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In Pursuit of the Presence
 Psalm 42:1-6, Psalm 43
Psalm 24:3-6

(c) Copyright 2008 Rev. Bill Versteeg

Audio Version

Previous Sermons in the Temple Series:
"The Temple: An Introduction"
 "Why Worry about the Temple?  Can't We live without God?"

Psalm 42:1-6

1As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.
2My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
3My tears have been my food
day and night,
while men say to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”
4These things I remember
as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go with the multitude,
leading the procession to the house of God,
with shouts of joy and thanksgiving
among the festive throng.
5Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and 6 my God.

    Desire, desire for the presence of God is something that only God can create in the human heart.  Once we have tasted how good God is, it is in our spiritual nature to want more of Him.  This desire is the product of rebirth, regeneration by the power of the Spirit, it is only by that desire that rebirth that we can see, let alone enter the kingdom, and that desire is God creation, God infused within us.  Jesus said: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” (John 6:44) And yet, when the Father draws us, it becomes a passionate desire within us, as Paul wrote in Phil 3:10: 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.   Paul was willing to go through suffering and hardships, trials, persecutions, imprisonment death, in it all he was after something, he was in Pursuit of the Presence of God, whatever it took, Paul wanted to know him!

    It all starts with a desire that comes from God within our hearts, a desire to know God, and if you are a Christian today, you have a sense of that desire to know God.  But you have also found that desire, this dear panting for water, this soul panting, thirsting for the living God, it can become frustrating when our hunger for God remains unsatiated, unsatisfied.  If God creates in us a desire for him, a desire for his Presence, then how is it that in our lives that desire can remain unfulfilled?

    We have to understand the nature of desire.  “A desire is a conscious impulse toward something that promises enjoyment or satisfaction in its attainment.”  Now there are two kinds of desires - the desire that requires no discipline and desire “where discipline plays a major role in making a desire a reality.”

    An illustration: I love my wife’s lemon meringue pie.  I desire it.  When its around, it takes absolutely no self discipline to satiate my desire for that pie.  In fact, if I desire more, a second piece even requires less self discipline. That road is wide.  I might need discipline not to over eat.  To satiate my desire for the pie takes no self discipline.  I suspect that we sometimes have that perspective of the presence of God - that experiencing the presence of God is like our desire for pie.

    But there is a kind of narrow road desire that requires self discipline in order to be satiated.  For example, most of us want a happy marriage - well, it is going to take discipline in how we relate to each other to make and keep our marriage happy.  Some of us desire a promotion in a job.  We know it is going to take learning, enhancing our skills, demonstrating how responsible and reliable we are to get that position, it will take self discipline to be satiated.  Some of us want to loose weight.  We may have the desire but we know that it takes more than desire, we have to discipline our pie eating habits to get there.  We have to order our behaviors, structure our priorities in order to have our desires achieved.  This is true for the Presence of God.  David hungered for the presence of God, it would take disciplines of heart and spirit in order to have his desire for God satiated.   Paul puts this desire this way in Phil 2,3: “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. ..I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” 

     Jesus put it this way: “13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

    What are the disciplines of the narrow road? Let me, today, name just three spiritual disciplines that bring fulfillment in our desire for God.

Let’s turn to Psalm 24:3-6 for the first two.

Who may ascend the hill of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
4He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to an idol
or swear by what is false.
5He will receive blessing from the Lord
and vindication from God his Savior.
6Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek your face, O God of Jacob.

    When the Psalmist asks, Who may ascend the hill of the Lord, who may stand in his holy place, he is using temple language for the Presence of God.  The temple was picture as being on a holy hill.  The Holy Place was the very center of the temple, the place of the Presence of God.  The question is - who may enter there?  His answer - those who practice the discipline of 

    Discipline #1: Renunciation.

What is renunciation?  It is the practice of saying no to wants and desires.
    If you type into the internet that word, the first hits you will get have to do with Buddhism.  Buddhism has the discipline of renunciation too because in Buddhism, desire along with ignorance are the sources of suffering.  So obviously, the cure to this suffering for ourselves and this world is at least to renounce those things that we desire - pleasure, material goods and immortality.  So the motive of Buddhist renunciation is to defeat suffering by saying no to desires.

    The Christian motive for renunciation has to do with purity of heart. Notice Psalm 24 - it is the pure of heart that may stand in the Presence of the Lord.  Jesus said it in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the Pure in heart for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)   We all have a sense of what purity is.  Pure H2O is simply pure water, nothing else, nothing added.  When you drink the water, you are getting just water, no chemicals, nothing mixed in.  No toxic melamine, no Bisphenol-A (BPA), no chlorine or fluorine or mercury, my list can go on - you know what the word pure means - to be pure means there is only one thing, there is no mixture, there is no additive.

    A Pure heart is a heart that has one thing in focus, one desire that drives it, one love that hungers for satisfaction, and for the Christian, that is God, the Presence of God.   “Blessed are the Pure in heart for they shall see God.”  Remember last Sunday’s text.  Moses was already speaking to God person to person, yet in the conversation, hungering for the presence of God which would be their protection, their light for the pathway and the favour of God, he still said “Show me your Glory!”  He wanted to see, to experience God in his Glorious Presence.  The reason why we have such an unfulfilled desire for God in our lives today has everything to do with the fact that we have not learned the practice of renunciation.  Yes we want God, but the truth is we want “God and,” we want God and wealth, we want God and our pride, we want God and things, we want God and relationships, and popularity, and acceptance, and, and, and, we want “God and.”  We are called to a first love.  The calls of scripture again and again call us to put God above all, to love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, to seek first his kingdom with all our heart.  Pure hearts get to see, to experience the Presence.  

