Psalm 84 is a pilgrim song. It tells of a journey to the Temple in Jerusalem. Like many a journey, this one has two dimensions. It makes its way through two worlds.
The first and obvious dimension is the physical journey – along the road, across the land, among companions, according to plan and custom. This journey matters: you do want to get to the Temple. But in some ways the second dimension matters more. For it runs through inner space. It is a journey of anticipation, a pilgrimage of hope, in the human heart. The very act of travelling kindles a spiritual experience within the worshipper. I look forward to worship because I want to meet with God. My spirit sings with joy, and stretches forward in longing, to be where God is.
Matt Redman’s version splices sections of this Psalm with a thread from Psalm 27 (‘one thing I ask …’). The effect is to highlight the inner journey. We are invited to share in the worshipper’s emotional investment, the heart’s yearning for God, the hunger and thirst of the human spirit. To be near to God is a consuming desire and complete delight.
So this Psalm could prepare us for church today, for entering a building hallowed by the prayers of the years, a touching place with heaven, where many before us have been able to go deep with God. But perhaps the Psalm does more than this. It beckons us along the inner journey, wherever we find ourselves and whatever our needs. Yes, church does help us to locate God. But God is beyond location too. God is everywhere, accessible and gracious, always open to our prayers, constantly ready to embrace us with love and life. Sometimes that is the good news we need.
We love the place, O God, wherein thine honour dwells; the joy of thine abode all earthly joy excels. Lord Jesus, give us grace on earth to love thee more, in heaven to see thy face, and with thy saints adore. (William Bullock, 1854)
The Rev’d John Proctor, retired minister, member of Downing Place URC, Cambridge.