And the Swallow

Psalm 84

How lovely is your dwelling place,
    Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
    to the living God.

Even the sparrow finds a home,
    and the swallow a nest for herself,
    where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
    my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
    ever singing your praise! Selah

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
    in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the Valley of Baca
    they make it a place of springs;
    the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
    each one appears before God in Zion.

Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
    give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah
Behold our shield, O God;
    look on the face of your anointed!

10 For a day in your courts is better
    than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
    than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
    the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
    from those who walk uprightly.
12 Lord of hosts,
    blessed is the one who trusts in you!

If you could break this Psalm down to one theme, it would be longing. Have you ever been homesick or longed to be with the people that made you feel loved? Have you ever wanted to just get away from a situation and go to a familiar place? Many of us have felt this way at one time or another. Hannah and I lived a transient life for quite a few years. Nothing ever felt permanent, which made it difficult to settle. There was always an undercurrent of restlessness that would occasionally creep to the surface of our consciousness. It was in those moments that we felt longing. We wanted to go where people knew us.

I think what draws me into this psalm is how positive it remains. When I become overtaken with these same emotions, I move so quickly in the other direction. Instead of dwelling in the beauty of my memories, I dwell on my disdain for my present situation. I so quickly move from the positive to the negative. I think, “it was so wonderful to be and to feel known,’ and then immediately move to, “I want that now. Why haven’t I found that here? When will I feel that again?”

The psalmist, though, is content with the memories and more importantly, content with God. Of course, the psalmist longs for home but understands that if he cannot be there, he can still be with God who gives him strength. Sometimes it’s hard for us to see the purpose God has when we are overcome with the longing to go, to leave. Wherever you are, God wants you there. He wants you to seek His kingdom, to live according to His ways, and to glorify Him through your actions. He’s given us these memories to strengthen our resolve to push forward, not to live in the past.

The end of verse 10 hits the place that I would’ve gone in verse 2. “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” We look around at our world, and there’s so much beauty. It gives me hope. I think of those moments when I have felt known, and I feel hope, but sometimes I look around at the rampant injustices throughout every segment of society and it becomes crippling. I struggle to know what to do. I’m tempted, as many of us are, to hope for the world to regress to a simpler time, a time when I was unaware of these tragedies, when I was burdened with the pain of others. But, I don’t want to be unaware anymore. We can’t move towards justice if we’re unaware of the injustice. It’s in those moments, that my nostalgia moves to a future hope. I don’t long for the past, I long for a future. It’s not about the pains of the present but about the hope of the forthcoming. It’s not about making things great again, but as Dr. King said it’s about making things the way they ought to be.

Prayer and Reflection

Pray that in moments of longing, you can derive strength through the knowledge of God’s presence. Pray that you can lean into the memories as a source of joy and goodness. Pray that you can move forward instead of always looking backward.

Higher Ground

I’m pressing on the upward way,
New heights I’m gaining every day;
Still praying as I’m onward bound,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

Lord, lift me up and let me stand,
By faith, on Heaven’s tableland,
A higher plane than I have found;
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.

My heart has no desire to stay
Where doubts arise and fears dismay;
Though some may dwell where those abound,
My prayer, my aim, is higher ground.

I want to live above the world,
Though Satan’s darts at me are hurled;
For faith has caught the joyful sound,
The song of saints on higher ground.

I want to scale the utmost height
And catch a gleam of glory bright;
But still I’ll pray till heav’n I’ve found,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

Last night, Hannah and I went to an event called Do Justice that was hosted by the Memphis organization Agape. We heard two speakers, Brian Fikkert and Bryan Stevenson, both authors and both concerned with justice. Bryan Stevenson, the author of the book Just Mercy, talked broadly about criminal justice reform and about seeking justice as Christians.

He told the story of the first time we went into a prison to talk with an inmate on death row. He was nervous about it because he was still a law student and thought the inmate might wish for someone more qualified. The inmate walked in, hands and feet chained, hunched over and sullen. He looked defeated and explained that he hadn’t had visitors in two years and was afraid to let his family come because he was nervous that he would have an execution date set and would have to tell his family. He didn’t want them to have to deal with that.

After speaking with the man for three hours, the guards came to take the inmate away. Their conversation had changed the inmates demeanor, his face had brightened and he felt invigorated. As he was led away, the inmate began to sing a hymn, Higher Ground (I’m Pressing on the Upward Way). Stevenson’s point was that his time, his conversation, his proximity with the man gave him hope.

He called us last night to proximity. He believes that proximity is required to see justice realized, to see reconciliation, and to promote hope. Those of us who have the ability and the access to advocate have to place ourselves in uncomfortable positions. We have to step into the margins and meet the people who live there. We have to know them and to know their stories. It’s in being proximal that we develop the ability to change the social and cultural narratives that promulgate fear and anger towards people who are struggling.

The call was powerful. His words were powerful. They were convicting and urgent. We Christians so often fail at stepping outside ourselves and seeking reconciliation, hope, and love for people that don’t look like us, act like us, or live in our neighborhood. But isn’t that exactly what we’re called to do? Isn’t that what Christ did in humbling himself to become a man and to serve.

Prayer and Reflection

Pray for opportunities to be proximal. Pray for opportunities to seek justice and to humble yourself. Seek the margins, be brave, and give hope.