Today I decided to reflect on Psalm 27, which we will read responsively this next Sunday.. As I got up in the middle of the night to pray , I ended up spending quite a bit of time reflecting on this ancient song attributed to the King David. I invite you to take some time to reflect on this Psalm, especially verses 4–6. But before you do, I want you to think about the worship spaces in our churches: What about that space makes it special? How might you worship and live differently if you thought about your church building as a sanctuary or temple for the people of God?
1 The LORD is my light and my salvation—
whom should I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life—
whom should I dread?
2 When evildoers came against me to devour my flesh,
my foes and my enemies stumbled and fell.
3 Though an army deploys against me,
my heart will not be afraid;
though a war breaks out against me,
I will still be confident.
4 I have asked one thing from the LORD;
it is what I desire:
to dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
gazing on the beauty of the LORD
and seeking him in his temple.
5 For he will conceal me in his shelter
in the day of adversity;
he will hide me under the cover of his tent;
he will set me high on a rock.
6 Then my head will be high
above my enemies around me;
I will offer sacrifices in his tent with shouts of joy.
I will sing and make music to the LORD.
7 LORD, hear my voice when I call;
be gracious to me and answer me.
8 My heart says this about you:
“Seek his face.”
LORD, I will seek your face.
9 Do not hide your face from me;
do not turn your servant away in anger.
You have been my helper;
do not leave me or abandon me,
God of my salvation.
10 Even if my father and mother abandon me,
the LORD cares for me.
11 Because of my adversaries,
show me your way, LORD,
and lead me on a level path.
12 Do not give me over to the will of my foes,
for false witnesses rise up against me,
13 I am certain that I will see the LORD’s goodness
in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the LORD;
be strong, and let your heart be courageous.
Wait for the LORD.
Gazing on the Beauty of the LORD
As I was reflecting on the Psalm last night, I was reminded of all the ways in which our worship spaces are temples, sanctuaries, places of refuge, and places of wonder. This was particularly the case as I kept thinking about what a privilege it is to worship twice every Sunday and receive the blessings sung out by the congregation during our liturgy. As I’ve mentioned many times, when the congregation sings, it becomes a sermon, an uplifting proclamation of the Gospel for me.
When David talks about his desire “to see” or “gaze upon” the beauty of the Lord, he is inviting us to focus our attention on the wonders or delightfulness of God. And as I ponder the true beauty of our sanctuaries, it has very little to do with how they are decorated. For me the true beauty of our temples is found in the presence of so many people who follow Jesus in this one particular place, at this one particular time. I was reminded of this in Psalm 27, where the desire to see the delightfulness of the LORD is the desire to see the things that God does for his people that fill us with delight, especially those things that are an answer to prayers for salvation, deliverance, and safety. We could be reminded of these blessings anywhere, but in the sanctuary, we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses to these blessings (Hebrews 12:1-2). To seek God’s beauty in our temples can inspire us to greater confidence because the Holy Spirit is able to transform these humble worship spaces into holy places, where we can hear the voices of our brothers and sisters in the Lord sing praises to Christ, and be reminded of God’s blessings in a way that literally reverberates through our bodies.
Finding Shelter in God
As I was searching through some commentaries on the book of Psalms last night, I came across this quote that encouraged me to embrace a much bigger perspective on what it means to find refuge in God when we face trials and tribulations.
The central request—the one thing sought most—is to live in the presence of God, delighting in his perfections. In God’s presence is safety; in God’s presence is victory and joy. But surrounding this inner experience of God’s presence, where all is well, are surrounding armies bent on destruction and enemies who would do violence to the psalmist. So he turns to God with a prayer for mercy. The obvious need is the mercy of deliverance from the foe, but there is a more foundational mercy sought as well—the mercy on one who has committed many, many sins (Psalm 25:11) but who needs to enter into intimate communion with God (Psalm 27:8). What does it ultimately profit if you are delivered from surrounding foes, but do not have the Lord holding you close?
Knowing that the Lord will hold us close means that the enemies who surround us are themselves surrounded by the Lord, who is our light and salvation, as well as our confidence and hope. On the inside we know the presence of God, so on the outside we are fearless and courageous—courageous with the confidence that the presence of God will have a practical outworking in this life. Eaton (1967:87) points out that Jesus once said to Martha, “There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it” (Luke 10:42). Psalm 27 asks, “Have you?”
Futato, Mark D. “The Book of Psalms.” Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol 7: The Book of Psalms, The Book of Proverbs. 2009.
I guess I should also mention that every time I pray through Psalm 27, I am reminded of a young man who was a talented wide receiver on a high school football team that eventually won a state championship. One day his mother came to my office concerned that he wanted to get a tattoo. She hated tattoos, but she was feeling torn because the tattoo he wanted was the words from Psalm 27: 1
The LORD is my light and my salvation — whom should I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life— whom should I dread?
After prayerful consideration we both agreed that if you’re going to get a tattoo that was a pretty good one to get, especially because it is a reminder to seek your refuge in God alone that would be hard to forget .. or erase!