Join me for a conversation with Psalm 63:1-8 . . .
Several years ago a dear friend of mine called me one day to say that she was dating someone new. The longest dinner date, she told me, turned into a dinner date the next night and they’d really been inseparable. And things got serious fast . . . already re-arranged their upcoming Christmas plans to spend the time with one another’s families. While my friend sounded really happy (and so I was happy for her) the conversation jarred me.
How in the world could she go from one day “Woe is me, I don’t have anyone” to using the M word (marriage) in a matter of weeks?
Truthfully, it made my head spin.
But all I knew was that my friend couldn’t stop talking about her new love. I mean really talking about him. By the time I hung up the call I knew I could not only pick her fella out of a police line up if I had to, but I could write an essay on him too! I knew all about his tastes in flowers, his love of only the best ice cream (Blue Bell, she told me) and the fact that he always perfectly shinned his shoes before he left the house in the morning.
Though I was glad to listen, it almost felt like I was eavesdropping in on a private lovebirds conversation that wasn’t meant for me as she went on and on. I wasn’t in love with him, she was! But, how poetic he sounded!
In the same way as we read Psalm 63, we too might feel like we’re eavesdropping. For this Psalm presents us a conversation between two people who love each other very much. So it might feel to us a little bit awkward too.
For David speaks of a relationship he has with God. And it’s his relationship. But not ours (or is it?)
He begins by saying this about the Lord: “O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”
Dramatic opening sentence isn’t it? I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to go without liquids or water for a long period of time. But you simply can’t. Science tells us that our bodies are made up of 60% water and we can only go without for 3 days until they begin to shut down. Dehydration can seriously kill. So what a vivid point!
In David’s mind, being with God is as important to him as the existence of his very life.
He can not live without God. And it’s not an intellectual pursuit. It’s a pursuit of the actual presence of God.
For David feels confident in the One in whom he adores saying in verse 2, “So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.”May commentators say that David was actually writing from the sanctuary, otherwise known as the temple, one of the holiest place in Judaism. And possibly that David was staying up all night praying, seeking answers from the Lord. But then there are others who believe that this phrase “looked upon you in the sanctuary” was just as expression of closeness.
But whatever it means, we know this: David finds joy in be-ing with God.
And as a result, he’s got to get his praise on.
Verse 3: “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as a long as I live; I will lift my hands and call on your name.”
Bottom line: David’s longings have a physical component. David can’t help but speak words about God from his mouth.
David can’t help but turn his posture in response to what the Lord has done in his life.
David can’t help but lift up his hands simply say, “Thank you, God” for giving him life.
So much so that verse 6 David goes on saying about the Lord: “I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help.”
I love this part of the Psalm for it’s so practical. I can just imagine David lying down on the ground and having the thoughts of God consume him making him unable to sleep. Tossing and turning filled with joy.
And it’s awesome language isn’t it?
But I want to stop here and acknowledge that this Psalm might still feel weird to us.
In fact, I dare say that these words of David might just overwhelm us.
Maybe in the same way as we encounter the “my new man or my new woman” is the greatest thing since sliced bread soliloquies from our friends . . . We don’t know God like David knows God.
For as much as our resume says we’ve been a member of a congregation since cradle roll . . .
For as much as our day planner says we’ve been committed to a particular church and its activities for years . . .
For as many songs we’ve sung, prayers we’ve prayed and sermons we’ve heard, we might just land in the place with Psalm 63 as our mirror and have one response:
“I do not know. I do not know that God you speak of.”
I don’t know a God I’d thirst for in a dry and weary land where there is no water . . ..
A God I’d hunger for until my soul is satisfied with a rich feast . . .
A God I’d stay up late into the night for. . .
I don’t know a God like this.
Maybe those who do know, we believe are only the religious types like nuns or priests or pastors. Maybe it’s for the more spiritual minded or expressive ones in the pews (and that’s not us!).
But let me interject here a personal story . . .
For as many hours in my life I spent as a good church kid to the days and days of coursework in seminary and then to the years and years of full-time employment with the church—there was a moment in my life a couple of years ago where I realized I didn’t know. I too didn’t know.
I didn’t know the God David speaks of.
Sure, I knew a lot of facts about God.
Sure, I knew how to lead organizations of God.
And sure, I’d committed to a relationship with God through my baptism and ordination vows years before. I voiced prayers on a weekly basis. And of course I wouldn’t have called myself anything other than a Christian. But I didn’t know. I didn’t really know.
And for this reason, I rarely preached on the Psalms. All of them sounded too much like one of those “Jesus is my boyfriend” worship songs I called annoying. Plus, so many of the Psalm felt bi-polar: “I love you God” in one verse and “God you’ve despised me to my enemies” in the second. Couldn’t the Psalm writers just make up their minds already?
But through deep valleys of some of the hardest imaginable experiences in my life (the hard stuff we all go through if we live long enough), I started to read the Psalms again.
And from reading them and talking about them with friends, I uncovered a life changing truth: God of the universe, the God of all of creation, the God of all of the heavens loved me. Yes, loved me very much.
God loved me, Elizabeth Hagan.
And when I began to “get” this . . . when I began to really get this, my only response was, “O God. You are my God. I seek you. My soul thirst for you.”
There are really no other words (if words at all!)
When we know God loves us our bodies just want to sing with gusto, lift up our hands, and shout in thanksgiving. And we might just shed a tear or two.
In fact, this is why I believe that David ends with this particular description of God in verse 7: “For you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.”
Do you hear the personal pronouns in this passage?
For YOU have been MY help.
I will sing for joy.
MY soul clings to you.
It’s not that the larger community isn’t important (No we just have to read some of David’s other corporate Psalms to see how strongly he feels about this!) or that we don’t have acts of service to do out in the world.
BUT, David’s models for us the personal nature of knowing God. For, life with God is always about our being loved individually.
And when you and I really know we’re loved, we can join our place in the larger family of things—loving others just as God as first loved us.
The God of the universe wants to satisfy your soul with a rich feast! Really. What an amazing invitation!
It’s good news. It’s really the best news of all.