Listen to David sing. Read Paul’s written words. And hear the straight-shooting, gentle, and confident voice of Christ himself saying “one thing.” Don’t forget the one thing. Don’t neglect the one thing. In our lives so full, so bombarded, so distracted with so many things, remember the singular focus of David, Paul, and Jesus himself. Choose the good portion, who will not be taken away from you.
Some of it may be modern life. Some of it may just be human life. Confusion. Complexity. Uncertainty. More data than we can get our minds around. More options than we know what to do with. More happening that we can really process or learn from.
We are human, and not God. And the complications and worries of our world and everyday lives make for constant reminders. Yet even in the sea of uncertainties and complexities that humble us — if we will receive God’s humbling hand in them — God doesn’t mean for us to remain ever-disoriented. Some disorientation is good. But God also wants us to reorient. To live in this present age is to learn rhythms of confusion and clarity, complexity and simplicity, being disoriented and then wonderfully, preciously reoriented.
In lives teeming with many things, God reminds us at times of the one thing. The Scriptures strengthen us with one thing that deserves our focus and reorients our souls when they begin to wander. Maybe you could use that reminder right now. I need it often.
So, what is this one thing that stands ready to steady us? We hear it in the Psalms, and in Paul’s letters, and in the voice of Christ in the Gospels — one essential answer in three-part harmony.
David Says the Lord
First, hear the singing voice of the great King David, the greatest of the many kings of God’s first-covenant people. He sings in Psalm 27:4,
One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple.
So, David’s “one thing” is this: to “dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” Which may strike you as odd at first. That’s the one thing he seeks after? Is that worthy of such singular focus? And what does he mean by it?
David tells us in his next line why he wants to “dwell in the house of the Lord”: he longs to “gaze upon the beauty of the Lord.” In other words, this is no obscure desire. This indeed is a longing worthy of a “one thing” focus. He wants to see God in all his glory. The house of the Lord is where the Lord is. And David not only wants to visit but to dwell there. And not just for a season but for all the days of his life.
David cares little for brick and mortar. He wants to be near to God himself. He wants to know God and enjoy God, without end. He aches to catch a glimpse of God himself, as he is, in his splendor and majesty; to know truly the God who is, and marvel at him, and know him; to hear this God speak and respond back in relationship — and to remain there, with God.
So, for David, the one thing, in the end, is not a thing but a who. It is God himself. Amid the threats of enemies plotting against him, the complexities of governing a nation, and the worries about his own family and friends, David reorients himself with this one thing: he wants to see God and know God and enjoy God and worship God. He reorients around God. The pursuit of God as the great overarching pursuit of his life gives the king clarity and stability and wisdom as he enters into and fulfills his calling in the everyday complexities and uncertainties of life.
Paul Says Christ
Now take up the apostle Paul’s first-century letter to the church in Philippi and read what he scratched into parchment. Here Paul writes, as David sang, with such wonderfully clarifying singularity of purpose and calling, even in the midst of complicated tensions within and outside the church.
Early in the letter, he writes of his “eager expectation and hope . . . that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20). That is bracing clarity. He explains, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Christ will be honored by Paul’s death, when Paul compares all the losses that death brings with the one gain of being in the immediate presence of Christ, and he turns to Christ and says, “Gain!” And that singularity of desire and focus, if Paul is to remain for now in the flesh, will mean “to live is Christ” — which he explains in greater detail at the climax of his letter.