Outline for Psalm 84
- Longing for God (Psalm 84:1-4)
- Traveling to God (Psalm 84:5-9)
- In the Presence of God (Psalm 84:10-12)
Sermon Text for Psalm 84
How do you feel about attending church? Do you love it? Do you look forward to coming to church? Do you get a thrill out of attending church? Is it the highlight of your week serving in church? Do you miss it when you can’t attend?
Well, whether that is how you feel or not, today we are going to see that when church is the way it supposed to be, it is a place people are excited to attend. This is because it is at church that great things can happen. Church is a place where people can fellowship with other Christians. Where people can hear God speak to them through His glorious and divine Word. Church is a place where God is exalted, where people are encouraged and edified.
It is at church that we get a glimpse, a foretaste, an appetizer for heaven. If you are looking forward to heaven, then you should also look forward to attending church, because church is the practice ground for heaven. Now when I talk about church, I am not talking about simply showing up on Sunday to fake a few smiles, and half-heartedly sing a few songs, and then suffer through a long-winded sermon. That is not what church was meant to be. And that is not what heaven will be like either. Almost all Christians have some sort of idea that heaven is going to be one long, unending church service. They have an image of a never-ending sing-along in the sky, one great hymn after another, forever and ever, amen.
And most people, when they hear that, want nothing to do with it. They think, “That’s it? That’s heaven? That’s the good news?”  We know we don’t want to go to hell, but we’re not sure we want to go to heaven either. Well, that is not what heaven will be like, and that is not what church should be like either. When church is the way it is supposed to be, it the best possible place to be.
There is no way I can show you all of this in one study, but I want to show you the feelings that are involved when church is what is supposed to be. I am convinced that if we are going to make church what God wants it be, we must begin with our own desires. We must begin with our own heart. If you come expecting church to be boring, it will be boring. But if you come with excitement, expecting to hear from God, and touch the heavens, and get a sense of the Holy Spirit’s presence, well, that may be just what you receive and more.
I want to help you develop a sense of this longing by looking at one of my favorite Psalms, Psalm 84. Psalm 84 does not actually talk about the church. But that’s because when this Psalm was written, the church did not yet exist. So this Psalm talks about the temple, which is similar to the church. The temple was the place where the OT saints went to worship God. And so although it is about worshiping God in the temple, we can bring it into our modern times and see it as a Psalm about worshiping God in church.
With this in mind, we will see that Psalm 84 is a psalm of longing. Longing for fellowship with God. It is a Psalm for all of us who seek to worship God in Spirit and in truth. It is a Psalm about spending time with God, in His presence.
Before we look at the Psalm, you might be interested to know that this Psalm is a Psalm of Pilgrimage. Every year, the Jewish people were required to travel to Jerusalem to worship God in the temple. As they journeyed from wherever they were living, they would sing songs. Music always makes a journey shorter, that is why many of us listen to music in the car. And they did the same thing, only, since they didn’t have CD players and walkmans on their donkeys, they would sing songs as they traveled.
And the Jewish songbook, as you all know, is the book of Psalms. And from this songbook, they had some favorites that they liked to sing when they were traveling to Jerusalem. Most of these Psalms are found in Psalms 120-134, but there are others scattered through the book. Chapter 84 is one of them. It is one of the songs that the Jewish people sang when they traveled to Jerusalem to worship God in the temple. With that in mind, let’s look at the first section of Psalm 84. The first four verses reveal a longing for God.
I. Longing for God (Psalm 84:1-4)
Psalm 84:1. How lovely is Your tabernacle, O Lord of hosts!
Psalm 84:2. My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the Lord; My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
The word soul is a Hebrew term for the innermost being. For the Psalmist, deep down inside, at the very depths of his being, even his heart and his flesh, they cry out to be able to spend time with God.
The Hebrew word for cry has the picture of a child who cries out when it is hungry. I am sure you have all seen it. An infant cries with the whole body. Their hands clench into fists, their legs kick up and down and their face scrunches up into seeming agony. This is how we should cry out for God: with our whole beings.
