Theme: The Very Heart of Religion
In this week’s lessons we learn from the psalmist what it is to truly desire God.
Scripture: Psalm 63:1-11
There are various ways of outlining the eleven verses of this psalm. They can be found in the various commentaries. The New International Version is probably right on track, however, when it sets verse 1 off as a stanza to itself. This is because the verse expresses the longing of David’s soul for God and because the next section (vv. 2-8) describes how that longing has been answered in the past and is being honored in the present.
Verse 1 is a wonderful expression of the very heart of religion. David is in the desert of Judah, one of the most barren regions on earth, and he uses that as a poetic background for his condition apart from God. He has been driven from Jerusalem where God was present in his sanctuary and where he regularly worshiped and beheld God’s glory. He therefore sees himself now as thirsting for God as a man might thirst in the desert, “where there is no water,” and as longing physically for God as a traveler through such hostile country might long for rest at the end of his debilitating journey.
This intense physical longing for God, almost an “appetite” for God, is something that impressed C.S. Lewis when he was preparing his Reflections on the Psalms. He wrote
These poets knew far less reason than we for loving God. They did not know that he offered them eternal joy; still less that he would die to win it for them. Yet they express a longing for him, for his mere presence, which comes only to the best Christians or to Christians in their best moments. They long to live all their days in the temple so that they may constantly see “the fair beauty of the Lord” (Ps. 27:1). Their longing to go up to Jerusalem and “appear before the presence of God” is like a physical thirst (Ps. 42). From Jerusalem his presence flashes out “in perfect beauty” (Ps. 50:2). Lacking that encounter with him, their souls are parched like a waterless countryside (Ps. 63:2).1
How little this is found today. Most people do not even know that it is God their souls truly desire. They are seeking satisfaction in other things. Other people know God but do not cultivate his presence; they do not long after him. Is it not this above everything that explains the weakness of the contemporary church? Is it not this that makes us so hollow spiritually?
One other thing is worth noting about verse 1. The verb “seek” is an unusual verb that is related to the Hebrew noun for “dawn,” and it can be translated two ways, either as “to seek early” or “to seek earnestly.” The New International Version has chosen the second option (“earnestly I seek you”), probably rightly, but many of the older versions, including the King James Version, had “early.” This caused Christians to think of Psalm 63 as a morning psalm, and in many places it was sung at the beginning of each day. For example, it was used as a morning psalm by the early Greek churches and it remains such in the liturgy of the Armenian church.
Liturgy is not the point, however. The point is the desirability of a regular, early, daily longing after God. Do you have that desire for God? If you do not, do you want to? Are you willing to develop it? There is no better way to start each day that by earnestly seeking God’s face through personal Bible study, meditation and devout prayer.
1C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1958), pp. 50, 51.
How does verse 1 express the heart of religion?
What is our condition apart from God?
What explains the weakness of the contemporary church?
Why is Psalm 63 thought of as a “morning psalm”?
What can we learn from verse 12?
Reflection: Do you have a regular, early, daily longing for God? Do you want to? Are you willing to develop it?
Application: How will you begin to seek God’s face through regular personal Bible study, meditation and prayer?
For Further Study: Fundamental to our knowledge of God is that he has revealed himself to us, and given us his Holy Spirit so we can understand this revelation. Download for free and listen to James Boice’s message from 1 Corinthians 2, “Deep Things of God.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)