–
builds our trust
and deepen our relationship with him
And isn’t that why we’re here?

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