It is a real joy to be back in this pulpit with an open Bible in front of me, once again having the privilege of leading us to discover what God is saying to us in His word .
It’s been seven weeks since I did this last. I was on vacation for four weeks, and the past two weeks the board freed me up just to plan and get organized for this next ministry year, which was a real gift.
I’m glad to be back, but I hope you know what a joy these past six weeks have been for me. While I was on vacation, one of the highlights of my week was coming here each Sunday. I don’t love the church because I’m a pastor; I’m a pastor because I love the church, and this summer just confirmed that for me in a fresh way.
It was also so good to have the Word brought to us by such a team of preachers. I was especially grateful for the three younger preachers who worked so hard at what they did. I’ve had the joy of sitting down with each of them in the past few days and talking about their experience and giving a few pointers. As a church, one of our core passions must be training the next generation of leaders, and that was happening this summer right before your very eyes. So thank you for your part in that.
David in Exile
Today, we continue our series in the Psalms, which will carry on for three more weeks after today. Psalm 63 is a very well-known psalm; many of us have been singing its opening words for years. I actually remember learning that song, “Step By Step,” out at Torch Trail Bible Camp when I was just a bit older than Judah.
We’ll start by considering the setting of this psalm. Those of you who are looking at it in your Bible will see a title that says “A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah.” That title is a part of the Biblical text. And we know, from the rest of his life story, that David would have been out there in the wilderness fleeing for his life from either Saul or Absalom. This was an experience that happened to him more than once. David’s enemies pushing him away from his home and out in to the wild places.
And if you remember back to our series last year, you might remember how this experience really fits with the big theme of exile that we see all across the Bible. Adam and Eve were exiled from the garden, Moses fled to the wilderness from his home in Egypt, and the Israelites lived in that wilderness for forty years on account of their disobedience. Centuries later, all of Israel and then Judah were sent away in exile.
In each of these stories we see that God’s people belong in their home, the place that God prepared for them and where His presence was. Whether it was the Garden of Eden or the land He gave to Abraham, it’s the same key idea. And so to be exiled from that home, whether by your own sin or the sin of others, was a horrible thing.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this theme of exile in the Psalms. We began our journey with Psalm 3, which David wrote while on the run from Absalom. And then we saw it again in Psalm 84, and then again in Psalms 42 & 43.
Each of these Psalms has focused on a different aspect of this exile experience. And Psalm 63 zooms in on what might be the most important of all of them. Let’s see what that is as we dive in today.
Longing for God
The Psalm opens up with these familiar words: “O God, you are my God…” (Psalm 63:1). I don’t know if that sounds repetitive to you, like David is saying the same thing twice.
It might help to remember that David lived in a time when there were a lot of so-called “gods” kicking around. Back then it wasn’t a matter of believing in God or not; it was a matter of which god or gods you believed in.
And when God made His covenant with Israel, the central promise of that covenant was that they would be His people, and He would be their God. Like He said to Moses in Exodus 6, “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God” (Exodus 6:7).
We hear those words in echoed in different places throughout the Bible. Think of Ruth’s words to Naomi: “…where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16). Ruth is saying that she wants to be a part of that covenant God made with Israel. She wants to be a part of God’s people, and she wants God to be her God.
And it’s that same truth that David is saying here in verse 1. “O God, you are my God. I am one of your people. I am a part of this covenant with you.”
Now notice what David says immediately after this. “God, you are my God…” and, what? What kind of a God is this God? What does it feel like to be in a covenant relationship with Him? What is the experience like?
What Psalm 63 tells us is that to know God is to desire God. “O God, you are my God; earnestly 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” (Psalm 63:1). Just as his body thirsted for water out there in the wilderness, so his soul, his whole being, longed for God.
Don’t miss this point. God is not a ho-hum deity. We don’t come to know Him and then put our hands in our pockets and move on to the next thing. To truly know God is to have an appetite for Him. To long for Him. To want Him. To want more of Him, to want to be near Him.
And that’s what David missed the most out there in the wilderness. He missed God. Specifically, he missed the sanctuary, the tabernacle, where the Ark of the Covenant was. The place where you would go offer sacrifices and worship God. That’s the place where God’s presence was most fully experienced.
And we see this more clearly in verse 2: “So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory” (Psalm 63:2). He’s been there. He’s seen the place where God’s glory was. And like he said in Psalm 26, “O Lord, I love the habitation of your house and the place where your glory dwells” (Psalm 26:8). That’s what David loved, and that’s what David longed for out in the wilderness. Not his own bed. Not the comforts of Jerusalem. Not the fellowship of His family. He longed for the presence of God.
Hoping in God
Now David’s desire for God very quickly transitions into hope that God will bring him back to worship in the sanctuary. That’s really what he’s saying in verses 3-4: “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands” (Psalm 63:3–4).
If you were an ancient Hebrew reading Psalm 63, and you read “my lips will praise you… in your name I will life up my hands,” you would have thought right away of the sanctuary. That’s the place where people used their lips to praise and bless God and lift their hands to Him.
