If I put before you a button and said, “if you press this button, you will get your heart's desire.” And then you pushed the button. Tell me, what would you get? What would happen if you received your heart’s desire?
Perhaps a certain trouble at work or at home would disappear. Perhaps an illness would go away. Perhaps you would have more money; lose some weight; have a bigger house; have your house paid off; see your children turn out a certain way; attain a certain level of status. The list could go on.
Psalm 27 tells us that there is one thing that far surpasses all other things: being in covenantal relationship with God. That is to say, having the One True God as your God and being counted as belonging to him
But far too often belonging to God is not seen as the ultimate pleasure. It is viewed as the consolation prize for when you miss out on your greater aims. Christians end up saying things like, “well, at least I have Christ.” You can end up singing, “Hallelujah, All I have is Christ,” as a dirge and not as a celebration.
Like Paul we should be able to proclaim, “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish in order that I might gain Christ” (Phil. 3:7-8). Before meeting Jesus Christ, Paul had everything he could have wanted. And then, upon meeting Christ, he gladly threw it all away. Meeting God in Jesus Christ changed everything for him.
Likewise, Psalm 27 shows us that belonging to the true God changes everything. This Psalm lays out for us why it changes everything and gives us practical steps to pursue this radical new reality. Let’s dive in.
First, when you belong to God, there can be no defeat (1-3)
Notice David’s opening questions. “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? The implication is that since God is on his side and works as his protector, he has no reason to be afraid. We could summarize verse 2 as saying, “If anyone or anything comes against me, it will surely be defeated because God is on my side.” The sentiment is similar in verse 3. “Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident.”
What is the root of this confidence? It is David’s covenantal relationship with the Lord. He does not merely assume that the LORD will be good to him; he is trusting God’s promise and tracing out the implications. God made a covenant with David and in this covenant he obligated himself to care for David in certain ways. You can find this covenant in 2 Sam 7 and we can summarize the promises of God in this covenant in these points…
God will make David’s name great (v9)
God will establish the land of Israel (v10)
God will give David rest from his enemies (v11)
God will establish a house for David through his offspring (v11-14)
God will use David’s son to build him a temple (v13)
God will never take his love from David or his offspring (v15)
This is why David speaks of the Lord as his light, salvation, and stronghold (v1). David overcomes fear not because he doesn’t have enemies (we see later on in this Psalm that he does); he does not overcome fear because he trusts in his own cleverness or ability. He is not overcome by fear of what man can do to him because he knows that the Lord is for him. That is the key to overcoming the fear of what man can do to you.
Fear and the New Covenant
We fear what has power over us. We fear man because we believe that he can really and truly do us harm. To fear man, then, is to give him preeminence of place in regard to his ability and control over us. It is to view man as the superior and ultimate actor and arbiter of our fate. It is seeing man as holding the ultimate rank and authority over you.
Similarly, to fear God is to give him preeminence of place in regard to his ability and control over us. It is to view him as the superior and ultimate actor and arbiter. It is seeing God as holding the ultimate rank and authority over all of creation.
It is easy to see, then, that you keep your eyes on and listen to the one whom you fear.
So when you are afraid, stop and ask yourself: “who or what am I fearing?” To whom are you giving preeminence of place? If someone promises you harm, but that promise contradicts God’s promise of blessing, then why are you afraid of that human promise of harm? If God promises you judgment, but man says you will be fine, then why are you trusting man’s promise of blessing?
Let’s put teeth on this. If the wisdom of this world says that you must be romantically fulfilled in order to be happy, why does that promise hold preeminence of place for you since God says that is not what you need? If the wisdom of this world says that you have to find your passion and do it as a job in order to be happy, why does that promise hold preeminence with you when God says that is not what you need?
Or if the wisdom of this world says that you have to be true to your sexual desires and that God will not judge you for that, why do you give preeminence of place to the wisdom of this world when God tells us that our bodies are sacred and that he will avenge sexual wrong doing?
You give preeminence to what you view as most authoritative and powerful. Who you do think is most authoritative and powerful? You fears will rat you out.
Now if David had no fear of what man could do to him because of God’s covenant with him, how much more should the fear of man dissipate from our own hearts because of the New Covenant God that comes to us through Jesus Christ. For David, God had promised that his throne would last, so in the midst of dangers he could confidently turn to God and trust his promise because he viewed God as being greater than his enemies. In Jesus Christ, we have a covenant that is even better than the Davidic Covenant.
Outside of Christ, we should rightly fear the wrath of God. You are a sinner that rightly sits under his judgment. But as we read in Romans 8 earlier, when we place our trust in the person and work of Jesus we are forgiven of our sins and adopted as God’s children. In this adoption we are guaranteed to inherit the new heavens and the new earth even if we are killed. That is why we can say that nothing can separate us from the love of God. When you are in Christ by faith, there is nothing in this world that can separate you from his love and care. He holds your salvation secure. So you can say with David now, “The Lord is my light and salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?”
Second, when you belong to God, you desire him above all.
