A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah.
O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly;
My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You,
In a dry and weary land where there is no water.
2 Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary,
To see Your power and Your glory.
3 Because Your lovingkindness is better than life,
My lips will praise You.
4 So I will bless You as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands in Your name.
5 My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness,
And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips.
6 When I remember You on my bed,
I meditate on You in the night watches,
7 For You have been my help,
And in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy.
8 My soul clings to You;
Your right hand upholds me.
(Settle in for a long one.)
Not too long ago, a well-meaning visitor to our congregation said to me, “It must be nice to be pastor, and be able to study Word of God all day. I would love to be able to just sit and study like you do. If I could do that, I would never struggle in my walk with the Lord.” The truth of the matter is, that it had been a very busy week—-one of those weeks when it seemed that I didn’t even have time to catch my breath. (Though I don’t remember the specifics, often one of those weeks will look like this: a death, a couple of visits with the family of the one who has passed, all of the phone calls with the family and the funeral home and those dear sweet women of the church who are eager to know how they can help and minister to the family, a funeral, a hospital visit, a presbytery committee meeting, and we have two babies under two.) As you can see, a week of super spiritual time spent with sacred choral music and Gregorian chants filling the study, it was not. (This not to say that being a pastor, and being able to study more than most, is not a great privilege. It is, and I am very grateful for it.)
There is something to this visitor’s statement though, that resonates with us, isn’t there? As they expressed in sentiment, every true Christian wants growth in grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. Every true Christian longs to be near and to commune with their Lord. Further, every true Christian does struggle with those spiritual “dry places” or deserts. However, we often think that if we could simply “get away,” and not have to deal with the “busyness of life” then *poof*, we’d have instant growth in grace and gifts and holiness conferred upon us. So, we Christians go to camps and conferences and buy some of the 44k + books on Christian living, After the conference or camp or book, reality sets in and most of us find ourselves still having the same struggles and going through those same arid places.
We want growth, and we want it now. We want it to come to us in some extraordinary way, some spectacular vision or dream or osmosis (like Neo in the movie the Matrix), and then *poof* greater knowledge of the Lord and His Word and great strides in and growth in holiness. We want it instantaneously, and the trouble is that no one will “settle” for ordinary (not even pastors who know better). We want extraordinary, because if it is plain and boring and possibly involves more time and effort, it can’t really be spiritual can it? No one likes ordinary, because we don’t think ordinary “works.” After all, if ordinary worked, why would we have camps and conferences and books?
So, we overlook and don’t want to hear terms like the ordinary means of Grace. But that is the very way God has promised to bless! He has not promised to bless camps and conferences, though He is free to use them. But He has promised to bless the ordinary means of grace, and we must become people who love, and make use of those very ordinary means. What are they? They are none other than the Word, sacraments, and prayer. Add to that the fellowship of the saints, and you have what sounds like the ordinary run-of-the-mill Christian life.
In Psalm 63 David is in an actual dry place, a desert. (As the first part of verse one shows.) He is likely in danger for his life. Now, this could be any number of events in the life of David. We are not sure which one it might be, but we know he is in exile of some sort. And in this exile, his very real location of a physical desert, makes him aware of the spiritual desert in his soul. As we enter into his experience (though not in an actual desert ourselves), we find that in David’s dry spiritual state, he does not ask for “extraordinary” things that might make him “super spiritual.” No, he asks only to see and be part of the very ordinary life of an Old Testament (OT) saint. So that in this text, from David’s condition we learn, that the remedy for spiritual dryness is the very ordinary means that God has provided.
In verse one, we see that David is in the wilderness of Judah. And while David is in that wilderness, it is making him think of barrenness of his own soul and its desperate need of Lord. Though we may not enter in to actual desert under same conditions, we have likely been struck as David was with desperation.
Spiritually, David says he is at brink of collapse; He knows God, but feels far from him. Which is why he says that he will “earnestly seek” the Lord, and that he “thirsts” and that he “yearns.” David is in a desert. He would definitely know of a deep and nearly unquenchable thirst. He says he thirsts and yearns for God as a man, nearing the end, nearing collapse. To do so in the wilderness is to die. So, what then is David’s condition? His very real condition of being in the desert physically, made him see his dryness spiritually. Seeing that, he knows and calls for the very remedy his condition needs. Which brings us to that remedy.
