FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH
“They will go from strength to strength” (Psalm 84:7)
It is true that we do not know how much we miss certain things until we are denied the privilege of having them — seeing the things we remember, breathing in the scents, touching the furniture, hearing the old familiar messages and enjoying the company of friends or family. Perhaps you have a favorite congregation which brings happy memories. It may have been a congregation where you had a sense of fulfillment because you loved the people, felt well-fed from the word of God, grew spiritually and had opportunities to serve the Lord in meaningful ways. For godly people in Israel that unique and special place was the temple in Jerusalem. In Psalm 84 the sons of Korah express the joy of going to worship God, to sing, to pray, and resolve to “trust in the Lord”. It is one of the best loved psalms in the entire Psalter. One commentator has said: “Seldom has that love (for the sanctuary) found such touching and eloquent expression.”
For Christians, the assembly of God’s people for worship is the sanctuary we love. We may have been deprived of the opportunity to meet together due to circumstances beyond our control, such as being stationed in remote corners of the world, being overcome by failing health, being quarantined due to the corona-virus or although surrounded by churches in a new city, being unable to find one “like the church back home.” A case in point is a Christian lady who had not been able to assemble to worship with God’s people for several weeks due to government restrictions that churches close because of the spread of COVID-19. As she walked back into the church building she was heard to say: “I love this place. I have missed it so much!” All of us can be strengthened by reading Psalm 84.
FAITH IS STRENGTHENED BY WORSHIP. The sons of Korah wrote: “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God” (verse 1-2). The Lord’s church, where we meet to sing and pray, is not intended to be a place we fear, or are forced to attend against our will. We should have a comfortable feeling when we enter the doors, like birds which felt comfortable around the ancient sanctuary in Jerusalem. They built their nests and gave birth to their young there (verse 3). Meeting together to worship gives us strength in the knowledge that the God we love and serve is the “sun and shield” to protect us (verse 11).
GOD IS STRONGER THAN OUR PROBLEMS. In the sanctuary we worship the “Lord of hosts” (verses 1), the “Living God” (verse 2), the heavenly “King” (verse 3). We come together with the burdens and disappointments of life on our shoulders, we leave with the strength of God to take on another day. Being there, hearing the word, praying and singing, gives us more strength than we had before. We gain what we need to go from “strength to strength” (verse 7).
OUR STRENGTH CAN BECOME A BLESSING TO OTHERS. “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs….” (verses 5-6). For truly godly people, going to church is not just a constitutional right, a family tradition, something good for business. It is discovering the path that leads to a better world, where people love their neighbors as themselves, racism vanishes, justice prevails for the weak and strong, and the world is made a better place. In the words of Psalm 84: “the Valley of Baca” (a dry and arid place where is life is hard) is changed by “springs” made by godly people and God blesses the land with “early rain and covers it with pools.” (verse 6). Probably Psalm 87 is not to be taken literally. However, those who live in arid parts of Africa and elsewhere are truly thankful for wells drilled by members of Churches of Christ and “non-profit” organizations which make it possible to grow crops and have clean drinking water. In a symbolic sense, Christians provide “springs” in the deserts by spreading the love of God and the promise of His forgiveness of sins and the gift of His Holy Spirit for spiritual transformation.
SERVANTS ARE STRONG ENOUGH TO BE HUMBLE. When priorities are straight we find many experiences that show humility and a servant’s heart to be preferred over the attractions of wickedness. Listen to the writer: “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (verse 10). Doorkeepers did not earn much money for what they did (if any!). They were not into service in the sanctuary to become famous or get special favors. They opened the doors because it was a job someone needed to do so people could come in to worship. Jesus taught us those who follow His steps: “Whoever is great among you must be your servant…even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20: 25-28). I appreciate the way Thomas Kinkade put it: “Balance, peace, and joy are the fruit of a successful life. It starts with recognizing your talents and finding ways to serve others by using them.” If I had to choose between one day to live and serve the church or many days in self-seeking wickedness, I hope I would have the wisdom and courage to choose to live that one day as a servant in God’s sanctuary, the church.
GOD GETS THE CREDIT FOR OUR STRENGTH. “No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (verse 11). It is important that we understand what “good” means if we anticipate receiving “good things” from God. Jesus said: “How much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:11). In a similar scripture He said; “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:13). Just in case anyone thought he would receive a new car if he asked God to give him one, the context of this promise is that “good things” are the things one receives when he receives the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is promised to all who “repent and be baptized (immersed) for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38). God gives the Spirit to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32). God’s Holy Spirit instills the “fruit of the Spirit” in our lives: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). He helps us in our prayers (Romans 8:26-27). He fortifies our hearts so we can overcome the deeds of sin (Romans 8:13). He strengthens us “with power” in the inner person so that Christ may dwell in our hearts (Ephesians 3:16). In short, the work of God’s Spirit, given in answer to our prayers, enables us to go from “strength to strength” living the Christian life.
We have much to be thankful for because our God is faithful to us. “Blessed is the one who trusts in Him” (verse 12).
(Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version.)
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