************ Sermon on Psalm 84:2 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 24, 1999
"He Wants to Go to Church!"
"Do I have to go?" "I don't like going to church. It is so boring."
I remember saying something like this to my parents. I am sure that all Christian parents hear this at one time or another. Nearly all covenant children get this attitude at some time in their growing years. Unfortunately, some adults get this to. Here is a letter I came across:
Title: A New Year's Letter
You often stress attendance at worship as being very important for a Christian, but I think a person has a right to miss now and then. I think every person ought to be excused for the following reasons and the number of times indicated:
Christmas (Sunday before or after)
New Year (Party lasted too long)
Easter (Get away for holidays)
July 4 (National holiday)
Labor Day (Need to get away)
Memorial Day (Visit hometown)
School Closing (Kids need break)
School Opens (One last fling)
Family Reunions (Mine & wife's)
Sleep late (Saturday night activities)
Deaths in Family
Anniversary (Second honeymoon)
Sickness (One per family member)
Business Trips (A must)
Vacation (Three weeks)
Bad Weather (Ice, snow, rain, clouds)
Unexpected Company (Can't walk out)
Time changes (Spring ahead; fall back)
Special on TV (Super Bowl, etc.)
Pastor, that leaves only two Sundays per year. So, you can count on us to be in church on the fourth Sunday in February and the third Sunday in August unless providentially hindered.
A Faithful Member
Another group of people, including our psalmist, have the opposite problem: they want to go to church, they are homesick for church.
In February of 1996 I attended Promise Keepers for pastors in Atlanta, Georgia with three of my friends; there were 42,000 of us. The summer of 1995 I attended Promise Keepers in Minneapolis with 70 other men from Waupun; there were over 70,000 men in attendance. The summer of 1994 I was one of 56,000 men at Promise Keepers in Indianapolis. Can you imagine 42,000 or 70,000 or 56,000 voices singing "Holy, Holy, Holy"? The huge domed stadiums were not big enough. They were not big enough to hold our praise for God. This is an experience every godly man should have: worshiping God with your Christian brothers. At times like that, I cannot get enough of church.
Our Young People are the same way when they go to the Youth Unlimited convention. This happens with Coffee Break, with Gems, and with CSI conventions too. At such times we cannot get enough of God and praise and worship.
The Psalmist tells us that what we feel at Promise Keepers or Praise Gatherings or Youth Unlimited conventions should be felt every single Sunday in church.
I A Desire to Go to Church
A Listen to what the psalmist says in the opening verses of our Scripture reading:
(Ps 84:1-2) How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty! (2) My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.If we were to translate the Hebrew literally it would say,
My soul is drained of its color, even wastes away, for the courts of the LORD.The psalmist finds life in God's courts. With his whole being – body and soul, heart and flesh – he looks forward to taking part in Tabernacle worship. This is no passing fancy or desire he is expressing here. It is heartfelt, sincere, real. This psalmist cannot wait to go to church.
And, yet, the psalmist was not a priest or Levite. He couldn't enter the inner courts of the Tabernacle. A heavy purple curtain – torn by God on Good Friday – kept even the priests and Levites away from the inner Holy of Holies. The psalmist had to be content with staying in the outer courts. A whole system of rules and regulations had to be observed when he worshipped. Still, we can't help but notice how he yearns for worship.
We, on the other hand, have unlimited access to God – after all, when Christ died the curtain was torn and the rules and regulations concerning worship, sacrifice, and offering were fulfilled. We can worship God without a Tabernacle or Temple building because we worship in Spirit and in truth. The Spirit is continuously present with us – carrying our worship and prayers to heaven and making them acceptable to God. Yet, do any of us look forward to church even half as much as the psalmist? Do we Spirit-filled people worship with the joy that filled the heart of this Old Testament believer?
B Why is the psalmist so homesick for church and worship? Because he is away from Jerusalem: perhaps he is in exile in Babylon hundreds of miles away; or, perhaps, he is a merchant whose business has brought him to a distant land; or, perhaps, he is a fugitive hiding out in the wilderness. Whatever the case may be, he is prevented by distance or circumstance from attending Tabernacle worship. How this fills his heart with anguish.
C Whoever and wherever the psalmist is he longs with his whole being for the house of God. His soul, his flesh, and his heart eagerly longs for God's courts. The psalmist even speaks with envy of the birds:
(Ps 84:3) Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young ...The birds find shelter in God's house, but our psalmist? – he is far away from the Tabernacle.
So the psalmist cries out in verse 3, "a place near your altar, O LORD Almighty, my King and my God" (vs 3b). This is the psalmist's cry and heart-felt wish for himself – "a place near you altar, O LORD Almighty." That's what he wants. That's what he is yearning and longing for.
How envious he also is of the priests and Levites and other functionaries of the Tabernacle:
(Ps 84:4) Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you."Blessed," he says, "Happy," he says, "are those in church."
What do you need, congregation, to be happy? If you could pick anything, what would it be? Is happiness a family income of $100,000+ a year? Is happiness paying off the mortgage on your house, your farm, your place of business? Is happiness children with straight A's on their report card? Is happiness a new boat, a new car, a Caribbean vacation? Is happiness an attractive friend of the opposite sex? The psalmist knows what he needs for happiness. Happiness, for him, is being in God's house!
How many of us measure happiness in this fashion? How many of us can say with the psalmist, "Blessed (or, happy) are those who dwell in your house"? Be honest here: does the psalmist look at church and worship quite differently than do you? Does your heart, soul, and flesh yearn for God's house? Can you hardly wait to get to church? Do you measure happiness in terms of church attendance?
