There is a time for looking back and reflecting on the past. Whether it is at the end of each day, week, month, or year. It can be good to pause and examine our progress and where we are now. But in this Psalm 84 devotional, we explore the idea that life must be lived forward in prayer and praise. This is our strength for the journey to leave the past behind, and to press on, trusting in God each step of the way…
Psalm 84 Devotional – A prayer and a plea
This psalm can be regarded as one long prayer. The psalmist begins with a plea to be able to worship God once again in His ‘dwelling place.’ He expresses his yearning for fellowship with God, and to be able to spend time in His presence, at the Temple in Jerusalem. There were times when Israel was removed from Jerusalem and barred from the Temple. This is likely to have been one of those occasions.
“How lovely is your dwelling place, LORD Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow has found a home, 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.”Psalm 84:1-3
How lovely is your dwelling place O LORD Almighty
The purpose of prayer is not solely about requests and answers, but about a relationship. We know from our own imperfect human relationships the importance of talking to one another. Our relationships are founded on being able to express our deepest fears and longings with the knowledge that it is safe to do so!
Pouring out our hearts to God, and sharing our thoughts and feelings, deepens the bond that we have with Him. Prayer is our communication with our Heavenly Father and the way of staying close to Him.
God may not answer our requests when we expect Him to. He may not answer in the way that we would like. Ultimately, we accept His Sovereignty through the knowledge of His love for us. We have the privilege of prayer with the promise that when we draw near to God He responds!
Psalm 84:4 The blessing of praise
There are three blessings expressed in this psalm and here in verse four we find the first one. It echoes another familiar psalm that those who delight in the Lord are truly blessed. When our desire is to be in God’s presence everything else in our lives will flow from that place of intimacy. It is in close fellowship with God that our desires align with His will for our lives.
“Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.”Psalm 84:4
Blessed are those who dwell in Your house
Now we live in the time of God’s favor where His presence is not contained to one place. We can ‘dwell’ in the presence of God wherever we are at any time! The way to know and enter the presence of God has not changed. It is through praise and worship.
Gratitude opens our minds to God’s hand at work in our lives. As we praise God and dwell in the knowledge of His presence with us it becomes self-fulfilling. The more we praise God, the more we find to be thankful for!
Psalm 84:5 Blessed are those whose strength is in You
In verse five of psalm 84 we find the second blessing. The psalmist proclaims that we are blessed when we find our strength in God and when our hearts are set on pilgrimage. When we come to know by our own experience that God is the One who sustains us, we find rest and freedom.
This is Jesus’ promise that in Him we can find spiritual rest. Sometimes it is a hard lesson to give all our worries and concerns to God. We struggle, trying to clear up the mess of our lives, trying to fix other people’s problems, trying to hold everyone and everything together. Our strength is found in letting go and giving it all to God, trusting in Him!
What does it mean to set your heart on a pilgrimage?
To set your heart on pilgrimage is to live with the view that life is a constant journey. We need to keep moving and growing spiritually in knowledge, faith, and experience of God. Life is purposeful and intentional when we have our final destination always in sight.
What does the word pilgrimage mean in the Bible?
A pilgrim is simply a traveller, but one who is on a journey to a holy place.
The Biblical background to the idea of pilgrimage comes from Exodus 23. It was here that God commanded His people to celebrate three feasts annually with remembrance and thanksgiving. Jewish families sought to travel to Jerusalem to attend the Temple for these feasts. The three feasts listed are Passover the Feast of Unleavened bread; the Feast of Weeks also known as the Festival of Harvest, and The Festival of Ingathering also called the Festival of Tabernacles (Booths). The journey to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple and to celebrate these feasts became regarded as annual pilgrimages.
By the time of the New Testament early church, and onwards, pilgrimage developed a broader meaning. It was still viewed as a journey, usually on foot, but to any place of spiritual significance. The main purpose being to seek an encounter with God. This could be for physical or emotional healing, a personal tribute for answered prayer, or even as penance.