    And the Christian discipline to purity is renunciation.  Placing God first in our hearts and lives, before our money, before our relationships, before ourselves, even before our children.  That’s why we strongly advise our youth to marry in the Lord.  When two people whose first commitment is to Jesus, in marriage, there is no competition.  Christ comes first and in their love, they love each other with a gracious freedom giving love.  But if one is not a Christian and that person insists on being first in their partners life, the Presence is sacrificed by the fact that the person’s heart is torn in two directions, motives are mixed, desires are blended, impure.

    What are your desires?  Can you say that your first and primary life desire is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength?  Or is that desire mixed with a truckload of other things that you want, that you deserve, that you have to have?  Its amazing how many idols we might have.  And those who bow down to idols simply don’t get to the presence of God.  It is only the pure in heart. Its only when we start practicing renunciation, I can do without. God comes before my pride. God comes before my reputation. God comes before my right to be entertained. God comes before my pleasures, even food - you see at the heart of fasting is placing God before food - and its end purpose is to draw closer into the Presence of God.

    Discipline #2 The Habit of Right Approach.

Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? 
Who may stand in his holy place?
4He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to an idol
or swear by what is false.

    Again, the question of Psalm 24 is this - who may approach, who may come into the Presence, the Holy place?

    The Psalmists answer - the one with clean hands, the one who has integrity of heart and word.

    How do we get clean hands?  If God is a God of cleanliness, a God who wants no part of sin in his Presence, how do we sinful creatures get into his presence?  We need to develop the right habits of approach.

    And what is this Habit?  The answer is that we deal with our sin first.  Again, we will look at the structure of the temple and we will discover that the very first part of entering into the presence of God had everything to do with dealing with sin.  We do not get into the presence of God dirty.  He is a Holy God, and he only dwells with the humble and lowly heart. (Isaiah).  We need to practice the habit of dealing first with our sin, through the disciplines of confession, humbling ourselves before him, seeking his washing, his cleansing by the blood of Christ.  There is no other way, there is not other mediator between God and man, he is the one and only true temple.  That’s why we pray “In Jesus Name” because it is only in Jesus, the temple for us that we dare approach God, it is by his blood that we enter into the presence of God.  Only those who have honestly and humbly dealt with their sin can enter into the presence of God.

    So the discipline of renunciation for the purpose of a pure heart, the discipline of right approach to enter in, and finally, the
     Discipline #3 “The Practice of Listening to God’s Word.”
    (Might be called the discipline of preaching to yourself)

      Turn back if you would to Psalm 42.  This is one of those Psalm that describes what might be called spiritual depression.  God seems far away.  Foes mock “Where is your God?”  The Psalmist is driven by an unsatisfied passion for the presence of God and at best he can remember times when he was close to God especially in the context of worship.  But those memories now are haunts.  It feels like God is failing him, the Presence seems far away.  Enemies voices are heard all day, tears are his day and night.  As he listens to his own thoughts, they overwhelm his emotions, they tear down his countenance, they scream his and God’s failure.  I know what I’m talking about.  I am there every Monday.  I suspect there is not a person here who has not listened to all the negatives that so freely rush through our mind. 

    Listen to the Psalmist. 

5Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and 6 my God.

    This refrain has the character of a rebuke.  This refrain, which happens twice in Psalm 42 and then again at the end of Psalm 43 which is a continuation of this poem, is a self rebuke and a reminder that this too shall pass, God is faithful, God will follow through, God has been faithful in the past, he will be faithful in the future.  The Psalms exhorts himself to place his hope in God, to listen to God.  You see, the practice of listening to God is more than just the practice of having devotions though it certainly includes that.  Those who do not have devotions are listening to themselves, their own feelings, waaaaay to much (that’s not waaaay cool).  Listening to God involves choosing not to listen to the sounds of groaning and self pity that resonate sometimes day and night in our own soul.  It is a determination to listen to the Word of God, because it is the Word of God that stands stronger and firmer than the words of our own soul.  It is the word of God that tells us there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus.  It is the word of God that tells us that all the promises of God are yes and amen in Christ.  We might want to judge ourselves but Paul makes it very clear that he did not even judge himself, he entrusted his faith and even his clear conscience to the perfect judgement of God.  We listen waaaay to much to our own thoughts, our own opinions, our own self understanding, and often our own understanding of God.   

Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and 6 my God. 

    Listening to the Word of God is a discipline of letting the Word guide us into the Presence.  Listen to these words from Psalm 43

3Send forth your light and your truth,
let them guide me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
to the place where you dwell.
4Then will I go to the altar of God,
to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the harp,
O God, my God.

    That is the discipline of Listening, focused attention to what God says, more than what our own hearts say, rather than our confused emotions, this is a focused attention.  This is a discipline, its hard work.  We don’t do it naturally.  It’s a narrow road discipline. It might feel like an uphill grind.  We can get assistance in these disciplines.  One of the assistants to these disciplines is service to others.  How many times have you heard youth education teachers say “I learned more than the young people I taught.”  That’s because they had to engage in the discipline of learning in order to teach.  The same with elders who grow spiritually in service.  When we place the need for the discipline on our lives, we receive the benefit from the service we give.  We cast our bread on the water and it returns to us pressed down and flowing over.

Spiritual desire is the gift of God.  If we want to experience as a people the presence of God powerfully in our lives, it will take the disciplines of renunciation, approach and listening.  As Paul said “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. ..I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”


(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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