Heavenly heartedness

Psalm 84

22 January 2006

Arborfield Christian Mission

Morning service


What image does the phrase "heavenly minded" conjure up for you? I suspect that for many of us it will bring to mind that saying, "He's so heavenly minded he's no earthly use" , and in turn that will conjure up pictures of bumbling clergymen and moon faced monks. Am I right, or is that just me?

But is it really possible to be too heavenly minded?

Well, Psalm 84 is a challenge for us to become heavenly hearted. It is said that King David had a heart after God's own heart. When God chose him to be king of his people he looked not at his outward appearance, but right into his heart. What did God see there? What does a heart after God's own heart look like?

Now, there is some debate about whether this particular Psalm was written by David. For what it's worth I don't think it was, but it doesn't matter at all. It still shows us what kind of heart God blesses; what kind of heart he wants us to have. It shows us what it is to be heavenly hearted, and I hope we'll see that cultivating a heavenly mind is the essence of growing a heavenly heart.

A heart that longs for God

The heart that is blessed is a heart that longs for God.

Look at what the Psalmist says in verses one to four. His soul yearns, even faintsref to be where God is. His heart and his flesh cry out for God. Every fibre of his being is longing to be with God.

This Psalm has some similarities with Psalm 42, in which we find the writer way up in the north if Israel, a long way from the temple in Jerusalem. The temple was the place where the presence of God was most clearly made known in Old Testament times. So, to be distant from the temple was to be distant from God.

In Psalm 42 we find the writer deeply distressed at being so far from God, and here in Psalm 84 we again find him longing, yearning, fainting and crying out for the presence of God.

He is longing for the house of God first because it is simply lovely, verse one, and second because it is safe, verse three. He is envious of the birds who can so easily flit in and out of the very innermost place of God's presence. They can find safety and security there, while he is far away from home and having to face the dangers of the world.

But for all his talk of the house of God, it is clear that in this Psalm it is God himself whom the Psalmist is longing for. God is mentioned by name fifteen times in these twelve short verses. The Psalmist is passionate about God. He longs to be with God himself.

At the end of verse three we see why it matters to him so much. God is not an impersonal force for him, he is my King and my Godref. He knows God personally. He loves God personally. And that is why it is so hard for him to be far from God. When I travel on business I long to get back home, not because of the house in particular, but because my family are there. I know them and I love them, so I long to be with them.

Does your heart long for God? Do you yearn to be in his presence? Or would you rather he kept his distance?

Of course there is a sense in which if we are Christians we are never really out of the presence of God. For one thing, his Spirit lives in us. For another, we are being built into a new house of God on earth: every believer in every church is a living stoneref making up a worldwide temple where God's presence is found today.

However, there is another sense in which the best is yet to come. We won't ever fully know what it is to be in God's presence until a future day when heaven and earth are reunited. As the Apostle Paul puts it, Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.ref

If we are believers, there will be a day when we fully enter into the presence of God, naked and unashamed. Are you looking forward to it? Does your heart long for it?

Verse 4 says that it is these people who are blessed, those who dwell in God's house for ever.

Now, it took me a while to realise that they are praising because they are blessed, not that they are blessed because they are praising. I don't know about you, but I'm not really into "praise" services. Is it OK to say that? It's just a personal thing, but two hours in the Big Top at Spring harvest frankly drives me round the bend. The prospect of doing that for ever is not something that I'm personally longing for. I can imagine the angels patrolling and pointing, "Edgington, praise harder! Get those hands up higher!"

But of course, it will be nothing like that. I hope. No, in God's presence we will be praising because we are blessed. We get a glimpse of that even now, don't we? Sometimes we come across something so wonderful that it just makes our hearts soar with praise: the tiny fingers and toes of my daughters when they were born; the news of my father-in-law becoming a Christian; a glorious sunset; an email from a friend telling about how God is at work in his life. When we are with God it will always be like that. There will be so many good things, so many blessings that we will never stop praising him. Everything we see will make us say, "that's fantastic Lord" , "That's amazing Lord" , "You are wonderful Lord" .

Matt Redman captures it well in the chorus of his song "Let everything that has breath" which says,

If we could see how much You're worth
Your power, Your might
Your endless love
Then surely we would never cease
to praise...

That's what it means, Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.ref

If we want to cultivate heavenly heartedness—if we want to have hearts after God's own heart—then we would do well to join the Psalmist in meditating of the loveliness of God's dwelling place. A heavenly heart is cultivated by a heavenly mind.

It seems to me that for many of us that will require some work. When life is tough it's natural to long to be with God in heaven. In days gone by, and today in many parts of the world, Christians yearn to leave this world and be with our God. For some of us life is still tough, and for all of us there are times when life hits us particularly hard. But on the whole we do not cherish the prospect of heaven as much as we could.