David says, “Thus I have seen you in the sanctuary…” What does he mean by this? And why does he look to the sanctuary? Why is it that David doesn’t think that “getting away”– that the desert is most pristine of places to meet God? After all, he could look at his situation as a “retreat.” Why does he long to return to sanctuary? Because David knows that it is there that God has promised to meet with His people, in a special way. It is there that He has promised to make His special presence known.
We’ve noted that it is often the case that when dryness comes to us, we often want to retreat, to get away from it all and “refresh.” Here, David is away from it all and says, “No. The place to be is in the house of God, among the people of God, making use of the means that God has given.” It is not a not spiritual retreat or conference or various other places where God has promised to work, but in an ordinary way in the ordinary place of worship.
So, is David looking only to the sanctuary itself? No, here sanctuary is “shorthand” for all of God’s saving purposes and acts among His people. In the sanctuary, there is the preaching and teaching and sacraments (in OT it would be in the ordinary sacrifices, etc.). So, what sort of power and glory would David have seen in the sanctuary? Had David seen God come down, and do some great acts and signs in tabernacle? Is that power & glory of which he speaks? No. David didn’t see great displays, but only very ordinary workings of the tabernacle.
To what would those very ordinary workings of the tabernacle have pointed? For OT saints, the sanctuary pointed to the coming Messiah, and the saving work that He would do. So then, in the sanctuary what David would have seen was his need of Jesus. He would have seen that there must be sacrifice to atone for his sins, and he would have seen that the power & glory of God is that He Himself would provide that true and final sacrifice. He would have heard of the promise of God to do so from the Word. So then, that is the promise that David knew. He was looking to that One to come, that One who would redeem men from their sins. David longed for the sanctuary because there, he would see the means that God had appointed for saints to draw near and be fed by faith.
So, what about us? Has God given us such things? How do we see the power and glory of God in the sanctuary today? In the same way David did. Wee see it in the same things that David longed for. What are they? The very means which the Lord has provided—His Word, sacraments, and prayer. This along with the fellowship of the saints is the very way in which God displays His saving power and glory among the congregation. The sanctuary is where the congregation gathers in order to declare His praises and to call upon each other to remember His work and promises! It is not through “extraordinary” signs and wonders, but through ordinary preaching and “church happenings.”
Why are God’s ordinary means of grace important? Why has He promised to work in very ordinary things? Because all of His appointed means point to Jesus, and they all cause us to rest in & remember His promises. The OT means (circumcision & Passover) pointed to that One who would deliver people from their greatest enemy which was not a nation (particularly Egypt), but the Egypt & wilderness of sin.
THE RESULT OF THE REMEDY
So, if God has promised to work through the ordinary means of grace, what do they provide? When we put off trying to come to God in every way except the way that He has promised to bless, and we actually do make a “due use of the ordinary means,” we will be put in a continual remembrance of all that God has promised. When this is the case, we like David, will be refreshed. Notice, David begins to look to God’s promises, and not at those providences which had, in some sense, brought him to that wilderness. He began to, as Thomas Willcox said, “Judge not Christ’s love by providences, but by His promises.” In verses three and four, we see that David remembers God’s covenant love and knows it is of His grace that all things are brought upon him.
Not only do the ordinary means of grace put us to remembrance of God’s promises, they bring us to satisfaction in His person. That’s what verse five demonstrates. It demonstrates that spiritual dryness comes from looking to anything and everything other than the means God has provided for our growth in grace and satisfaction in Jesus.
Further, verses six through eight show us that making use of the means of grace, the means which God has provided, produce within the saints a holy resting in His working in every circumstance of our life.
What about you? Are you dry? Are you in spiritual wilderness? You don’t need “extraordinary” or “signs & wonders.” You don’t need a “retreat” or conference or camp. You simply need to make a due use of the very ordinary means of grace, wherein God has promised to work, and to conform you into the image of His Son. Devote yourself to the Word–preached and read in the home. Give yourself over to prayer—closet prayer and prayers offered up during the day. Give yourself by faith to be fed on the sacraments. Find yourself in the congregation of God’s people, and do not neglect gathering together with the saints.