The feeling being expressed is similar to when you are about to see a loved friend or family member that you have not seen or talked with in a long time. Imagine if you had to leave them and were not sure if you would ever see them again? Would you cry out with longing to be able to see them? Or, imagine if you only got to see the stars only once every ten years. How much would you long for and look forward to the opportunity to see the stars again? After seeing them, you would begin to count the days until you might gaze upon them.
Similarly, the genuine worshiper of God longs to spend time in the courts of the Lord. The writer of the Psalm only gets to worship God in the temple a couple times a year, and he is excited to the point of yearning, thirsting, longing, even fainting to worship God again.
This is how we should feel about church too! On every Sunday, we should be thinking, “Wow, what a great thing it is to be the presence of other Christians singing praise songs to God, and hearing the Word of God! Oh man is this great! The only bad thing is that I’ve got to wait another week to do it again!”
Well, wherever you are on your excitement level, hopefully, you want to have the excitement the Psalmist has. We will see how to develop this longing for God in just a bit, but before we do, let’s look at verse 3.
Psalm 84:3. Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young — Even [near] Your altars, O Lord of hosts, My King and my God.
The Psalmist here is jealous of the birds. There was a custom among several nations at the time this Psalm was written in which the birds were allowed to build nests in and around the temple. And once they were there, they were allowed to remain, rather than being driven off or killed.
Remember, the temple building was surrounded by a large courtyard, which contained the altar for burnt offerings. So it is in this courtyard the bird makes her nest. They figured that since God controlled and made all things, if He allowed birds to nest in His house, then they were under His protection. They were in His sanctuary, His place of protection.
And this bird in Psalm 84:3 has found a place to lay her young. And where is her nest? It is near Your altar. It is near the altar of the Lord in the temple. You know what happened on the altar, right? It is the place where all the animal sacrifices were made. Bulls, goats, sheep, even doves were sacrificed on this altar. And yet, in the midst of all this death and sacrifice, the little bird, with her little baby chicks, was safe, protected and free from all harm.
Isn’t that an amazing picture of God’s protection over us? When all the world is falling apart, when we are surrounded by death, destruction, violence, sickness, famine, plague and war, we are safe in the arms of Jesus.
So you see, this verse if full of tender intimacy. Worship, says the Psalmist, is an intimate and emotional time when we are in communion with a living God who loves us and wants what is best for us.
Maybe this writer has struggles in life. Maybe he has marital problems. Maybe he has financial problems. Maybe he is sick. Maybe his children are straying from God. Maybe he is without work and needs a job. I don’t know what his problems and difficulties might be, but whatever they are, he knows that when he is in the presence of God, when he is worshiping God, when he is focused on God, he is like that bird, without a care in the world. Just singing a song of joy to its Creator.
When we worship God, we should feel like that bird. We are in the presence of God, under the protection of God. We don’t have to worry about life anymore. That is what the Psalmist longs for, to be like the birds in the sanctuary near the altar.
And he goes on in Psalm 84:4 to describe someone else who gets to spend a lot of time in God’s presence. In Psalm 84:3, he was jealous of the birds, now in Psalm 84:4, he is a bit envious of the priests and temple officials.
Psalm 84:4. Blessed are those who dwell in Your house; they will still be praising You.
His thought seems to be, “If the birds can dwell with God, what if I could dwell in God’s house?” If God allows a sparrow to dwell in his house, how much more the servant? When he says, Blessed are those who dwell in Your house, he is thinking of the priests and temple officials.
In our day, we would say “the pastors.” And I think that pastors have one of the best jobs in the world. What other job allows you to spend the majority of your time thinking about God all day? I love being a pastor, and look forward with great excitement to being a pastor again when I graduate from seminary. Of course, pastoring has its struggles and trials, but the point here is that it is the Psalmist’s dream to live in the House of God, and be forever praising him.
And I would agree with him because that’s partly what heaven will be like. And I’m sure many of us long to experience that on earth. We long to experience heaven on earth. But in order to experience this longing, we have to travel toward God.