The more comfortable our lives, the harder we need to work at provoking our hearts to long to be with God. We are too much at home in this world to long easily to be at home with God.

So, teach your heart often to long to be with God. Meditate often on the brokenness of this world and the perfection of the world to come; the insecurity of this world and the safety of God's home. Do it in your office, in your car, while washing up or doing the ironing. Like the Psalmist, capture a vision of how lovely is God's dwelling place. Set your thoughts beyond this world and on the glories of the world to come. This takes work and effort and research and imagination, but it is the foundation for what follows in the Psalm, and the key to enjoying the blessings of God.

A heart that's set on pilgrimage

A heart that longs for God is the first characteristic of the heart that is blessed. The second is a heart set on pilgrimage: you want to get to heaven; are you prepared to do what it takes to get there?

This is verses five to eight. Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.ref

Pilgrimages to Jerusalem were a great feature of Jewish life in the Old Testament: they were a religious duty and a religious joy.

So the Psalmist is envious of those who are able to make the journey for themselves, although he knows that it has many dangers. Climbing up to Jerusalem in the hill country was hazardous: pilgrims faced heat exhaustion by day and bandits and wild animals by night, and no doubt many other dangers.

But in order to get to the house of God, this is what they needed to do. The ones who were too timid to set out never experienced the joys of his presence. The ones who were too lazy to make the journey never experienced the the blessings of God.

It is the ones who were prepared to say "It's a hazardous journey, but we'll set out trusting God to get us there" who were the ones who were blessed. These are the ones whose strength was in God, verse 5. They'd set their hearts on pilgrimage and trusted God to do what it took to get them there.

In verse 6 we read about one of the hazards the pilgrims faced on their journey, somewhere called the Valley of Bacaref. Now, nobody really knows exactly where this valley was, but it was obviously a dry and desert place. A harsh place for a pilgrim. But, because these pilgrims had put their trust in God it didn't hold any fear for them. God worked miracles and turned this barren valley into a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. It should have been a hazard, but God turned it into a blessing, because their strength was in him; their hearts were set on pilgrimage.

In many ways, the Christian life resembles a pilgrimage as well. It is a journey along which the Christian makes progress as he or she follows Jesus.

But sometimes, spiritually speaking, it feels like we are in that dry valley, doesn't it? It seems to me that quite recently the general atmosphere in this country has become significantly more hostile to Christians. We are facing a great deal more outspoken criticism and even discrimination than I've heard before. There is outright hostility from Richard Dawkins' television programme, and I was amazed to hear a contributor to a recent radio 4 programme describe people who believe in God as "mentally ill" . We are walking through a dry, parched and may be even hazardous land.

And it is for this reason I find this verse particularly beautiful. As the pilgrims are oppressed by their surroundings, they instead bring blessings. The valley was dry, but because of them it became covered with pools. The Hebrew word of pools is very similar to the word for blessings: this is a deliberate word-play by the Psalmist. You'll see it in the footnote if you have an NIV Bible.

So, not only does God provide for the pilgrims as they face hardship, he turns that hardship into blessing. As we are cursed by the world for our pilgrimage, in return the world is blessed. When the church is criticised and ridiculed, as it is so often these days, our response is simply to get on with our journey, and the world is blessed in return. Don't you think that is lovely?

God's promise is that those prepared to make the pilgrimage—trusting him for what they need, despite the hazards along the way—every one of them will make it to his presence. Verse seven, They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.ref. A heart set on pilgrimage has nothing to fear, however hard the journey looks.

What's the next step on your pilgrimage? Where is God asking you to go? How does he want to bless you and bless others? Are you prepared to put your strength in him? Perhaps there is a life change that God is calling you to. Perhaps he's challenging you to give more and keep less. Perhaps there is someone he wants you tell about him. Perhaps there is a relationship you need to break. Or perhaps there's some other challenge along your way. But whatever God is asking, it is your readiness to face it that reveals whether your heart is set on pilgrimage.

For the Christian, entry into heaven is free: Jesus has paid the price that we cannot pay; it is Jesus' death that gives us entry into God's house. Entry is free to us, but the journey may be costly. There may be many challenges along the way, but we can set our hearts on pilgrimage with confidence because we know that God will bring us safely there in the end.

A heart that's undivided

A heart that longs for God; a heart that's set on pilgrimage. In the last few verses we see a third characteristic of the heart that is blessed by God: it is a heart that's undivided.

