Reading: Psalm 84: 1-7
Verse 5: “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage”.
Today’s Psalm has familiar words to music lovers young and old. The opening verse and bridge to the contemporary worship song, “Better In One Day”, spring from verses one and two. A great old hymn also comes to mind as one reads this Psalm. “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” has its roots in Psalm 84. Both of these songs echo the psalmist’s key themes: we are blessed both when we are with God and when we are on the pilgrimage to be with God.
The original purpose of Psalm 84 would have been to encourage pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. They would have sung it as they traveled. The opening lines remind them of the goal – the temple. They would also be reminded of the ‘why’ behind the journey – to be in God’s presence. Verse two expresses this desire well: the soul yearns and the heart and flesh cry out. For those who have arrived, for those “who dwell in your house”, they are filled with praises for God. This joyous end of the journey would be much anticipated by the pilgrims.
The next stanza, verses five through seven, addresses the realities of life for some of the pilgrims. Verse five reads, “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage”. This blessing is also ours. Once we decide to set our course with God, we too gain strength and encouragement for the journey. Once we profess our desire to walk with God, then we too are blessed. But the journey is not always joyous, not always easy. In the earliest texts of Psalm 84 the journey would have passed not through the valley of Baca but through the “valley of sorrows”. It was a dry place where the pilgrim’s tears would “make it a place of springs”. God’s presence would have been the “autumn rains” that filled them with blessings and joy. Even in sorrow, God is present. As these pilgrims journey on towards their destination, they know God’s presence as they “go from strength to strength” as they continue towards God’s dwelling place.
Whether we are like the sparrow that has found a home or if we are a pilgrim on the journey or if we now find ourselves passing through the valley, we know the same destination. This day and every day may we yearn for and cry out for God, ever seeking to dwell in God’s presence, drawing strength upon strength from the Lord our God. How lovely it is to dwell with the Lord!