This is what we see this in Psalm 84:5-9: Traveling to God.
II. Traveling to God (Psalm 84:5-9)
In this second section of the Psalm, the writer correctly realizes that however much he would like to spend all day, every day in the temple praising God and learning about God’s Word, that is not realistic for him. Sure the birds get to do it, but they don’t have jobs. And sure the priests and temple officials get to do it, but that is their job. The Psalmist realizes that he is not a bird nor a priest, and so as long as he is on this earth, it is not possible for him to spend as much time in the temple as he would like. He must work so that he can live and provide food and housing for his family.
But even still, these things are secondary to his desire, his longing to worship God. So, in Psalm 84:5-9, he is saying, “Well, if I can’t live there, at least I get to go there occasionally.”
Psalm 84:5. Blessed is the man whose strength is in You, whose heart is set on pilgrimage.
In other words, blessed is the man who gets his fulfillment and get rejuvenated when he worships God. Blessed is the man whose highlight of the week is when he gets to worship God. Blessed is the man who is gratified and satisfied by God rather than by something else.
What do you chase after to get satisfaction and fulfillment in life? Hunting? Fishing? Shopping? Making a big sale at work? Spending time with your family? Reading a good book? None of these things are bad. All of them are good things. But none of them will satisfy you and give you strength in life like worshiping God. And if you are not getting fulfilled by worshiping God, you will end up turning to some other things, but they will never satisfy you.
You’ll have this inner hunger, so you think, “I know what I need: a hot fudge Sunday.” So you go get one and it tastes so good. But when you are done, you still have this inner craving. So you decide that maybe what you need is some time to relax. So you go rent a movie and watch it. It’s a good story, but at the end of two hours, you think, “What a waste of time that was! It was vain; empty. And I still feel as if I’m missing something.” So you think you are about due for a vacation. And you go, but even while on vacation, you feel as if things just aren’t right.
But then it dawns on you. You realize that what you have been missing is time with God. So you pull out your Bible, and read one or two chapters, and it just speaks to you, encourages you, revives you, or refreshes you. This is because such fellowship with God is what we were created for. We often hear about unbelievers having God-shaped holes in their lives which they try to fill with everything else but God. But what we don’t realize is that even after we believe in Jesus for eternal life, we still need to fill that hole with fellowship with God. If you fill the hole with things of this world rather than the things of God, you will never feel whole.
Do not chase after things that are temporary and unfulfilling; chase after God wholeheartedly. Charles Spurgeon said, “The blessedness of worship belongs not to the half-hearted, listless worshipers, but to those who throw all their energies into it. Neither prayer, nor praise, nor the hearing of the Word will be pleasant or profitable to persons who have left their hearts behind them.”
Now, the Psalmist wants to do this, to worship God with all of his heart. To go and get his gas tank filled up by God. To get strength from God. And for him to do this, he had to travel to Jerusalem. He says here that his heart is set on pilgrimage. He is going to go on a journey.
And as all of you know, on any pilgrimage, on any journey, especially one that is traveled often, there are always landmarks that encourage us as we near our goal. There are familiar mountains and trees, road signs and valleys, or bends in the road that tell us we are getting near our destination. And when we are eager to reach our destination, these landmarks are encouraging to us because they tell us we are almost there.
The Psalmist also had some of these landmarks on his journey to Jerusalem, and he mentions one of them in Psalm 84:6.
Psalm 84:6. As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a springs; the rain also covers it with pools.
We are not exactly sure where the Valley of Baca was located or what its significance is. Some think it means “Valley of Rain” due to springs of water that were there. Some think it means “Valley of Weeping” because this might be where Israel wept in Judges 2 when confronted with their sin. Others think it’s an arid valley that developed pools during the rainy seasons.
But no matter which interpretation we choose, the point of the landmark is clear. As you know, Israel in general is a very arid country. Roads can get hot and dusty, and travelers can get very thirsty. So whether the Valley of Baca is an actual valley with pools of water in it or a dry valley that develops pools, or it is a historical “point of interest” along the road, the Valley of Baca was an area of refreshment and remembrance for all that God has done and all the ways He has blessed them.
