Hands over my eyes, I count loudly, “One, two, three….” My heart speeds up as I get closer to twenty, anticipating the fun of finding my hidden friends. “Twenty! Ready or not, here I come!” And, off I run, feeling the summer breeze on my face, smelling the freshly cut grass, grinning wide for all to see.
Memories often hold such moments, capturing the innocence and freedom, abandon and fun of childhood. Game-playing outside on a summer afternoon with friends — real or imagined — can epitomize such qualities. And, it’s these very conditions I’d love for us to engage as we endeavor to play the Psalms.
As eager as we are to leave behind all the yuck of 2020, let’s not be too hasty or tainted and miss the very vehicle of discovery. To find hope and joy, we must seek. When I played Hide and Seek as a little girl, I had to be intentional to go out and look for my friends — I had to uncover their places so that I could achieve my purposes.
It’s no different for us as adults as we look ahead to a new year, hoping for better things. Those better things — like hope and joy, freedom and faith — they won’t find us. We must insert ourselves into the search. And, as believers, our seeking must begin with God.
And, that’s what I hope we can train ourselves to do as we start our new series: Playing Psalms: Games and Goodness. Each week we’ll choose a childhood game to compare to a specific Psalm. As we play with each week’s spiritual poems, we’ll discover what we’ve been searching for all along. We’ll recover some of what we’ve lost and uncover much we didn’t know we needed.
This week we’re playing Hide and Seek — surprise! — as we delve into Psalm 84. Ready or not, here we go!
Hide and Seek
Not all our memories of childhood are filled with joy and good times — not even the games we played always turned out to be fun. Sometimes when I played Hide and Seek, disappointment flooded me when I’d fail over and over to find my friends before they returned to “base.” There might have even been a few frustrated tears when I grew weary of seeking and never finding.
We can feel that same disappointment or frustration when we look for God but can’t find Him. We close our eyes to pray and see nothing. We call out, but the One We Seek seems to be well hidden.
And, sometimes, instead of stomping away from the game in tears, we duck our heads in defeat and just. stop. looking.
After a year like we’ve had, many of us feel that way now — like we have been seeking and imploring to no effect. We’ve crossed our arms in a good old fashioned pout and threatened to quit the game.
It may help to know that we’re not the first to feel this way — like life is hard and God is not near. In fact, the Psalms are full of these very laments. Here’s one of the more famous verses:
“How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?”Psalm 13:1
David, the King of Israel, wrote those words with humility and honesty, asking the question of his heart. Psalms as this one become a model for us, an invitation for us to do the same.
The Psalms can also show us how to seek God with intention, speaking our worries, as well as, our hopes. And, that’s where today’s Psalm comes in.
How lovely is your dwelling place,Psalm 84:1-2 NIV
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
The authors of this Psalm, identified as the Sons of Korah, worked in the Tabernacle of God in the years of Moses’ leadership and for generations beyond. As we read through these first two verses of Psalm 84, we notice their passion for “the courts of the Lord” and for “the living God.”
If we pause here long enough to ask why they felt this way, we might consider they had a firsthand view of the Tabernacle of God — the moveable tent of worship for the Israelites as they wandered the desert and moved into the promised land.
And, if we ask another question — what was the purpose of the Tabernacle? — we’ll recognize it held the presence of God. These Sons of Korah yearned to be in courts of the Lord because that is where GOD DWELLED.
When we cry out to God, we might think we’re just looking for a quick answer to prayer, but what our souls long for more than anything is to be in God’s presence. These opening verses of Psalm 84 reveal for us the very thing we seek — God Himself.
Even the Sparrow
Even the sparrow has found a home,Psalm 84:3-4 NIV
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.
The theme of seeking God continues in verses 3-4. Drawing a comparison to some of the tiniest of God’s creatures, the Psalmist recognizes that sparrows and swallows find their homes near God. Such words of discovery are meant to encourage us in our searching.
The hymn, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” takes the poetry of Psalm 84 and carries the ideas out further, reminding us that even when we fear, God is near — even when our hope dies, we can draw closer to Him and find what we need. Just like the sparrow.
I love how the New Living Translation (NLT) describes “blessed” in verse 4:
What joy for those who can live in your house,Psalm 84:4 NLT
always singing your praises.
