Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room: Seeking God In Advent Through the Psalms

“Let every heart prepare Him room.” Isaac Watts, 1719 – Joy to the World
 
Advent is the time where we learn again to long for God – to wait for Him and to expect Him and to prepare room in our heart for Him. We join with those in Israel who were eagerly awaiting the first coming of the Messiah, we are reminded of what it is like to wait on God to satisfy us now, and we join with Christians all over the world who are eagerly longing for the triumphant return of Christ. Advent is the season of waiting, hoping, and expecting that begins four weeks before Christmas Day and culminates Christmas Eve. So, we wait on The Lord. We prepare room for Him, which means that we remove the things from our life that would compete with Him and we open our heart to God’s work and presence in our lives.
 
One of the Psalms that has impacted me most over the years in cultivating my heart for God is Psalm 63. It is a cry of David for God to be His joy and satisfaction and protection. I was praying through it this morning and was thinking about how much it fits the themes of Advent and waiting upon God as our Savior and Lord. This Psalm can serve as a series of spiritual movements that can connect us with God in deep and meaningful ways on a daily basis. Perhaps it can be an aid during Advent.
 
 
Psalm 63
 

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
3 Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
4 So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.

5 My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
6 when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7 for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
8 My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.

9 But those who seek to destroy my life
shall go down into the depths of the earth;
10 they shall be given over to the power of the sword;
they shall be a portion for jackals.
11 But the king shall rejoice in God;
all who swear by him shall exult,
for the mouths of liars will be stopped.

 

King David was a man who knew what it meant to live under pressure. As the king of Israel, he knew the pressures of leadership. The higher and more responsible the leadership position, the greater are the pressures. And David knew the pressure of problems. During his reign, his son, Absalom, led a rebellion against him. David and his loyal followers had to flee for their lives. During that time David spent a short while in the northeastern portion of the wilderness of Judah before he crossed over the Jordan River. In that barren land, fleeing for his life from his own son, feeling disgraced and rejected, with an uncertain future, David penned Psalm 63.

It is one of the most well-loved psalms. John Chrysostom (347-407) wrote “that it was decreed and ordained by the primitive [church] fathers, that no day should pass without the public singing of this Psalm.” He also observed that “the spirit and soul of the whole Book of Psalms is contracted into this Psalm” (cited by J. J. Stewart Perowne, The Book of Psalms, [Zondervan], p. 486). In fact, the ancient church had the practice of beginning the singing of the Psalms at each Sunday service with Psalm 63, called “the morning hymn” (Commentary on the Old Testament, C. F. Keil & Franz Delitzsch, [Eerdmans], p. 212).

 
Oh God, you are my God…”
 
All longing for God and our relationship with Him begins with us acknowledging first that He is God and that He is our God. Our god is not Ba’al or Zeus or any other idol. Our god is not money, sex, power, pleasure, self, approval, accomplishments, family, relationships, prosperity, safety, or anything else. Our God is God – Jehovah. The Creator of All Things. We declare each day that we start with God – the One True God. We look to Him first and foremost. We seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all of “these things” will be added to us as God determines, because He knows what we need and when we need it. We can be content in Him. We are to give Him worship alone. This requires faith – that we know/believe that God exists and rewards those who earnestly seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). Our faith comes by hearing the Word (Rom. 10:17) and is a gift of God that is enhanced as we trust God and obey Him. We can only say with confidence that “God is our God” when we look to Him, seek Him, dwell in His Word, and obey Him. When we obey God, we are declaring with our lives that God is better than any other option to save us or heal us or make us whole. So, we start with God and with crying out to Him in desperation and in confidence.
 
Earnestly I seek you; My soul thirsts for you; My flesh faints for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
 
The psalmist is saying that he seeks after God earnestly, which is to seek with deep sincercity or seriousness. But, this is often not true of us. It is better to just admit it up front. We often seek after other things earnestly and if we turn to God, we might try to use Him to get our way on the other matters. We are all guilty of this in one form or another. When our hearts grow tired and weary and when we are overwhelmed, there is a good chance that we are earnestly seeking things other than God. Or, during those times of weariness, we often turn to other things than God for our salvation, be it in the moment or eternally. But, the psalmist says that at this point, he is seeking God with everything.
 
Soul thirsts. Flesh faints. In a dry and weary land where there is no water. David recognizes that he needs God above all things. He is in the Wilderness of Judah at this point and is most likely fleeing from Absalom, his son, who is seeking to kill him and take His throne. This is the same Wilderness that Jesus would have been tempted by the Devil in – where he fasted and prayed for 40 days and nights. In this “dry and weary land,” David learns to depend upon God and seek Him, just as Jesus, the Son of David, demonstrated a thousand years later. David is seeking after God with all of his heart, soul, and body. There is nothing else for him. No water. No refuge other than God. So, David presses in.
 
This is the situation that we are all in all of the time. Things that seem to be “water” are actually not. They are poison and only bring death. We are all in a “dry and weary land” apart from God, the Maker and Sustainer of our souls. David recognized this. Jesus recognized this. They waited upon The Lord in the desert – the dry place – because they knew down deep that God was better than anything else. Do we believe that? We should pray that God cultivate that longing for Him in our hearts and souls.
 