It is the same for us in the journey of the Christian life. There are times in our life when we feel all dry inside. We are empty of joy and we feel like a parched desert. Normally, when people feel dry and empty, they stay away from church. They say, “I don’t feel like worshipping God. I don’t feel like God is doing anything, so I just need to get away and do something for myself. I need to just stay home and kick back.” But these dry times in our life are when we most need to be in church! If you stay away from God, you’ll just get drier and drier.
If you determine to go through the Valley of Baca, you will find a fresh outpouring of the Spirit. Praying, singing, hearing the Word, fellowshipping with other Christians will be like water to your soul. Something happens when we come into the presence of God’s people. We receive an answer to prayer, we have a meaningful time of worship or devotions, or we remember a time in our life when we sensed God’s hand at work, and these things are like springs of water in our life. They quench our thirst and give us encouragement and spur us on to continue the journey. The dry times suddenly diminish. The rains come. The wells overflow. When you feel spiritually dry, you need to spend more time in prayer and more time in church, and more time in the Word than normal. These will give you refreshment and will be like rest stops on the road.
And in Psalm 84:7, the writer of the Psalm tells us that the long journey to Jerusalem is made up of these little rest stops on the road. He calls them places of strength.
Psalm 84:7. They go from strength to strength; [until] Each one appears before God in Zion.
The phrase strength to strength refers back to the word strength in Psalm 84:5, and in the context of Psalm 84:6, the idea is that on the road to Jerusalem they go from Rest Stop to Rest Stop. From point of refreshment to point of refreshment. And it should also be the same for the Christian.
The road of life is hard. And the Christian life is harder still. Things do not necessarily become easier when you become a Christian. That is why so many Christians fall out of the race, and stop living like a Christian. They burn out. They get too weary of the battle. They fall by the wayside. And that is so tragic when that happens. But I believe that it all could have been avoided if they just did what the Psalmist mentions here. Most Christians who fall away do so because they failed to go from strength to strength. They failed to stop at the rest stops. They failed to stop and fill up their gas tanks. They failed to stop and get refreshment for the journey.
And if you take the Christian life one day at a time, one step at a time, and go from one answered prayer request to another, from one time of Sunday fellowship to another, from one blessing of God to another, one good Christian friend to another, one prayer partner to another. When you go from strength to strength, you will look back over your life and be amazed that you have come so far.
And the ultimate destination is to appear before God in Zion. As they traveled, they kept their eyes fixed on the goal: worshiping God in the temple on Mount Zion. We too, as we journey through life, must keep our eyes on the goal. The New Testament tells us to focus on eyes on Jesus (Heb 12:2); and to have that eternal perspective where we know that this world is not our home and that all we do should be done in the light of eternity.
In 2 Corinthians 5:10, Paul echoes this verse here when he writes, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” He knew that wherever he went, whatever he did and said, would all be assessed when he stood before Christ, and he kept laboring, kept serving, kept striving, kept running, because he wanted to be bold and confident and unashamed before Christ at His coming.
Psalm 84:8-9 conclude the section of this Psalm with a prayer to God for this to happen.
Psalm 84:8. O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob!
Psalm 84:9. O God, behold our shield, and look upon the face of Your anointed.
There is a richness in this short prayer that is very instructive to us. In the context of this chapter, the Shield of verse 9 is a reference to God Himself. See down in Psalm 84:11 where God is referred to as being a shield? Also, “our shield” most often in the book of Psalms refers to God (3:4; 7:11; 18:3, 31, 36; 28:7, 33; 115:9-11; 119:114, 144, etc.). So Psalm 84:9 is the conclusion of the Psalmist’s prayer to God. In the prayer, he is asking God to be his shield, in order that he might arrive safely in Jerusalem to worship God as described in Psalm 84:5-7.