Now I just said that fear is dictated by what we view as having control over us. But that isn’t the only thing that informs our fear. Your fear is also influenced by what you desire. What you desire will decide if God is your refuge and delight or if he is a mere consolation prize.
When you look at verse 4, you can see that for David the LORD is not a mere means to and end. That is to say, he doesn’t love God simply because God keeps his throne safe. David’s ultimate aim is not simply to be the king of Israel or to save his skin when he is in danger. What David wants more than anything else is to be with the LORD and to know the LORD. Don’t you see that in verse 4?
“One thing I have asked of the LORD, that I will seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.”
Every other desire that David has is subsumed under this one overarching and controlling desire. Note the language used here: there is really only one thing that David has asked of the Lord; there is really only one thing that David seeks. He desires to dwell in the house of the Lord. This is language that we have seen in the Psalms already. This desire to dwell in the house of the Lord is a desire to be counted as belonging to the LORD; it is a desire to know God and to grow in knowing God. This isn’t just a desire to know things about the LORD, but to know the LORD in ever greater and deepening manner. God has become David’s greatest treasure.
So let me return to my original question that I had for you this morning: If you could get one thing, what would it be? If you had to summarize what you are seeking above all else in life, what would you say?
Do you believe God is all powerful? Then tell me, what are you asking him for above all else? What are you clearly seeking in the way you spend your time, your money, and the way you cultivate your desires? What do your habits reveal about what you want most?
If it isn’t God, then I can tell you why. It is for one of two reasons. If what you want most isn’t knowing God and if what you seek first isn’t knowing God, then you either have a wrong view of God or you have a deficient understanding of God.
If you do not desire God first and foremost, then you are either dead wrong in your thinking about God or you simply do not know him very well. If the one you call God is not enough to fulfill your greatest longings, then you have at best a partial understanding of who God is and at worst a damnable vision of who God is. If you say, “Knowing God sounds good and all, but I really need something more,” then you don’t know the joy of the Lord.
There is nothing in creation that can scratch the itch of human longing that you were made to find in knowing the Uncreated One. When you seek your ultimate satisfaction in the creation and not in the Creator, it is like going into a banquet hall full of rich foods. Have you ever walked into a room and just feel like you are almost knocked over by the delicious aroma? That is what it is like to experience the pleasures of this world. That smell of the banquet hall awakens you to the reality that you are starving! But you would be a fool if all you did was stretch out your hands and waft the aroma into your face again and again. But that is what you are like when you seek ultimate satisfaction in the things of this world. You waft the delicious aroma into your mouth saying, “I need more! I need more!” No, you don’t! You need the real thing. You need the substance and the source of the delicious aroma.
Don’t you see it? The pleasures of this world, like the aroma of food, was never meant to satisfy you. The pleasures of this world, like the aroma of food, is meant to awaken you to what will ultimately satisfy.
This is the reality that Jesus communicates to us in his parables about the Kingdom of God. One of the reasons our lives are messed up is because our values are messed up. Jesus says in Matthew 13:44, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” That is to say, you come into the people of God, you belong to God in the New Covenant when you come to see that God is the ultimate treasure. Everything else pales in comparison when it comes to knowing God. When you are ready to say, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish in order that I main gain Christ,” then your desires are rightly ordered.
And this is where I feel so deficient in my words. How do I communicate in words the satisfaction, joy, delight, contentment, happiness, pleasure, intoxication, blessedness, exhilaration, euphoria, rapture, comfort, and gratification of knowing God? If I had you come up here and I asked you, “Who is a person that you love?” And then I said to you, “tell me why knowing him or her is so good,” then you would find that words quickly fail. You might stammer out a few things and tell me a few facts, but in the end you would have to say, “You just need to meet this person.”
And when we realize this, suddenly it makes much more sense why people interacted with Jesus the way they did. In John 1, Philip meets Jesus and then goes to his friend Nathanael to tell him that he has found the Messiah. Nathanael doubts it when he hears that Jesus is from Nazareth. And how does Philip respond? Philip said to him, “come and see” (John 1:46). In effect, he is saying, “I cannot explain what you will experience.” Likewise, the woman at the well ends up running back into the town, facing the people so meant to avoid, saying to them, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did…” (John 4:29).
It is in Jesus Christ that you meet God because Jesus Christ is God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, who became man like us so that he, born under the law, might obey where we sinned and, as a man, suffer for sins in our place on the cross. And when he had made atonement for sin, he was raised from the dead and is now seated at the right hand of the Father. Jesus is God and man. And as man he is the one who has ascended the hill of the Lord; he is the one who dwells in the house of God for all eternity. But do you know who else gets to dwell in the house of the Lord for all eternity? Those are are adopted into the household of God by faith in Jesus the Son.
When you are adopted, you can be confident in troubles—as we see in verse 5. And you can rest in knowing that you will remain safe—as we see in verse 6.
