Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Blessing of Living in God's Strength

(A meditation on Psalm 84:5-8)

5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
6 As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
7 They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.
8 LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob!

There’s a second blessing that the psalmist mentions in Psalm 84. You see it in verses 5-8, and this is the blessedness of having the Lord as your strength and your desire. Notice v.5: Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

In the original language it is quite clear that the blessed one is in singular, not plural as in ESV, “Blessed are those....” Rather, it should have read, “Blessed is the man whose strength is in you, in whose heart is the highways to Zion.” So while verse 4 says blessed are those who dwell in your house, verse 5 proclaims a blessing on the one who has the highways to Zion in his heart.

Many Bible scholars wrestle with the statement, “in whose heart are the highways to Zion.” What’s that referring to? Does it mean that in his heart he wants to go to Jerusalem to worship? Maybe. Or does it mean that in his heart there are highways that lead him to God?

However you interpret it, the point is that the blessed man is the one who dwells far from God's house, but who longs to be in Zion with God. That’s his ultimate goal. He wants to know God. He wants to fellowship with God. He wants to praise and worship God, and in his heart there’s this single-minded focus on communing with God.

That’s the blessed man. He knows that there’s one thing that he wants, and that is to see the beauty of the Lord. There’s one thing he desires, and that is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. His dependence and delight is in the Lord.

Again, that’s very important for us today. One of the things that John Piper has so often reminded our generation is that we often look at God as the greatest means to our own ends. In other words, we view God as the One who can get us the things that we really want, instead of the One who Himself is the greatest end, and thus the One that we really want the most.

Quite often, because we view God as the best means to accomplish our ends, we miss the greatest blessing of the gospel, which is union and communion with God Himself, delight in God Himself, reveling and enjoying God Himself. Again, this union and communion is through our Lord Jesus Christ. He alone is our mediator to God. He is God in the flesh, the God who lives among us.

As you may know, three times each year, all the faithful Jews from all over the world were to gather in Jerusalem according to the word of God. As the people of Israel dwelt in their towns, they were to keep the road to Jerusalem in their hearts.

And yes, we have the great privilege of worshiping every week in the heavenly holy of Holies, but that should not cause us to be forgetful of Zion throughout the week! On the contrary, our access to the holy of Holies, which we have every day in prayer, should produce even greater devotion to God than we see here in the sons of Korah! Because the real question is where do you find your strength? And the text says, “Blessed is the man whose strength is in you [Lord].”

While we have access to the holy of Holies, we don't dwell there, at least, not yet. We are elect exiles, chosen pilgrims who are granted a glimpse of heavenly glory. But still we walk by faith and not by sight. And as we journey in this life, the LORD is truly our dwelling place, our refuge and our fortress. But as we look around us the prospect is far from comforting. We see the Valley of Baca (verse 6), which is the "the valley of tears."

Some old hymns use the phrase, the "vale of tears," as a reference for this life. Well, Psalm 84 is where they got this phrase. As we walk on this pilgrimage to the heavenly Jerusalem, just as the pilgrims go through the Valley of Tears, we make it a place of springs. How? How do you transform the Valley of Tears into a place of springs?

If your strength is in the Lord, then you may go from strength to strength. The pilgrim in the valley of the shadow of death still walks in the strength of the Lord. The pilgrim who appears before God in Zion arrives there in the strength of the Lord (v.7).

The goal of your pilgrimage is to appear before God in Zion. And as you walk through the Valley of Tears, the Valley of Baca, remember that the Lord is your strength.

So where do you find strength for the pilgrimage? You find strength as your soul longs and faints for the courts of the Lord. You find strength as your heart and your flesh sing for joy to the living God.

The strength of the blessed man is in the Lord. By His Spirit, Jesus Christ is our strength. His resurrection power energizes us to live the Christian life. And the Spirit of Pentecost enables us to proclaim this truth boldly, strengthening us daily as we pass through the valley of tears and valley of the shadow of death.

Dear friends, understand that it is God who holds you up in Christ. It is God who supplies you the ability to put one foot in front of another, to keep on going to the house of God, to keep on serving Him there. You are utterly dependent upon the Lord. He must supply the strength to you if you are to live the life of faith. You who depend on the strength of the Lord are supplied with the strength of the Lord. That's what makes you blessed.

Now think of the contrast. So often our culture celebrates the person who is independent, self-sufficient, and autonomous. The “self-made man” was a great myth of nineteenth and twentieth century; the man who doesn’t depend on anybody; the man who’s done it on his own; the man who is self-sufficient.

But the psalmist says in utter contrast. No, the man who is blessed is the man whose strength doesn’t come from himself. True strength is supplied by the Lord. Blessed is that man whose strength is in You, O Lord. You supply the power of his life.

The psalmist – these temple servants – understand what the believer delights in. The believer delights in the Lord. In his heart is a highway that leads Him to worship God. That’s the blessed man. He goes from strength to strength, and he appears before God in Zion. That’s his reward. He wants Christ. He wants to worship God in Christ, and God gives him that blessing.

Verse 8 concludes this second section with the prayer of the sons of Korah: “O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob!”

If God does not hear, then what is the point of walking through this valley of tears? But we can go forward, rejoicing towards the courts of the LORD because we know that God hears our prayers.

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