 
2So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
3Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
4So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.

We must spend time with God. David has been with God in the sanctuary. He has beheld His power and glory. He has tasted of God’s steadfast love. He KNOWS that God’s love is better than life. David’s lips praise God and not anything else. David’s response to God’s goodness and power and glory is to respond in praise and the lifting of hands, which represent a surrendered life.

If we believe in God at all – if we call ourselves Christian – then spending time with God beholding Him and praising Him must be our top priority. Through God’s Word, through prayer and worship and praise and obedience, we “behold” The Lord. We look upon Him and we are changed.

The Flesh doesn’t want this, of course. It is convinced that real life is found in lower things – in the desires of the flesh and the things of this earth and in temporal pleasures – in what our senses can perceive and grasp for in the Natural Realm. But, God wants us to see Him. He wants us to know that He is good and treasure Him and give Him worth above all things.

Psalm 16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

In your presence there is fullness of joy – eternal pleasures at your right hand. THAT is where we find life – true life – in the presence of God. But, the Great Lie is that what we are looking for can be found in other places. So, believing the lie, we take our quest to other things. As CS Lewis said in “The Weight of Glory,”

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Having desire is not wrong. God made us with desires – deep desires for love, joy, peace, relationships, contentment, security, safety, freedom, hope, etc – but, where do we take our desires? To God or to other things? Do we seek after God or do we seek after the Flesh? Joy and eternal pleasure is found only in God. We must earnestly seek Him above all things. Jesus is better.
 
Gaze upon The Lord in worship and adoration. Look to Him. Trust Him. Behold His power and glory. Know that His love is better than life. Lift your hands, surrender your life, dwell in His presence – take God up on the offer of the holiday at the sea. Taste and see that The Lord is good.
 
5My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
 
We come to the place where we know that God will satisfy us more than anything else – God brings us there Himself. God is the Source of our spiritual food – our sustenance. When we can say with confidence that it is God who will feed our souls and not the things of this world and then LIVE that way, we are able to glorify God in any circumstance. THAT is when we are growing in grace. Chrisitan growth does not start with peformance and trying to get things right. It starts with worship. When we worship God alone and find our life in Him, then we grow in The Lord and are strengthened in Him and have the power to look to Him alone. And, this is a moment-by-moment and day-by-day trust that builds and grows over time. The heart of the disciple must be cultivated by going to God to drink water from His well again and again. Bring Him your sin and brokenness and trust Him to heal you. Trust God to make you whole and to satisfy you “as with fat and rich food.”

The result of this satisfaction is to praise God. After having a great meal that fills our stomachs and tantalizes our taste buds, we often push back from the table and thank the chef and sing praises about how good the food is. When our palate has been cultivated by good food, we know the difference between what is satisfying and what is not. We tell everyone about the meal that we had and we recommend it and put pictures of it up on Facebook/Twitter and broadcast the news far and wide. God wants to satisfy us spiritually in the same way. He wants us to sing HIS praises and not the praises of another. God is jealous for us (James 4:5). He wants all of us. He wants our praise because He alone is worthy of it – and because He loves us so much that He wants our highest good. We were made for relationship with God. God will actually satisfy us with Himself so that we long for Him more and turn to Him above all other things. As Romans 2:4 says, it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance.

But, with every promise of life, joy, and satisfaction from God there also comes a warning. If true life is to be found in God and in feasting on Him and in worshiping Him alone, then that inversely means that death and destruction is to be found in rejecting Him and the table that He has set before us. If I foolishly think that I can be more satisfied apart from God, then apart from God I will be. I cannot have God’s Table and the World at the same time. It is one or the other. So, with the promise comes the warning. The whole context of Romans 2:1-5 says,

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

When we partake of evil and then judge others who partake of evil without examining our own hearts and repenting to God, then we store up judgment for ourselves. In Christ, all of God’s Wrath has been satisfied. But, running after the things of the world is a sign that we are not in Christ. Let God’s kindness lead you to repentance. Go to God’s Table and eat.

6when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;

This is a call for prayer – constant, meditative, thoughtful prayer. We are told to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:16-17). We see Jesus praying constantly. David here gives us a picture of how he went to sleep and awoke and spent his nights – in prayer and meditation before God.


The “watches” of the night: The NetBible tells us about these “watches”

The Jews, like the Greeks and Romans, divided the night into military watches instead of hours, each watch representing the period for which sentinels or pickets remained on duty. The proper Jewish reckoning recognized only three such watches, entitled the first or “beginning of the watches,” (Lamentations 2:19) the middle watch, (Judges 7:19) and the morning watch. (Exodus 14:24; 1 Samuel 11:11) These would last respectively from sunset to 10 P.M.; from 10 P.M. to 2 A.M.; and from 2 A.M. to sunrise. After the establishment of the Roman supremacy, the number of watches was increased to four, which were described either according to their numerical order, as in the case of the “fourth watch,” (Matthew 14:25) or by the terms “even,” “midnight,” “cock-crowing” and “morning.” (Mark 13:35) These terminated respectively at 9 P.M., midnight, 3 A.M. and 6 A.M.