This might all seem well and good, however, you might still say to me, “But I’ve still got problems! I still have disordered desires! So how do I make the Lord my ultimate desire when I still have fears, pains, and troubles! I’m glad you asked because the second half of the Psalm speaks just to that. Let me summarize how we are to live in this by some points of application from the rest of Psalm 27.
Third, so seek to know him in all things
Make knowing God your ultimate aim. In verse 7 we see that David is in trouble, so he calls out to God for help. He needs an answer! He has been told to seek God’s face, that is, to find him and know him. And David has done that. He has sought his face and now makes a request of God as he does so: “hide not your face from me.” To state it plainly, David is saying “make yourself known in this particular situation.” He is saying, “Don’t suddenly disappear while I am in this trouble.” When you belong to the Lord, you will still have trials, hardships, and difficulties. Knowing God does not eliminate these difficulties but gives them the greater purpose of being a pathway to knowing God. What are you to do in the midst of trials, hardships, and suffering? You are to seek him in the midst of the trouble. But how do you do that? Psalm 27 gives us at least 3 things.
Call upon the Lord
When you are afraid, turn to the Lord and confess your fears. This is what is happening in verse 9. David is confessing his fear of being abandoned by the Lord. Fear is not overcome by ignoring it or down playing your troubles. Fear is overcome by confession and turning to the Lord so that he may actually address your fears.
When you are afraid, be specific in speaking your fears to the Lord. Look at verse 10, “For my father and my mother have forsaken me…” Know, I don’t know if David means here that his parents have turned their backs on him. What I think he means is that even those closest to him have abandoned him. His fear is that he will be abandoned by the Lord and left to fend for himself. He confesses that fear to the Lord so that the Lord may address it.
What fears do you have? Name them. Confess them. Speak to the Lord about them. Don’t pretend that they aren’t there; that’s a great way to be ruled by fear. Watch out for the danger of not diving into your fears. Sometimes we are afraid and we know it but we do not know why. When that happens we have to stop and actually ask, “Why am I afraid? What am I afraid of losing?” And if you need help figuring this out, talk to someone in the church.
Listen to the Lord
Next, we see that David turns to the Lord for instruction. After confessing his fear of abandonment in the first part of verse 10, he writes, “But the Lord will take me in.” What he is doing is reciting the truth to himself. This is what God has taught him and shown him. Even if his closest relations abandon him, he will not be alone because God has promised to take him in and keep him.
When you are afraid, rehearse the truth you know. But don’t stop there. In verse 11, he calls out for instruction, “Teach me your ways, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.” Fear is disorienting and we need the instruction of the Lord to stay steady. We need to listen to the Lord. This is more than just hearing; listening is hearing and then putting into practice. This is not merely a statement of “Read your Bible.” Rather, I am saying listen to what God says to you through Scripture. Don’t read the Bible like a book; read it as God’s very word to you. Read it as your way of dwelling int he house of the Lord. Seek after the Lord first and foremost in his word. He has instruction for you that will make the ground steady in the midst of your troubles.
Trust the Lord
Along with calling out and listening, we must trust the Lord. We see David practice trust here in three ways. First, he makes his request to the Lord in verse 12. He asks God to fulfill specific requests because he trusts what the Lord has told him. The Lord has promised care, protection, and love to David. And David responds to that promise by making these specific requests. Second, David confesses his trust that the Lord will keep his promise in verse 13. He trusts that his ultimate fate is not death and destruction. He believes that he will look upon the Lord in the land of the living. Third, he calls on others to practice this same trust in the Lord.
This is the hardest aspect of seeking the face of God. We can call out and take up the word and listen, but much of trust is resting and waiting. When I call out in prayer, I am doing something. When I take up the word and read, I am doing something. But when I trust, I am waiting for something. And waiting is hard.
I try to teach my kids about trust in God by using a trust fall as an illustration. I’ll have them close their eyes and fold their arms. Then I will ask them, “do you trust me?” When they say “Yes,” I’ll say, “Then fall backwards.” When they do, I catch them and I tell them that trusting God is like that.
Trusting God, then, is a disposition that we cultivate. My kids have no problem falling back into my arms because they have a cultivated trust in me through repeated practice. They enjoy trusting me.
But trusting God is also a choice. My kids trust that I will catch them because I have down it dozens of times. But there is a first time to fall back and that is much scarier and harder than the 50th time. And even if we have experience trusting God, when we are faced with a new danger it can feel like the first time. If I took my kids on the roof of my house and told them to jump off and promised to catch them, I know that they would hesitate because the promise and the danger is new and elevated.
Whatever trouble you face now or you face next, you have a choice before you. Will you trust God? The more you behold God in Jesus Christ, the more eager you will be to trust him. So call out to him and listen. But if you seek other pleasures over God, then trusting him will seem harder and maybe even impossible. The things we must do is behold the goodness and glory of God. We do this by walking in the means of grace that he has given us—cry out to God in prayer, take in his word, and then speak to the church about these things, encouraging one another to wait for the Lord.
Let us together seek the Lord above all else. Let’s pray.