You would have understood that David isn’t changing the subject in between verse 2 and 3. It’s all part of the same thought: “I’ve seen You in the sanctuary, and Your steadfast love, your loyal, covenant-keeping lovingkindness, is better than life itself, which means that You are going to keep your promises to me and are going to bring me back into your presence just like you promised.”
David’s longing for God moves very quickly into hoping in God, trusting that God will keep His promises and end David’s exile and bring him back to the place where he can experience God’s presence more fully once again.
Rejoicing in God
So here’s a really important question for us: what happens when longing for God meets hope in God? What happens when desire for God is matched with a confident trust that God is going to keep His promises and meet that desire?
The answer is joy. Out there in the wilderness, as David remembers worshipping God in the past and looks forward to doing the same in the future, he experiences delight and joy in God right then and there.
Listen again to verses 5-8: “My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me” (Psalm 63:5–8).
As David trusts in God and rests in the knowledge that God’s steadfast love is better than life itself, David experiences satisfaction, like the satisfaction you feel right after you’ve had a really good meal.
But this satisfaction doesn’t come from a really good meal, it comes from God and all of God’s promises to him.
And then we see how this satisfaction expresses itself in joyful worship. Verse 5: “my mouth will praise you with joyful lips.” Verse 7: “in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.” Right there in his bed, when he’s all alone, he’s worshipping God with a joyful heart. His hope that he will worship God in the sanctuary has flowed backwards to create joyful worship right there and then. In the wilderness. Still on the run from enemies. And yet he is satisfied and his joyful worship has already begun.
We Are Exiles
So there’s three movements in Psalm 63 that we’ve seen so far. Longing for God, hoping in God, and then rejoicing in God. There is a final section to this psalm, verses 9-11, but we’re not going to spend time with them today. I will be posting something about these verses on the blog tomorrow. So please visit ebcnipawin.ca tomorrow to read that and get the full picture of how Psalm 63 finishes.
But for this morning I’m wanting us to focus in on these three movements so far, and what David teaches us about longing for God, hoping in God, and rejoicing in God.
Just like David, you and I are exiles. We make our home in the wilderness. Three times in the New Testament Christians are explicitly called exiles. And the idea comes up far more often than that. Our real and our final home is the New Creation. Like it says in Hebrews, “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14.)
And listen to what Revelation 22 says about that city which is to come: “No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads” (Revelation 22:3–4).
That’s our true home, where we will have unfiltered access to the presence of God, so much better than even David could have ever dreamed.
And until then, we’re exiles. We’re in the wilderness. And out here in this wilderness, we suffer in so many ways. We groan as we wait for our bodies to be redeemed. We long for the day when cancer and depression and divorce and miscarriage and poverty and doubt and disappointment and all of these things we suffer with will vaporize in the bright sunlight of the New Creation.
Our Longing for God
But Psalm 63 shows us the greatest and most important thing we should be longing for in our exile. And it’s not just having a new body. It’s not being free from pain and suffering and getting to see all of our family members again.
What we should be longing for, the thing that will give us the greatest joy when we finally get it, is God. God himself.
That’s what David missed the most. Not his own bed or a nice warm breakfast or all the comforts of home. He longed for God. Because he knew, like he said in Psalm 16:11, “In your presence there is fullness of joy.”
So let me ask you a question. Would you want to go to heaven, if God was not going to be there? If you could have it all—streets of gold, a new body with no pain or suffering, all of your friends and family forever, all the food you could want—but God was not there, would you still want it?
The answer should be obvious. Someone who truly knows God would say “Not in a billion years. What you just described would be hell to me.” Because what makes Heaven heaven is that God is there. Like Paul said, “…my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:23).
Our Joy in God
So what if your answer is “no”? What if you do long for God, and your hope is being set, more and more, on the appearing of Jesus (1 Peter 1:13)? What we should find is that, like David, that hope works backwards to produce joy in God here and now, today. Like Romans 5:2 says, “we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2b).
Or Romans 15:13 which says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).
Hope in being with God in the future produces joy in God today. And this joy is fuelled by the Holy Spirit, who is with us in a much greater way than David could have imagined.
So this is why the New Testament can give us commands like “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). Just think about that. It’s like someone just saying to you, “Be happy.” It only makes sense if you have a reason to be happy. And as Christians, we have every reason to be happy. We know God. We’ve been saved by Jesus and we get to spend all of eternity with God in whose presence there is fullness of joy.
Please hear these words. If you know God at all, if you have truly come to believe that Jesus is the son of God and you have life in His name, then joy in God will be a part of your experience. Desire for God must be a part of your experience.
If someone has never tasted joy in God, if they have never experienced delight in God, then it’s very likely that they simply don’t know Him.
What I just said is nothing radical. Emmanuel Baptist Church is an Evangelical church, and for hundreds of years Evangelical Christians have been saying that it’s not enough to just say you believe the right things, to check off the boxes on a doctrinal statement—as important as that is. Because you don’t really believe the truth until your heart responds to that truth with joy.
