Heavenly heartedness

Psalm 84

29 January 2006

Woodley Baptist Church

Morning service


Are you a head person or a heart person? Are your decision processes driven by your reason or your feelings?

Well, it's a bit of a trick question, because this is a distinction that the Bible doesn't really make. In the Bible, the centre of ones being is the heart. The heart is where we do business with God. The heart is the foundation on which all the other aspects of our lives are built: our wills and our beliefs, as well as our emotions.

You might have noticed that recently I've been spending some time in the Psalms, and one of the many benefits of that has been to open my eyes to just how fundamental heart-stuff is in the Bible. It's not that the Psalms don't teach doctrine—they are, after all by far the most quoted part of the Old Testament in the New—it's that they uniquely put that doctrine in a whole-person context. And when you see it in the Psalms you begin to see it everywhere else in the Bible as well. So, strikingly, the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 10 verse 10 it is with your heart that you believe and are justifiedref. We'd say head, wouldn't we? But he says heart, because the heart operates at a deeper level.

Again, when God chose David to be king of his people he looked not at his outward appearance, but right into his heart. What did God see there? We're told that King David had a heart after God's own heart; what does a heart after God's own heart look like?

Now, I don't actually think Psalm 84 was written by David, which puts me against such heavy-weights as Calvin and Spurgeon, but what can you do? But whomever it is written by it undoubtedly shows us the kind of heart that God blesses. It is a challenge for us to become heavenly hearted as well as heavenly minded.

A heart that longs for God

First of all, 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 writer 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. After all, his Spirit lives in us, doesn't he?

However, there is another sense in which the best is yet to come. We won't 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 as some kind of reward for praising. I don't know if I should say this, but I'm not really into "praise" services. It's just a personal thing, but I find that two hours in the Big Top at Spring Harvest is frankly rather tiresome. The prospect of doing that forever is not something that I, personally, am longing for. Is that bad?

However, I am trusting it will be different when I fully enter the presence of God. 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; someone we love 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 continually 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 we sang earlier,

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 to long to be with God. Meditate often on the ugliness of this world and the loveliness 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 the loveliness of God's dwelling place. 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 besides.

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.

I must say that 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 we in the church face hostility from around us—when criticised and ridiculed, as we so often are these days—what is our response? Our response is simply to get on with our journey, and the world is blessed in return. Don't you think that is lovely? Isn't that Christlike?

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.

Are you determined to make progress with God? Is your heart set on pilgrimage? The Christian life is about progress; it is about following Jesus. If we are standing still then something is wrong.

So, 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 God is calling you to make a big life change. 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 mend or a relationship you need to break. Whatever God is asking, it is your readiness to face it that reveals whether your heart is set on pilgrimage. And we can set our hearts on pilgrimage with confidence, because we know that God will bring us safely to him 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, 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. In modern terms, I'd rather climb a tree to look over the wall for a glimpse of the pitch at Highbury than sit in the directors' box at White Hart Lane. That illustration might work for some of you...

The point is that the Psalmist was stuck a long way from Jerusalem. He was in the midst of a pagan people, but he wasn't going to make his home there. He wasn't going to start doing things their way and compromise his godliness. His heart belonged to God completely.

The heart that is blessed is the heart that truly prefers the things of God to the things of the world. As Spurgeon puts it "God's worst is better than the devil's best" .

So, why then, 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?

I think often we look elsewhere to find satisfaction, pleasure, enjoyment, fulfilment because deep down we are not truly convinced that God has our best interests at heart. But the 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 understood, in 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 begins by reminding them that God has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christref. By pondering these blessings, by learning to treasure them and cherish them we can begin to train our hearts to be undivided. And then we will be truly blessed.


So, this is what heavenly heartedness looks like: having 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 verses 8 and 9? Perhaps you noticed that I skipped nimbly over them. At first it seems a strange plea from the Psalmist, and somewhat out of place. Hear my prayer, O LORD God Almighty; listen to me, O God of Jacob. Look upon our shield, O God; look with favour on your anointed one.ref What is that all about?

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 face to face, but in your heart you know he is distant. Your heart longs for God, but you have no certainty, no assurance that you can ever know him. Well, make Jesus your King. He is the guarantee that we will one day see God face to face.

Perhaps you are fearful of the Christian life. You've set out on the journey, but you are finding it a great challenge. At the moment it seems easier to go back than forward. Well, make Jesus your King. It is only in him that we can go from strength to strength to the end of our journeys.

Or perhaps you are struggling with a heart that's split down the middle. You know the good that you want to do, but you so often end up doing the bad that you are ashamed of. You feel that you are not good enough for God, that he would never bless someone as unholy as you. Well, make Jesus your King.

Those who have made Jesus their King are the ones in whom 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. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.ref

By nature we have hearts of stone; they will never respond to God. If you want to be heavenly hearted, then a heart transplant is the only way. And that's what happens when you make Jesus your King.