"If our greatest treasure – communion with the living God – is safe, of what can we be afraid? Yet we are afraid of so many things. So our fears can serve an important purpose – they show us where we have really located our heart's treasure."
The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
These opening lines are verses of great comfort. I settle into them as one settles into a secure safety, for I fear many things and my life contains few strongholds. Everywhere I look, I see failure; my work, my education, my independence, my finances, and my relationships all point their fingers and accuse me. In these opening phrases, the author of the psalm, David, is pushed beyond his fears, anchored in something greater and higher than himself. David’s next lines introduce a military language and confidence.
When evildoers assail me
to eat up my flesh,
my adversaries and foes,
it is they who stumble and fall.
Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me,
yet I will be confident.
Despite my disappointments and despite the odds against me, I don’t need to worry. I can have confidence. But my temptation here is to simply assume that, with God on my side, the success I seek is attainable. The psalmist is clearly seeking something too. His desire and his heart are set.
One thing have I asked of the LORD,
that will I seek after:
What do I seek after? What is the one thing I ask of the Lord more than any other? If you ask me right now, and I were being completely honest, I would instinctively answer, “success in a growing relationship” or “success in my career ambitions.” But David’s one request is far more specific:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to inquire in his temple.
How much simpler, how much higher than desire for mere achievement! The military context he gave us earlier seems to just be the means of securing a greater purpose: to dwell in the house of the Lord, to gaze upon his beauty, and to inquire of him. My petty desires for achievement or companionship fall away when I compare them to this higher purpose. “David finds God beautiful, not just useful for attaining goods” says Tim Keller. “To send God’s beauty in the heart is to have such pleasure in him that your rest content.”
With this desire now laid bear, our understanding of the psalm has been focused and refined. When the beauty of the Lord is in David’s vision, of course God will
hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will lift me high upon my rock.
If his face as our focus, what are days of trouble? We shall be hid in his shelter, with his strength as our song, and his beauty our joy.
And now my head shall be lifted up
above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the LORD.
With the Lord’s beauty in our gaze, our heads are lifted up despite the calamities surrounding us. With his salvation as our dwelling place, the shifting tides of circumstances matter far less.
It’s deceptively simple. Have your heart filled with the beauty of the Lord, and all will be well. But is this house-of-the-Lord-dwelling goal easy to maintain? The next stanza tells us that it is far from a easy task.
Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud;
be gracious to me and answer me!
You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you
“Your face, LORD, do I seek.”
Hide not your face from me
Turn not your servant away in anger,
O you you have been my help.
Cast me not off; forsake me not,
O God of my salvation!
For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
but the LORD will take me in.
If I were to summarize this psalm in one verse, it would be verse 8: You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you “Your face, LORD, do I seek.” Such seeking requires great struggle. Notice how David is crying for a gracious answer. The beauty of the Lord seems hidden, turned away in anger. He longs not to be cast off or forsaken in the same way he has been by the people in whom he most relies. Yet in the end there is a simple trust exhibited: but the Lord will take me in.
Teach me your way, O LORD,
and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
Give me up not to the will of my advisories
for fans witness have risen against me,
and they breathe out violence.
If the path is such a struggle, as we saw in the last stanza, who will guide us? Here we see that we need to be taught to seek the Lord’s face, that this is an art requiring a faithful teacher. It is a path and he must be led down it. The perils surrounding it are very real and, as he acknowledges them, David places himself in the care of his teacher.
I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living!
Wait for the Lord;
be strong, let your heart take courage;
wait for the LORD!
In the end of this explosive, emotional psalm, we are left with a sense of great expectancy and simple faith. Evident is David’s belief that his desire to gaze on the goodness of the Lord will find its fulfilment. David’s role, ultimately, is one of active passivity. He counsels his heart to wait, to take courage, and then he repeats it: wait for the Lord! Rely on him, son, and not on yourself. Wait for him, and he will redeem you.