WHAT JOY comes to those who find God! Funny little side note — my word for 2021 is joy, so the phrase, “what joy,” leapt at me as I read it in the NLT. I deeply desire to find joy this year — the God-centered, Holy Spirit sustained kind of joy. I see something so special here: to seek God, to pursue His presence, that is where true joy is found.
Blessed are those whose strength is in you,Psalm 84:5-7 NIV
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.
In verse 4, the Psalmist realizes and reveals that when we enter God’s place of presence, blessings abound. He continues that theme in this next stanza — he sees blessings flow as hearts seek God’s strength and being.
The language of pilgrimage can be lost on us if we don’t allow ourselves to pause and ponder. Having had the blessing of going to the Holy Land twice in the last few years, I have an incredible visual of believers from all over the world ascending the holy hill that is Jerusalem. While my experiences are set in the twenty-first century, they do help connect to what pilgrimages must have been like for Jews centuries ago.
They intentionally left everything to go to Jerusalem — to go to the Temple, the set place of God’s presence. No longer a moving structure as the tabernacle had been, the Temple held permanence, as well as, Presence. They sought God.
As Christians, we become the temple of God because Jesus sent His Spirit to live in us. So, while we don’t have to go to a set location to find God, we do have to remember to seek His presence regularly. Let’s set our hearts on pilgrimage!
And, like those pilgrims of old, we will pass through valleys that are difficult. One translation of “Baka” is “weeping.” Have you ever passed through a valley of weeping? Those low places of life feel impassable but are possible with God. The poetry of these verses helps us to cling to the hope that our low, dry valleys will once again be filled by springs and covered with refreshing, life-giving pools — offering us strength enough to get to God, to that place where He is.
Better Is One Day
Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty;
listen to me, God of Jacob.
Look on our shield, O God;
look with favor on your anointed one.
Better is one day in your courtsPsalm 84:8-11 NIV
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold
from those whose walk is blameless.
Verses 8-9 finally state the heart of this poetic prayer: for God to hear, to look on with favor, and to listen! Such words echo our own hearts as we close our eyes and implore God to heed and help.
Psalmists get honest, but rarely do they stay in the place of hopelessness — remember, they know from where their help comes. The next verses, 10-11, remind us that the only way forward is being with God.
A more contemporary worship song, “Better Is One Day,” captures the essence of these praises. There is absolutely nowhere else we can desire to be that would be better for our hearts than in God’s courts — a direct reference to the place and presence of God.
Hear verse 11 in the NLT:
For the Lord God is our sun and our shield.Psalm 84:11 NLT
He gives us grace and glory.
The Lord will withhold no good thing
from those who do what is right.
For those who love words, the poetic flow of “sun” and “shield” and “gives us grace and glory” offers much beauty and hope. That final promise, “The Lord will withhold no good thing from those who do what is right,” sustains weary hearts — hearts that need good things like God’s joy!
Psalm 84 punches out with great promise and power:
Lord Almighty,Psalm 84:12 NIV
blessed is the one who trusts in you.
Verse 12 picks up the “blessed” language for the third and final time in this Psalm, offering what is meant to be a vote of confidence for us. When we trust God, blessing follows. And, if we look one more time at the NLT, we’re reminded that one such blessing is, wait for it — JOY!
O Lord of Heaven’s Armies,Psalm 84:12 NLT
what joy for those who trust in you.
Psalm 84, like so many Psalms of Praise, ebbs and flows out of a heart-wrenching seeking of God, then moves into whole-hearted worship of the One who is always present, always faithful. Its phrases mimic our own minds that wrestle with tough times and escalating emotions, easily drawn into hopelessness and despair one minute, then rushing into praises and promises of faith the next.
God’s Word stands strong because what it says remains true. When we take time to seek God on the pages of Scripture, we discover One who never hides from us. He is always near. But we must go out and seek Him.
One last promise before we leave this game. Let’s remember the goodness —
Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.Matthew 7:7-8 NLT
This is God’s promise. We can count on the Promise Keeper, so let’s quit counting with our eyes covered and start seeking the One who can make all the difference in our lives.
Ready to seek, Shelley Johnson
- If you’d like to read ahead, check out Psalm 25.
- Invite friends to come play with us!
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- Finally, if you’d like to be further encouraged, I’ve created a “Playing Psalms” playlist on Spotify. Both songs I mentioned today are on the list, as well as others. Enjoy!