In verse 10 the Psalmist contrasts life with God and life without God. Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.ref Here the word "doorkeeper" probably doesn't refer the a particular role in the temple, but to the position on the very threshold of the temple. The Psalmist reckoned it was better even to be on the mere fringes of God's presence than to be a full member of any other household.

As Spurgeon puts it "God's worst is better than the devil's best" .

The heart that is blessed is the heart that truly prefers the things of God to the things of the world. We know it in our minds, don't we? It's obvious that what God offers us is superior in every way to what the world has on offer, yet time and time again we turn away from God and join the world in seeking things to satisfy us, don't we? Our divided hearts lead us astray.

Why, when I could be praying do I so often end up watching television? Why, when I could be reading the Bible do I so often end up reading a novel? Why, when I could be trusting God would I rather trust my bank account? Television and novels and piles of cash are not necessarily bad, but they become bad when my heart prefers them to my God. Why is it that we spend so much time feeding ourselves with the junk that the world provides, rather than the banquet that God longs to give us?

Often, I think, we see God as begrudging and miserly. That's why we look elsewhere to find satisfaction, pleasure, enjoyment, fulfilment. But the ironic truth is that by turning away from God we are actually cutting ourselves off from any source of blessing. We are looking for fulfilment in the wrong place.

That's what verse 11 tells us, no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.ref It's not that God is not a begrudging giver; it's that we are hopeless receivers.

The word translated "blameless" here is perhaps best translated, given the context, as "undivided" . It is the one who unfailingly turns to God—the one whose heart is not divided between longing for the things of God and longing for the things of the world—it is this one who is blessed.

The irony of this is immense. I turn to the things of the world because I think I will find good things there, but in doing so I am actually cutting myself off from the source of every good thing. No good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blamelessref.

It is the undivided heart that will receive unmitigated blessings. If we are really seeking good from God, there's no point being half-hearted—dividing our heart between God and the world—the whole-hearted person will miss out on no good thing.

In the New Testament Paul's letter to the Ephesians starts by reminding them that God has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christref. We need to ponder these blessings, to appreciate them, to learn to treasure them and cherish them. We need to turn our thoughts frequently from the world around us to the heavenly realm that is the home of God. We need to capture a vision of heaven. Then we will grow hearts that are undivided.


So, this is what heavenly heartedness looks like: a heart that longs for God; a heart that's set on pilgrimage; a heart that's undivided.

But what are we to make of v9? Perhaps you noticed that I skipped nimbly over it. At first it seems a strange plea from the Psalmist, and somewhat out of place. Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of your anointedref. What is it doing here?

We have to remember that the writer of this Psalm is not actually in a position to enjoy all these blessings he's writing about. The Psalmist longed to return to the house of God; he wished he could join the pilgrimage that others were making; he was stuck far from Jerusalem in the midst of the wicked. For the Psalmist to achieve his heart's desire he needed some help.

So, in verse 9 we find the Psalmist praying for the king. The king is the "shield" and the "anointed one" . The Psalmist prays for the king, because he knows that all the blessings of the Psalm are only guaranteed by the constant rule of the king. Unless the king is ruling, there will be no temple in which to find God's presence. Unless the king ruling, to undertake the pilgrimage would be impossible. Unless the king is ruling, the wicked would over-run the land. He prays for the king because he knows that the king is the only one who can make sure he will achieve his heart's desire of visiting the house of God.

What are we to make of this? Well, perhaps it becomes clearer if I tell you that the word translated "anointed" here is the Hebrew word "Masiah" . It is written "Messiah" in the New Testament, and translated "Christ" in Greek. Do you see? This was written a thousand years before Jesus, but it points forward to Jesus the true King: he is the anointed one. It is in Jesus that the Christian believer is guaranteed the blessings of this Psalm.

Perhaps like the Psalmist you are far from God: you want to know him, but in your heart you know he is distant. Perhaps you are fearful of the Christian life; you are reluctant to set out on the journey knowing that it has many demands. Perhaps you find that although you want to do good, you so often end turning away form God and doing the worldly thing, you feel that you are not good enough for God.

Well, king Jesus is ruling. If we put our trust in him he will guarantee our hearts' desire. Jesus has bought us entry into heaven. Jesus promises to keep us safe on the journey. Jesus will help us to overcome the evil in our hearts.

In fact, without Jesus we can never be heavenly hearted at all. It is as we come to Jesus that God fulfils the promise he made through Ezekiel.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.ref

By nature we have hearts of stone; they will never respond to God. If you want to be heavenly hearted then begin by making Jesus your king. He will work a heart-transplant in you and your journey to heavenly heartedness can begin.

Once we have that new heart, that heavenly heart, then Psalm 84 shows us how to keep it healthy: we must be as heavenly minded as we possibly can.