But in the Bible pilgrimage is also used to describe our journey of faith through life. We live in this world with the view of moving on – this life is not everything! We understand the transitory nature of life, and we know our destination. There are many Scriptures that reflect this view of journeying through life, the most well-known being Psalm 23.
The second blessing of Psalm 84 runs from verse five through to seven. This reflects on those whose strength is in the Lord and whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. When we rely on the Lord to sustain us and we know that we depend on Him a transformation takes place:
“…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.”Psalm 84:6-7
Psalm 84 Valley of Bacca
The Valley of Bacca or Baka can be translated as the Valley of Weeping. Whether this was a geographical location or figurative for a dark, difficult, painful place is unknown. But for those on a pilgrimage, they know that this too will pass. They are journeying through the Valley, and even there, God will provide a blessing.
There are times when we will face difficult challenges. Hard and tough experiences in this fallen and broken world touch our lives. But as we work through them, and overcome them, they become for us defining moments.
Why life must be lived forwards
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
Often it is only with hindsight, that we can see how those difficult experiences shaped and changed us. The darkest valley can become a place of fresh intimacy with God, where we come to know and trust Him more.
The danger of valley experiences is that we rely on our own strength instead of depending on God. If we take our focus off God, then we can start to feel overwhelmed. If we rely on His presence with us then He will provide the strength that we need to press on.
The truth of Jesus’ word is that His yoke is easy, His burden is light, and that He has overcome the world. If we recognize that our feelings do not line up with the truth, then we know something needs to shift and change. In my experience the change always begins in us…
Psalm 84 Devotional Hear my prayer
The psalm comes to a close with this plea that God will listen and hear the psalmist’s prayer. And that is the cry of our hearts that God will hear, and because He hears He will respond.
“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.”Psalm 84:8-9
If we delight in the Lord, and in His presence, then we will have peace. When God is at the centre of our lives, we have assurance in the goodness of God.
“LORD Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you.” Psalm 84:12
The third and final blessing of Psalm 84 is an overflow of praise. God lights up our lives with His protection. He is a good Father and pours His abundance into our lives when we walk with Him with integrity.
“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.”Psalm 84:11
We will all at some time in our lives experience loss in one form or another. The loss could be very visible, the loss of a loved one, loss of health and fitness, or loss of a job and financial security. These are all traumatic, potentially life changing, events. Or the loss could be painful and difficult, but invisible, loss of confidence due to rejection or failure, or even loss of hope when dreams and ambitions appear to be thwarted.
The first step in contending with loss, and the fear that accompanies it, is to acknowledge that they are preventing us from moving forwards. There is a time to grieve, but even in our grieving we can move forward in knowledge and experience of God’s love. His presence with us brings comfort in the darkest and most difficult times of life. When bad things happen to good people, we may question where are you now God? But the answer is always the same. Where would we be without God?
It is not our own strength or willpower that will enable us to overcome our loss. All we need is the willingness to co-work with God’s grace. The blessing that comes from trusting in God only comes when we can’t see the way forward. That is the time when trust is activated. When we don’t know how we are going to get through this – we trust that the One who made the way will lead us on!
The message is summed up that our place of complete blessing is found in trusting God. Trusting Him on our journey of faith, through every circumstance and situation. We travel through the highs and the lows of life with our eyes fixed on the joy of our destination. Moving on, with an eternal perspective, has the power to transform our life now!
“I’m not saying that I have all this together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward – to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.”Philippians 3:13-14 MSG
‘Moving On’ Four Bible Studies in One Book!
‘Moving On’ looks at four Bible stories which revolve around people facing difficult challenges and gain insight for our lives today. If we are willing, we can identify root issues in our own lives, that are preventing us from moving forwards!
In ‘Moving On’ the first study is of Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath and looks at how we deal with loss and fear. The second story is Naaman’s encounter with Elisha. This reflects at how self-absorption with our own problems, can be broken with worship. The third account reflects Peter’s denial of Jesus and how regret and disappointment are healed when we have a fresh encounter with the Lord. Finally, Saul’s story, how a man who persecuted the church came to understand that there is full forgiveness in Jesus.