I love music. For me, music really is an emotional experience. Johnny Cash is one of my favourite songwriters, and his song “Daddy Sang Bass” is my number one Cash tune. It’s all about times singing with his family during the depression. During those days, families would often spend evenings playing and singing songs on the front porch.
A line from that song, one of my most loved lyrics of all time, is “Singing seems to help a troubled soul.” And how true that is! When I sing songs, lead worship, or take part in a worship service, it truly brings joy to my soul.
You may not be a music fan, but I am sure that you have experienced times when your soul is skinny. Maybe you’re there right now. There is a Psalm that talks about worship and the presence of the Lord and how it truly satisfies the soul.
Even music isn’t something you really connect with, the presence of God is so much more than that. Let’s see what this songwriter had to say about being the presence or God in Psalm 84:
1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!
2 My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God.
3 Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.
4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
ever singing your praise! Selah
5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
6 As they go through the Valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
7 They go from strength to strength;
each one appears before God in Zion.
8 O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah
9 Behold our shield, O God;
look on the face of your anointed!
10 For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
from those who walk uprightly.
12 O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!
This Psalm is one of my favourites, and is written by a psalmist speaking of the joy of worship in the temple. The idea behind it is someone who is making a journey to Jerusalem to worship in the temple, which was a difficult journey for some.
Notice the focus of the writer in this psalm – it’s all on the Lord. His soul, thirsts for presence of God. His heart and flesh sing because of who God is and what He has done. And he says that “Blessed” are those who are always in the presence of God, from the priests to the birds who make nests around the temple.
The writer then makes a turn in his thoughts to where we find our strength. He says that blessed are those find their strength in God and whose hearts are set on being with Him. People who live like this can go through the Valley of Baca but make it a place of Springs.
The Valley of Baca was a very arid and dry place on the way to Jerusalem. Anyone singing or hearing this Psalm would understand the depth of this statement. Finding a spring in Baca is a wonderful thing. But those who find their strength in the Lord find refreshment and nourishment in the midst of any circumstances.
In verse 10, we see a line that is also the chorus of a worship song many of us today will recognize, “Better is One Day,” written by Matt Redman. The pure joy and satisfaction of being in the presence of God is without comparison to anything else that we could experience or now.
The psalmist concludes his psalm with a wonderful statement, “Blessed is the one who trusts in You.”
The word “blessed” is an interesting word as well. The author uses it several times in this psalm to describe the person who trusts the Lord and seeks His presence. Jesus also emphasizes this in the Beatitudes in the Gospels. What do you think this word really means? Blessed is more than being happy or some other emotion; it really means being truly satisfied, no matter what the circumstance. And what this psalmist emphasizes over and over again is that in God’s presence is where someone is truly blessed.
For the psalmist and the people of Israel, this was commonly considered to be in the temple. Before the temple, God’s presence was equated with the Ark of the Covenant. Even in the temple, there were big curtains that separated areas where only certain priests could enter because of God’s holy presence. Those who had sin in their hearts could not go into the “holy of holies” because they would die!
But Jesus really changed all of that. The Letter of Hebrews addresses this idea at length, but a few verses in chapter 4 give us a glimpse of the concept:
Hebrews 4:14-16: 14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
The presence of God for us is a different truth all together. Jews would travel so far to worship at the temple, but we can be in God’s presence anytime! Jesus made the way for us, and He intercedes for us. His work on the Cross tore those big veils in the temple away.
The same truth applies then and now: God’s presence is what our souls are truly longing for, and He is what truly satisfies. True strength, true purpose, true happiness are all found in Him. He makes springs in the dry places in our lives. We can walk through the Valley of Baca and find living water.
Notice, the psalmist’s focus is on the Lord and His presence. He comes to worship seeking to be with God. What do we come to worship seeking and expecting? What is our focus?
Without God’s presence, our lives are missing what they really need. We can fill our souls with other things that placate our hunger, but we are never truly satisfied apart from Him.
In life, we are going to walk through the oasis and through the valley. If we walk through the valley alone, it’s dry, desert land. If we walk through with the Lord, that’s a whole different story.
When is the last time you were really in the presence of God? What are some ways that you worship Him and spend time with Him?
When we come to church and worship, it is easy to get misguided about God’s presence. We will often mistake different factors of the service for God’s presence. Other times, we come with a focus on everything but the Lord even.
Do you feel like you are in the Valley of Baca and your thirst is parched? Do you feel like you are spiritually unsatisfied? Maybe you need to let your heart and flesh cry out for the Living God.
If you have a difficult time worshipping during church services, ask yourself where your focus is. Are you looking for the Lord or something else?
When was the last time you spent quality time with the Lord? When did you last truly let Him fill your soul?
Take a few minutes to listen to “Better is One Day.” As it plays, just spend time in God’s presence. Remember His love and all that He is done. Maybe you want to pray, read some Scripture, write a prayer, or something to spend that time with Him. But as you leave today, make seeking His presence a priority in your life. Find all that you need in Him.