This is a good prayer, because the road to Jerusalem was full of wild animals and bandits. Remember the story of the good Samaritan? The man in the story who got beaten up and robbed was on his way to Jerusalem.
And the Christian life is full of traps and snares and pitfalls as well. Satan is like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. He also has his fiery darts. And there are temptations of our sinful flesh which seek to lead us astray. And there’s the world which is constantly trying to trip us up. But with God as our shield, look back in Psalm 84:7: each one appears before God in Zion. With God as our shield, not one of us will be lost. Sure, we may trip and fall. Sure, we may get wounded. But God will not allow any of us to be lost along the way.
Remember what Christ says in John 6:39? He says, “This is the will of The Father who sent Me, that of all He has given me, I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.” We are His and He will keep us safe until the end. No one can pluck us out of our Father’s hand. As Christian pilgrims heading toward our heavenly Zion, we too can be assured that God will bring us safely to His Home because He is our shield.
This is an encouragement in and of itself, isn’t it? This is a truth to give us strength. As we journey along, we will eventually reach the presence of God. And it is this presence of God that we read about in Psalm 84:10-12. This is my favorite part of this chapter because it tells us how great it is to be where God is. There is nothing like it in the entire universe.
III. In the Presence of God (Psalm 84:10-12)
Psalm 84:10. For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
This verse is the climax of the Psalm and is one of my favorite verses in the entire Bible. The Psalmist realizes that even though his time is short, and he cannot remain long in the temple, it is better to spend only one day in a lowly position in the temple than it is to spend 1000 days anywhere else.
Where is your dream vacation? I have often thought how nice it would be to spend a year in Hawaii, sitting on the beaches and reading. But how enjoyable would that be if I were never able to worship God during that time? I do not think I would enjoy it.
One day in church worshiping God is better than a thousand days anywhere else doing anything else. That is how great church can be! It is from this verse that I got the title for this message. We’ve all seen bumper stickers that say things like “I’d rather be fishing,” or “I’d rather be driving my Bayliner,” or “I’d rather be sewing.” If the writer of this Psalm lived today and had a bumper sticker on his car, it would say, “I’d rather be in church.” When church is the way God wants it to be, church is the best possible place to be.
I mean, look what the Psalmist says next. He says I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
He lists two ends of the spectrum here. One side is the doorkeeper in the temple. The doorkeeper, or gatekeeper, in the temple was basically a greeter standing at the door welcoming people who came to worship God. It was a volunteer position, and was probably one of the lowest positions in the temple. At the other end of the spectrum, we have those dwelling in the tents of wickedness. The word dwelling and the word tents both indicate a lavish, rich life in the lap of luxury and ease. Having more money than you can spend. Having servants wait on you hand and foot.
So basically, the Psalmist has described the lowest volunteer position in the temple, and the highest position in the world. And which one does he prefer? The lowest position in the temple!
How about you? What would you pick if given the choice? If God came to you tomorrow and gave you the option of being Bill Gates or being the greeter at church, which would you pick? Or the Sunday School teacher, or the custodian. Well, the Psalmist here says that it would be better to pick the volunteer position in church! Isn’t that amazing? This is the opposite of all that the world says. But if we think about it, it makes sense.
Who cares if you have all the money in the world, but do not have Jesus? What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but forfeit his soul? This verse is comparable to Paul’s cry in Philippians 3:8: “I count all things to be a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ.” Or how about a similar statement by Asaph is Psalm 73:5? “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.”
So a day in the courts of the temple of God grants pure joy and happiness. It is better to be the least in the church than the greatest in the world. Psalm 84:11 tells us why.
Psalm 84:11. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory; No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.
The reason it is better to be least in the Church than the greatest in the world is because of the gifts we find in verse 11. There are, of course, many more gifts that God gives to His children, but this verse lists a few. The first gift is that God will be a sun and shield. He will be their light and protection. The world is in darkness and without protection. And no amount of money or power can give it to you. So this is something that we have which the world does not.