Imagine someone walking up to you today and saying, “Congratulations, I just paid off your mortgage and bought you a brand new car.” And you just shrugged your shoulders and said, “Oh, ok.” You know what the rest of us would all be thinking? “They don’t really believe that.” Because if you really believed news as good as that, you’d show some level of expression or emotion.
It’s like one time when I heard a guy give his testimony, and he told us that when he got married, he didn’t really love his wife. But then he said, with a shrug of his shoulders and an expression-less face, “I love her now, of course,” And then he carried on with the rest of his testimony.
And in those moments, I knew he was lying. When someone truly loves their wife, truly delights in their wife, you can tell—no matter how dry their personality is. There is some emotion, some expression, some weightiness, some indication of joy. And I was saddened but not surprised to find out his marriage fell apart not too many years later.
The Crucial Question
So I want to ask you, again, that crucial question. Have you tasted joy in God? Have you ever experienced anything like Psalm 63 describes, any longing for Him, any desire to be with Him, any joy in Him?
If the answer is no, or if the thought of heaven without Jesus doesn’t really bother you all that much, then I beg you to beg God to do a work in your heart. Ask God to give you genuine faith in Jesus, who died to bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18).
Ask God to help you see the glory there in the gospel. Ask Him to pour His love into your heart though the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5) and give to you the joy that comes from truly knowing Him and truly delighting in Him.
If you have never tasted joy in God, don’t give yourself any rest until you do.
Now what if the answer—and I suspect this is the case for a great deal more of us today—is “yes, I have tasted joy in God, but it’s not a part of my experience the way it should be”? I know that messages like this are convicting because none of us experiences joy in God on a continual basis that we should.
But I hope you can hear Psalm 63 calling us to cultivate joy in God. To flee from those things that choke out our joy in God. To pursue joy in God with all of the means that He has made available to us.
Consider verse 6 for a moment. When was David satisfied, and when was he praising God with joyful lips? “When I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night” (Psalm 63:6).
David had an inner life of remembering and thinking about God’s truth which fed his joy. So many of us today have such little time for this because we’re so distracted all the time. We’re up late watching TV. If we’re awake in the watches of the night, we don’t meditate on God, we check Facebook. And in the morning we’re too tired to do anything that requires thinking at all.
But Psalm 63 calls us to cultivate joy in God through careful thought and remembrance and meditation on God’s truth. This means reading the Bible often enough and thoroughly enough to catch a glimpse of God’s glory. Jesus said to his disciples, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). That’s why we need to read the Bible—for our joy.
So many times as I’ve woken up early, I’m still kind of groggy and I open up the Bible and my heart feels cold, but I’ve prayed and asked God to show me his glory, and by the end of 15 or 20 minutes of carefully reading his word, my heart feels warm again because I’ve glimpsed His glory and I’ve tasted joy again.
I just mentioned prayer, and we can’t forget that. The Bible is full of prayers for joy. Think of Psalm 90: “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:14). Pray that prayer for yourself and for your church.
And you know what? Pursuing joy might even include singing. And maybe the thought of singing to God when you’re all by yourself, like David did, seems like too much at the moment, but you’ve got a CD player or a phone that can play music. Aimee and I have found, especially in difficult seasons, that the music we listen to can have such an effect on our joy in God. It happened again just yesterday when I was driving. My soul just felt dry. And so I turned off CBC and put on one of the CDs that my kids listen to, that was just full of Scripture, and I felt my longing for God kindled again.
Psalm 63 shows us to cultivate joy in God in private. And then it shows us that our joy in God should spill over into corporate worship like we are doing this morning. That’s one of the things David longed for—to praise God in the sanctuary with His people. And we know that we are the temple, and when we gather, this is where God is.
Do you prepare your heart for Sunday? Do you make sure you get enough sleep on Saturday night so that you aren’t fighting to stay awake during the service? Are you thinking about the words you sing and are you thinking about what your face and your body language is communicating about God?
Remember that guy who said “Sure, I love my wife,” with a shrug of his shoulders? What are we communicating about God as we sing and listen to His word?
Men, we’ve got some serious currents to swim against here. Many of us have been lead to believe that real men don’t show emotion, and especially not in church. Well, David ripped apart bears and wolves with his bare hands and chopped of a giant’s head while still a teenager. I think he qualified as a real man. And he praised God with joyful lips.
Men, please think about the children in this church. I have three of them. As they look around the room on Sunday morning, you are telling them what kind of a God we serve by the way that you engage in the service. You may never be comfortable raising your hands in the air, but nobody in this room should look bored or distracted or disinterested as we gather here to worship the God who made the universe and loved us enough to sacrifice His own Son to save us.
So please, people of God, don’t be satisfied with lesser things. Make it a priority to cultivate your longing for God, your hope in God, and your joy in God.
We’re going to end this morning with the same song we used to close last week—“Be Thou My Vision.” This song is a prayer that God would be our treasure, our joy, our satisfaction. That God would bring us to the place where we could pray Psalm 63 with honesty. So let’s pray this song genuinely. God will not ignore you.