David would rise to pray and seek after The Lord when the sentinel changed over in doing his duty of watching over the walls of the city or in watching over the people. David aligned his prayer life with the rhythm of protection and governance of the people. How might we align our times of seeking after The Lord with the flow of our day and our night? The morning? Noon? Evening? Through the night? Many pre-modern people would sleep in two shifts where they went to bed not long after sundown and then awoke around midnight and would stay awake for a couple of hours before going back to bed. This was before electricity, so it made sense. Perhaps this was the type of rhythm that David was thinking of. How do we carry this idea into our own lives today?

Many Christians around the world engage in a practice called “Praying the Hours.” At fixed times during the day or night, they stop to pray or to recite written prayers to God. Scot McKnight talks about this practice and wrote a book about it. It seems that David was doing something similar.

 

for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
8My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.


David recognizes that God is his help. From a place of feasting upon The Lord, drinking of Him deeply, beholding Him, and meditating on Him and praying to Him, we recognize that God is our great help. Our lives have now aligned to His and we find our life in Him. Our soul clings to God and not to other things. We KNOW that we are upheld by God’s own right hand. As Paul said, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life appears, then you will also appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:3-4). We die to our old life and cling to Christ – actually, He clings to us. Our lives are hidden in and with Jesus. When he appears, we appear with him. When Jesus returns, we will be with Him. When He shows up in our lives, our true selves appear with Him. We are one with Christ.

But those who seek to destroy my life
shall go down into the depths of the earth;
10they shall be given over to the power of the sword;
they shall be a portion for jackals.
11But the king shall rejoice in God;
all who swear by him shall exult,
for the mouths of liars will be stopped.

We are in a battle and we need to recognize it. David is here talking about people who are his enemies and who are seeking to destroy him. But, we can include ourselves in this as well, just perhaps in different ways. There are those who seek to destroy us and keep us from living in relationship with God and experiencing the good things that God has for us. We know that we do not ultimately battle against other people (flesh and blood), but against demonic powers and rulers who seek to deceive and distort God’s good plan. We are to take our stand against the Devil’s schemes and put on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18). God has the ultimate victory and will destroy those who oppose us and seek to destroy us and lie about us and who we are in Christ and where true life is found.

Abiding in Christ and finding our joy in Him involves a battle – a putting off of the old life that is corrupted through deceitful desires, a renewal of our minds, and a putting on of the new life in Christ, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24). Through cultivating our desire for God by seeking after Him earnestly and feasting at His Table continually, our minds are renewed and we learn to see things as they really are according to God’s Word. The eyes of our hearts are enlightened to know the hope to which we have been called, our glorious inheritance in the saints, and God’s incomparably great power for us who believe (Ephesians 1:15-23). We recognize Satan’s schemes and we see how he tries to use others to thwart and attack us.

The battle that exists is raging all around us. It is a battle that would seek to destroy us and cause us to go along with the siren call of the world and find our life there. Our Flesh does not seek after God. It seeks to satisfy itself. When the Flesh rises up in us, it is doing what it always does which is to reject God. It does not want to pray. It does not want to seek God. It does not want to worship or serve others or do anything that doesn’t enhance “self.” This is why Jesus said in Matthew 16:24-26,

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Orwhat shall a man give in return for his soul?

Jesus has won the battle against our Enemy, the Devil. He won it in the very wilderness that David was praying in (Matthew 4). He won it on the Cross. He won it through the Resurrection and the Ascension. And, now this victory is poured out into our hearts. The way that the victory of Christ is applied to our daily lives is through the Cross. When we die to ourselves and our own desires and give up our lives, then we will gain the true life that Christ has in store for us. When we stop eating from the World’s Table, then we can eat from God’s Table and find true life. The Victory has been won. We must receive it.

We are told to “wait upon The Lord” – that those “who wait upon The Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

When we wait upon God, we renew our strength – or, rather, we “exchange” our weakness for God’s strength. This is what happens when we worship and pray and earnestly seek the Lord and when our soul longs for God and thirsts for Him in a dry and weary land where they is no water. When we stop seeking after other things and fully seek after God, we find that our life is truly in Him – that He is the One who satisfies completely and that He is the One who gives us real life.

Growth in Christ and our sanctificiation involves seeking after God and knowing that He is better than anything. There is a battle there – a battle with other desires, a battle with adversaries, a battle with the world and with ourselves. But, it is a battle based on the Victory of Christ and the wooing and blessing of God. It is God who prepares a table for us in the midst of our enemies – who anoints our head with oil and causes our cup to overflow – who restores our soul. So, all of this is based first and foremost on God Himself.

“Oh God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you.”

Advent is the time to reorient our lives back to God. Let our hearts prepare room for Him during this season as we seek God above all things. Then, let the joy of this season overflow from hearts that have been filled with God!

 
 


 
 
 

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