The word shield can also be a reference to shade. So when you feel cold and without life and distant from God, he will be like the sun, to warm you up and give light to your path. But when you feel hot and burnt out and overwhelmed with the trials and burdens or work of life, God will be like shade to you, to give you a place to rest, relax and gather your strength.
Next, in verse 11, He gives grace and glory. Or favor and honor if you have the NIV. Grace has the idea of God smiling upon us, ready to give us all the benefits of being His child. Glory is the ironic one. The world is seeking after glory and honor, but these things are only given to those who serve God.
Finally, in verse 11, God will withhold no good thing from those who walk uprightly. This is a promise only to those who are walking uprightly. This doesn’t mean that you have to be perfect, but that your heart is right with God. Many of the promises for blessing, fellowship, reward, joy, intimacy with God, answers to prayer, and many other good things in life are contingent upon walking uprightly; upon obedience to God and His Word.
The person who is not walking uprightly should not expect to receive good things from God, except the goodness of God’s discipline. Jesus teaches something similar in the Sermon on the Mount when He talks about the lilies of the field and the birds of the air (Matt 6:25-34). But in context, these things are only given to those who are seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (6:33). Similarly, in Romans 8, Paul says that God work in all things for good for those who love God and have been called according to His purposes (Rom 8:28). Lots of people like to quote this verse when things go wrong in their life, but it should not be quoted for those who do not love God and are not living according to His purposes and calling.
That is the lesson here of verse 11. If you are walking uprightly, in obedience to God and His Word, there is no good thing he will with hold from you.
This Psalm closes with a summary thought in Psalm 84:12.
Psalm 84:12. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man who trusts in You!
And this is the truth of all that we have seen in this chapter. There is great blessing in store for the person who trusts God. And the more you trust Him, the more blessing you will receive. If you long for God, you will be blessed. James 4:8 says, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” Like the Father running to meet his prodigal son, when we long to return to God’s presence, God will see us from far off and run to meet us. There is also great blessing in traveling to meet God. He gives us times of resting and refreshment so that we make it safely to His presence.
And when we get to where God is, we get the greatest blessing of all. It is better to spend one day near God than a thousand anywhere else. In His presence is joy and peace, light and protection, grace and glory, and every good thing. The writer of this Psalm loved to worship God, and knew that there was nothing greater that we can do. When God is worshiped correctly, there is no greater joy, no greater thrill, no greater satisfaction. Worshiping God is what we were made for, and it is how we will spend eternity in heaven.
Do you want to experience heaven on earth? Do you want a little taste of eternity? If so, do what the Psalmist does here. First, you need to long for it, cry out for it, and pray for it. Tell God you want Him more than anything else, that you want to be near him and be with Him. Church can be this way, and our life can be this way, if we want it bad enough.
And then secondly, travel to it. There were discomforts on the road to Jerusalem for this Psalmist. It was not an easy road. But he made the necessary adjustments in his life because he knew that the cost was worth it. If he wanted it bad enough, he was willing to travel any distance to get it.
Are there things in your life that you need to get rid of in order to make more room for God? Jesus is knocking at your door, and He wants to come in and fellowship with you, and spend time with you, and give you strength and encouragement. But if you don’t open the door, if you don’t set a place for Him in your life, He will not force his way in. Experiencing heaven on earth begins with longing, but it continues with embarking on a journey toward God: step by step, day by day, being in it for the long haul.
And if you do these two things, long for God and travel to God, then the Psalm tells us that there is nothing greater than being in the presence of God. Nothing this earth has to offer can compare with the sweetness and pleasure of the presence of God. Is there someplace you’d rather be right now? I hope you can say with this Psalmist, “Nope. No matter what it is I’m doing, I’d rather be in church.”
 John Eldredge, The Journey of Desire, p. 111, 177.
 I think the translation calls for a supplied “near.” Some translations do render it this way.
 “Until” is supplied for the sake of smoothness. The verse shows that as they go from one place to another, the final destination is appearing before God in Zion.
 Here it literally says, “One who stands at the threshold.” But the only ones who stood at the threshold were the gatekeepers, so I take them to be synonymous.