“I have asked one thing from the LORD– it’s all I seek– to live in the LORD’s house all the days of my life, seeing the LORD’s beauty and constantly adoring his temple.” — Psalm 27:4, CEB
Like the furry little friend in the image above, we are always seeking something. Life is lived in pursuit of something, and we are constantly fed ideas of what it is we should be seeking. We need the perfect body, all the money we can possibly get, the biggest house, the most friends, the most likes, the most re-tweets, the most intelligence, the best clothes, the dream job, the dream car, a ticket to heaven, along with a million other things, and too often, these are the things we live our life in pursuit of, intentionally or not. We all fall into the trap laid for us by the world, which seeks to keep us buying what it is selling. After all, nothing stimulates the economy and the status quo more than a nation of people seeking after themselves.
This self-serving trend that consumes our culture threatens to cause humanity to implode. All of creation (including us) suffers because of the things we seek, and, perhaps more importantly, the things we don’t. Even today’s churches, peddling the all too pervasive Prosperity “Gospel,” cater to our desires in order to keep the pews full and the money coming in. Ever heard how the faith makes your life more fulfilling? How if you sow generously, you will reap a generous harvest (as the offering plates make their way around)? Have you been told your prayers will be answered affirmatively if you have enough faith, or that praying circles around whatever it is you want will almost certainly (unless it’s not God’s will) yield the results you want or better? Yeah, none of that is really promised in Scripture (at least, not for these purposes), and more and more people are growing disillusioned with a Church that uses what should actually be comforting news and a powerful story for the purposes of gaining people, money, and relevance.
So what is the alternative? What are we to be seeking and searching for as we try to make our way through this life? I could just say, “God,” in the spirit of Sunday schools everywhere, but without a decent explanation, that’s really more of a cop-out. So, as per usual, I’m going to attempt (God help me) to take a walk through the Scriptures, and hopefully find a decent direction in which we all may start moving. Deal? Let’s give it a try, starting with the Scripture that kicked off this post.
The Psalmist seeks after one thing: “to live in the LORD’s house… seeing the LORD’s beauty and constantly adoring his temple” (27:4). Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but what the Psalmist seeks after seems to have much more to do with God than it does with him (the Psalm is listed as being “of David,” so I’m rolling with it), and maybe that is the first step to re-orienting our worldview, values, and priorities in a better direction: turning the emphasis of our lives away from ourselves. This results in a fearlessness that is pretty unheard of in our world today. In the opening verses of the Psalm, the writer is frightened of nothing, even “when evildoers come at [him] trying to eat [him] up,” or “if an army camps against [him]… if war comes up against [him]” (27:2-3). If the author had been too inwardly centered, rather than mindful of the greater realities of life, I bet this would have read quite differently!
The second step follows closely to the first. Our new worldview that is mindful of the vast reality beyond ourselves should also come with a generous spirit. The Psalmist indicates in verse 6 that he “will offer sacrifices in God’s tent– sacrifices with shouts of joy!” Sacrifices were not just theatrical acts of slaughter. Rather, sacrifices often involved feasts that brought the people together to all be fed and share life together, and so it should be today. No, don’t go killing animals and inviting your friends over, but yes, be willing to sacrifice what you have (money, talents, privilege, health, intellect, resources, etc.) for the benefit of others. Dare to be generous and factor the well-being of others into your decision-making, even if it would cost you something to do so. The world could benefit so much from having a group of people willing to care for others regularly, rather than when it was scheduled, convenient, and not burdensome.
The third and final step that I will address in this article has to do with the final verse, verse 14. “Hope in the LORD! Be strong! Let your heart take courage! Hope in the LORD!” That’s right, the final step to a life better lived has to do with hope and being brave enough to have it. Cynicism is rampant in our world as people turn inward because it is better than being let down by life time and time again. There is also a big problem with hoping in things that ultimately can’t give us what we want, such as wealth, weapons, security, and other modern-day idols.
So what should we place our hope in? Why should we even bother with hope?
I will answer the first question in a Sunday school fashion: God is what we should hope in. Now for those of us who believe and are comfortable with this (I’ll address others momentarily), there is a practical way to do this, and that is to live like the kingdom of God is here already. To hope and trust in God is a habit that is developed through how we live our lives. It is the courage to give when we would rather not, to speak up when we would rather hide, to be silent when we’d rather assert our opinion, to forgive when we’d rather avenge, to seek peace when we’d rather come to blows, and to embrace others when we’d rather avoid or condemn them. This takes a lifetime of work and practice, and the true transformation occurs through the effort, rather than the mere accomplishment of all of them, as if it were a matter of checking a box.
To those of us who are iffy about God (trust me, I get it), I strongly suggest that you reconsider. I wouldn’t be a minister if I didn’t. Some people assign their meaning and hope in life to their family or career, but all of that can go away in a few tragic moments (God forbid), whereas the love of God in Christ doesn’t go anywhere.
Even if you are not a believer, it is important to maintain hope. Hope doesn’t mean shallow optimism or denial, but it does mean that you have to find something that is beyond you that keeps you living life in the best, most self-giving way possible. Maybe it is your calling in life, that thing that you can turn to that fills you with love, compassion, and the drive to share those things with the world. Maybe it is those people in your life who bring out the best in you. Either way, ponder it, find it, and grasp that hope with all you have.
Now to everybody, believer or not…
Why is it important to maintain hope? Presence. “Even if my father and mother left me all alone, the LORD would take me in” (Psalm 27:10). Presence matters a lot to everyone, and we can’t be present for others when we are too caught up just trying to keep ourselves afloat. If we maintain hope in our lives, we can also share it with those who need it. There are those in the world that need to hear that they are not alone, and that they are loved. There are those who need to know that the future doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom, and that there is still light shining in the darkness.
There is a reason God’s biggest promises involve presence: Creation is made to be in community. Even if you aren’t a creation believer, you can’t deny that the world’s life-systems are all interconnected, and when one part fails or is lost, the whole suffers. This world (indeed, this universe) functions in a connected way, from the largest cosmic movements to the daily, seemingly mundane interactions you have with those around you. To ignore this is to deny the sense of community and dependence that was breathed into this reality in which we live, and we have to do better.
As you go out into the rest of your day, my encouragement to you (and myself) is to take the Scripture’s advice. Look beyond yourself, find opportunities to make sacrifices in the spirit of generosity, and keep hope alive for yourself. In doing so, you will find that you are equipped to live a life that seeks what is truly important: the inspired, hope-filled communal reality that this world was always designed to be.
Peace be with you!