D The psalmist knows what he needs to do: he needs to go to the Tabernacle. So he sets his heart on a pilgrimage. It will be a long and difficult journey through wilderness, desert, and mountain. Along the way he will face heat, cold, rain, hunger, thirst, thieves and robbers, injury, and fatigue. And yet, the journey will seem as nothing:
(Ps 84:6) As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools.The hot, dry desert will seem a place of springs and pools of water. Why? Because God's house lies at the end of the journey.
(Ps 84:7) They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.
Like the psalmist we too have rough journeys to make. All week long we can be battered by the world, by busyness, by disease, by financial hardship, by our frailties and sins, by family problems. Yet, we have to put all this behind us because of the joy of coming to church. It is hard to get something out of worship if we take all our problems, worries, busyness, and plans with us. It is hard to joyfully participate if you come in with all that extra baggage. Experienced travelers, experienced pilgrims, know that the less baggage you take with you the less you have to worry about and the more you can enjoy yourself.
E Verse 10 is my favorite verse in this entire psalm. Listen to what the psalmist says:
(Ps 84:10) 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.Let's take the psalmist literally. I would rather be in church than at Disney Land or Magic Mountain. I would rather be in church than on the golf course. I would rather be in church than at a Dodgers baseball game or Forty-Niners football game. I would rather be in church than in the campground or at home in bed or in front of the TV set. I would rather be in church than on a beach or in a cottage somewhere. I would rather be in church than out fishing or hunting or biking. That is what the psalmist is saying.
(Ps 84:10) Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere ...How foreign and strange this sounds to most of our world. How sad that it even sounds foreign and strange to some of us here.
II A Desire to be in God's Presence
A The psalmist is so emotional about the Tabernacle and worship. He can't help himself. His emotions have to be expressed. He has to shout forth his feelings.
Why? How can anyone be so passionate about a building? Because of its appearance? It may have been impressive to look at but it was still only a tent. Because of its lovely geographic setting? It was inside Jerusalem but Jerusalem was no nicer than a thousand other cities back then. Because of its size? It may have been big but there always is a bigger building somewhere. All of these may have been important to some people but not to our psalmist.
Why is it, then, that the psalmist's soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord? The psalmist longs for the Tabernacle, he is so passionate and emotional about it, because he longs to be in the presence of God. As he says in our text:
(Ps 84:2) My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
Why do you come to church, congregation? Out of habit? Because that is the way you were brought up? Out of obedience to the fourth commandment? Because of the beauty of the songs? Because of the charisma of the minister and the inspiration of his sermons? Because of the fervor of the prayers? Because of the joy of Christian fellowship? Because of the magnificence of the building? Because of the talent of the organists and choir director? Because of our wonderful pipe organ? To put on a good appearance?
When it comes right down to it, there is only one reason for coming to church. It is the reason of the psalmist. We come to church, first and foremost, to be in the presence of God. We come to church, first and foremost, to meet with God. We don't come out of habit or obedience. We don't come because of the prayers and songs. We don't come because of the minister and his sermons. We don't come because of the building and fellowship. We don't come because of the organists or choir director. We don't come because of our wonderful pipe organ. We come because we want to meet with God.
And, the opposite is also true. We don't stay away because of the songs – they are unfamiliar or not peppy enough. We don't stay away because of the minister and sermon – he is dull and his sermons uninspiring. We don't stay away because of the prayers – they are meaningless and irrelevant. We don't stay away because of the fellowship – no one talks to me. We come because of God. And, if we stay away it is also because of God – namely, that we don't want to meet with Him!
B The psalmist longs for the House of God because there he meets God in worship. True worship always involves this pursuit of God. I think of another psalm which speaks the same way as our text for this morning:
(Ps 42:1-2) As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. (2) My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?We may have sung songs and prayed prayers and offered gifts and heard a sermon, but we haven't worshiped if we haven't met God. We come to church in pursuit of God and our souls are filled only when we have met Him.
I remember a Saturday night phone call I received. A lady on the other end said to me, "My parents have their 50th wedding anniversary tomorrow. Make sure you mention it. All of us kids will be in church in honor of them."
How does this sound to you? On the surface, at least, it sounds pretty good. But it left me feeling cold, even sick. In fact, I was so upset I kept my mouth shut lest I said something I would forever regret. You know what was wrong with this woman's statement? In church that morning they were honoring the wrong father. We gather together in church not to honor our earthly father or mother but our heavenly Father. We come to church to meet God.
C The psalmist aches for church and worship because there he meets God. He calls this God the "LORD Almighty." In the Hebrew language He is "Yahweh Sabaoth." A literal translation is "Yahweh of Hosts." In other words, He is the creating God of heaven and earth and everything in them. He is the covenanting, faithful God Who desires to meet with His people. He is the one only true God as compared to the many false gods. He is the warrior God Who guards, protects, and saves His people. This is the God the psalmist comes to meet when he goes to God's house – a God of infinite love and might.
We come to church to meet the same God the psalmist met in the Tabernacle: "Yahweh Sabaoth," a God of infinite love and might. But our picture of God is considerably broadened from that of the psalmist's: you see, we meet God in and through Christ. And, it is in Christ that we see how broad and wide and wondrous and magnificent is the love and might of God.
Are you able, congregation, to get a feel for how privileged we are on this first day of the week? Unlike the psalmist and thousands of Christians around the world we are all able to come to church.
My prayer for each one of us is that we have come here today to meet with God. My prayer is that it is our soul's craving and heart's desire to meet with God, the "LORD Almighty," "Yahweh Sabaoth."
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