Have you ever heard it said of some Christians, “They are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good”? Well, I think that that comment couldn’t be more wrong. Those who are heavenly minded are of great earthly good, because they are like a refreshing spring in the valley of sorrow. Such people remind us that this world is not our home, that we’re just a-passing through because we are on the highway to Zion, to God himself.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” Augustine wrote, “O God, you made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”
These two quotations capture the affectional pulsebeat of the Christian life: a longing for another world, a longing for God.
The patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob exemplified this affectional pulsebeat as they lived in tents in the Promised Land:
By faith [Abraham] went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. (Heb. 11:9–10, emphasis added)
Israel’s annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem also exemplified this desire for another world. The temple in Jerusalem was a physical symbol of heaven, God’s abode, on earth. The pilgrimages were a regular reminder to the people of God that Canaan was not their true home—there was something beyond Canaan, something better than Canaan.
Psalm 84 is set in the context of these pilgrimages, and it goes to the very heart of what the journey to God’s temple was all about: longing for heaven and longing for God. If Psalm 84 teaches us anything, it’s that this world is not our home; we’re “just a-passing through.”
Now, by “this world,” I don’t mean that the earth below is not our home and heaven above is. That would be Platonism, a dividing of the “physical down here” from the “spiritual up there.” Rather, I mean the age of this earth and this heaven is not our home; our home is the new age of the new heavens and new earth. So, with that qualification in mind, let me show you three ways in which this psalm pulses for heaven and for God.
A Longing for Heaven, a Longing for God (vv. 1–4)
How lovely is your dwelling place, O 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
The psalm opens, “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!” The word “lovely” does not mean that God’s temple dwelling was “lovely looking,” although I’m sure it was. Rather, the word “lovely” here means something like “lovable.” How lovable is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
Two opposite descriptions in verse 2 then describe the psalmist’s longing for this place. The psalmist faints for it, as if the blood rushes from his body. His heart and his flesh also sing for joy for it—the blood now rushes back, if you like, because you can’t sing if you’re feeling faint. These opposite experiences, fainting and singing, together capture an intense longing for God’s dwelling place.
God’s temple is this psalmist’s one consuming passion, so much so that he expresses envy in verse 3 at those who live there permanently. He’s envious of the sparrow who finds a home in the arches of the roof. He’s envious of the swallow who makes her nest in the eaves of the temple—she gets to have her young near his altars. The birds have free and easy access to God’s house; they come and go as they please. But this psalmist can’t. He has to make a pilgrimage to God’s temple, and then he has to leave again for months at a time.