Theme: One Thing I Seek
Bible Reading: Psalm 27:1-14
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
Being in lockdown has made some of us reconsider what is most important in life. Is the 2 hours of travel to work each day really worth it? COVIDhas encouraged us to reconsider our priorities. This new sermon series is exploring this idea with the context of a phrase found 5 times in the Bible … “One Thing”. Five times we are encourage to think about “one thing” or seek “one thing”. That is this one thing that scripture is encouraging about other things.
This Sunday we are opening Psalm 27 where the Psalmist is seeking just one thing … one thing above all others … to be close to God. How do we prioritise our relationship with God. What does it mean to want to be in the presence of God all the time? Is that even possible?
A little while ago, Time magazine put out an article entitled, “Why the COVID-19 Pandemic Has Caused a Widespread Existential Crisis”. One of the main paragraphs in this article reads:
It will take years for researchers to fully understand the effect coronavirus had on people… Right now, the dominant trend seems to be change itself. The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have spurred a collective reckoning with our values, lifestyles and goals—an existential crisis of sorts.
I think that this is so true. Whether it is the extra time that we have, or the disruption to the status quo, or whether this time of challenge and uncertainty has made us reflect on what is most important … it seems that many of us have re-evaluating our work and our lives at the moment.
Back in June we did a series where we pondered our work/life balance while reflecting on a 24 hour day of Jesus and I got a heap of feedback from that series about that had been tapping into their reality. That this COVID experience was making them think more about their life and where they were investing their time.
But this time article was suggesting that we were going a step further. Not just rebalancing how our work and life and family time but for some people but having our foundational values and key live goals shaken. For example, there is some evidence that COVID has lead to more breakups and divorces as well as engagements and cohabitations as people re-evaluate what they want in their significant life relationships.
Lockdown has given many people the mental and physical space to really get into every facet of life – and for some people … nothing has been overlooked.
The new sermon series that we are starting today stems from this thinking … but this existential crisis is not going to be the focus of the series. Rather we are going to ponder some people in the Bible who were going through a similar experience. Whose circumstances forced them to do some life re-evaluations.
And the way that we are going to do this is by focusing on a single phrase that is only said about a dozen times in the bible but only five times in the context that we are exploring. This phrase is the “One Thing”.
- One thing you lack (Mark 10:21)
- One thing is needed (Luke 10:42)
- One thing I know (John 9:25)
- One thing I do (Phil 3:13)
- One thing I ask/One thing I seek (Psalm 27:4)
Whether it was David or Martha, or Paul or the Rich Young Ruler … they all were confronted with this reflecting on what was most important in life and trying to work out in the midst of many, many things … what was the one thing.
You see, that is the point – we live in a society that is saturated with choice, with options, with everything at our fingertips – there are just so many, many things. And yet, in these five biblical verses, we are confronted with the idea of just one thing, or the one thing.
Are we ready to jump into this?
Today’s reading is from Psalm 27, and if you look at the title in your bible or on your phone you will see that Psalm 27 was written by King David (as was about half the psalms).
David is a unique Biblical Character. He is an absolute hero of the Old Testament – the slayer of Goliath, one of the great kings, the one who brought the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem – and yet at the same time he was a flawed person who was not a great husband or father, was manipulative, struggled with lust, pride and greed and ultimately a deceiver and a murder. And yet within this complexity, David had a deep faith in God and understood that when we mucked things up (which he did regularly), David was straight back to God, confessing his sins and receiving forgiveness. For David, there is no hesitation, no wallowing in guilt, David knew how to return home to the grace and mercy of God.
But let’s focus on Psalm 27. The Psalm has two distinct sections. In the first section – verses 1 to 6, David declares the power of God and a confident hope that God will bring rescue and protection from all enemies. “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?”
But then in verse 7, David’s tone seems to change. After declaring the certainty of God’s power and protection – David now prays for rescue and deliverance and pleads for God not to turn away.
As one commentator says … this is a very human, very normal experience. David “knows” he can trust God, but that knowledge does not make a person immune to fear. David knows that God can save him but his enemies are closing in. Rather than panicking or despairing, David reminds himself of God’s goodness and trusts the Lord to provide – even if it means that he might need to wait, as David writes in verse 14.
We really don’t know when this Psalm was written but the great preacher Charles Spurgeon, suggested in one of his sermons that the Psalm was written in response to the events of 1 Samuel 21 and 22 – when the current King Saul was on a full out offense to kill David, and David makes some poor decisions which indirectly lead to the death of priests of Nob.
Some other commentators suggest that it could have been written in response to the events of 2 Samuel 6, where David (who is now king) is attempting to bring back the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem and if you know the story, the cart that the Ark is wobbles, Uzzah reached out to steady the ark and dies. David get angry at God, and scared of God at the same time, and instead of finishing the task, parks the ark at Odem-Edom’s place and goes home.
In both these situations, David is double guessing himself. His decisions have led to people getting hurt. His enemies – whether they are people who are criticising David or literally trying to kill David – are closing in. David is frustrated, angry and blaming himself. He is asking some deep existential questions about himself and his leadership abilities.
And what is his response? As the wicked advance and war is breaking out against him? Of all the things that David could do in response … what is the one thing that he focuses on…
One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.
In his doubt, anger, fear, confusion … David is seeking just ONE THING. The ONE THING that he asks from God, the ONE THING David seeks is to be in the presence of God. Why? If you are scared and angry with God … why seek God’s presence?
Psalm 27:5 gives part of the answer. For in the day of trouble God will keep me safe in his dwelling; God will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.
I said this during our Job series but it is the same with David. In difficult times we have the choice to get angry with God and push God away … or we can lean into God and be embraced by God’s presence and love. While both options comes with complexities … David says that one thing he seeks is to be close to God. I think that the word that David uses here – seek – is intentional and significant. The One thing I seek.
As acknowledged earlier, David seemed to have a good understanding of the nature of God. David knew of God’s love and mercy and grace … and David seemed to know that God seems to be biased towards the seeking heart. In 2 Chronicles 7:14 God said, “If my people… will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” Or Jeremiah 29:13 – You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
Or Jesus in the sermon on the Mount … Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)
God does indeed seems to have a bias towards the seeking heart and so in his time of trouble, David says there is just one thing he seeks – to be in the presence of God. To be close to God.
Both the Old and New Testaments talk about seeking as a “setting of the mind and heart” on something. It is a focus of our thinking and our desires in a particular direction. This setting of the mind and the heart is the opposite of mental or spiritual coasting. It is making the conscious decision to fix our attention or our affection on something.
As I said at the beginning, this time of COVID has lead a number of people to re-evaluate where our focus is. This time or this crisis has made us ponder the question – “Where are we placing our attention or affection?” Of all the different things that we can response to this question with … is this idea of the ONE THING relevant? What can this experience of David say to us in our situation. Are these words of David something that we might like to shape into our own lives.
One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.
Maybe the challenge for us today is found in the words of the Chronicler in 1 Chronicles 22:19 “devote your heart and soul to seeking the Lord your God” or maybe in the words of Jesus from Matthew 6:33 “Seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things will sort themselves out”.