Explore God looks into what Psalm 84 says about the true meaning of being blessed.
“Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a door-keeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” —Psalm 84:10
You might recognize the verse above from a song you’ve heard in church. Or perhaps you’ve never read those words before. The quote comes from Psalm 84, which can be found in the book of Psalms.
The book of Psalms is a collection of 150 lyrical poems that cover a wide array of topics—from songs of thanksgiving and joy to laments for suffering and pain.
Psalm 84 is not a song of triumph or joy; it is a cry of desperation. The psalmist longs to be in Jerusalem, worshiping at the temple in the presence of God’s people. “My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord,” he writes.1
He wants to be there so badly that he’s even jealous of the birds who have made themselves homes near the altar.2 It’s unclear why he can’t embark on the pilgrimage, but this much is certain: he’s not where he wants to be.
Yet, even though the writer is clearly contending with deep disappointment, there’s something special in his words—something that made nineteenth-century British preacher Charles Spurgeon call Psalm 84 “the Pearl of the Psalms . . . one of the most sweet of the Psalms of peace.”3
That’s certainly been my experience with Psalm 84 over the years. But as the world has contended with the COVID-19 pandemic, I feel I’ve rediscovered the beauty and wisdom contained within the twelve verses of Psalm 84.
And though it was written thousands of years ago, Psalm 84 offers three timely lessons for us.
1. The Difference in Blessed and #Blessed
When I searched the hashtag #blessed on Instagram today, I got over 135 million results. Generally, there are a lot of selfies, vacation photos, or selfies of people on vacation. Most of the posts share a common theme, even if it isn’t said outright in a caption.
The underlying message is often: “Hey, everyone! Look how well my life is going!” And accompanying these photos, there it is: #blessed.
What are we to take away from this about what it means to be blessed?
To be sure, God can and does shower tangible blessings on us in all kinds of ways. What happens, though, when the latest thing he’s handed you is not a picture-perfect trip abroad but, say, a pandemic? A pay cut? A fractured relationship?
What’s the hashtag for that—#cursed?
Thankfully not. In the twelve short verses of Psalm 84, the psalmist talks of being “blessed” three times:
- “Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.”4
- “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.”5
- “Blessed is the one who trusts in you.”6
Those who praise God, who find their strength in God, who trust in God . . . those are the ones Psalm 84 tells us are blessed.
And for Christians, the spiritual meaning of “blessed” only intensifies after Jesus arrives on the scene. Out of 112 New Testament references to being blessed, do you know how many refer to material blessing?
That’s astonishing. And it demonstrates that being truly blessed runs so much deeper than the concept of #blessed that we see plastered beside pretty photos on social media.
2. The Importance of Following God, Not Your Heart
In verse 5, the psalmist writes: “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage”—or as some translations put it, “in whose heart are the highways to Zion.”7
Just like the biblical definition of being blessed, this language is strikingly countercultural today. The world is constantly telling you to look within yourself, to study the compass of your heart, to follow wherever your passion leads. “You do you,” we love to say.
Psalm 84 has no patience for such nonsense. True joy, it insists, is not having an internal compass that says, “Follow me,” but one that says, “Follow God.”
Happy is the heart that isn’t a cul-de-sac of self-regard—that says, “I must discover myself, express myself, be true to myself”—but rather that contains highways leading out of that congested city in pursuit of God and in service to others.
When we pursue God’s will over our own will, we are blessed.
3. God Provides Strength for Anxious Souls
Have you ever feared that you would not have the strength to face a particular scenario? I sure have. And, according to the Bible, we cannot face the future . . . yet.8
In 1956, theologian C. S. Lewis corresponded with a woman who struggled with worry and fear that she wouldn’t have the ability to endure if this or that occurred. At one point in his letter to her, Lewis wrote: “Remember one is given strength to bear what happens, not the 100 and 1 different things that might happen.”9
And when will the strength you need arrive? Just in time. As the psalmist describes it, those on pilgrimage will “go from strength to strength.”10
A little over a decade before Lewis’s letter, a Dutch Christian named Corrie ten Boom was barely holding on in a Nazi concentration camp. In her classic autobiography years later, she reflected on the manner and timing of God’s provision. As an illustration, she recounted her anxiety on one occasion as a six-year-old girl:
Father sat down on the edge of the narrow bed. “Corrie,” he began gently, “when you and I go to Amsterdam, when do I give you your ticket?”
I sniffed a few times, considering this.
“Why, just before we get on the train.”
“Exactly. And our wise Father in heaven knows when we’re going to need things, too. Don’t run out ahead of him, Corrie.”11
God will not be rushed, and our growth cannot be sped up with a microwave shortcut. The Christian life is a long pilgrimage to the temple, made one trusting step at a time.
Of course, for the Christian, the temple looks different than it did for the writer of Psalm 84. A thousand years after it was written, a man named Jesus arrived in Jerusalem and began saying radical things like, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”12
The Jewish leaders at the time scoffed and replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?”13 But Scripture is clear that the temple to which Jesus was referring was his own body.14
And indeed, according to Christian beliefs, Jesus’s body was destroyed by the crucifixion and raised again in three days through the resurrection. No wonder Jesus had the audacity to announce, in reference to himself: “Something greater than the temple is here.”15
In the Christian understanding, what the psalmist longed for was just a precursor to the ultimate temple, the true meeting place between God and men—Jesus Christ. Every person who trusts him, the New Testament declares, becomes a living stone in a new spiritual temple.16
The True Meaning of Being Blessed
God’s temple is no longer a manmade structure in Israel; it is the person of Jesus and, by extension, his Church, where the glory of God dwells in its gathered people.
Do you want to be #blessed or blessed? Do you desire a heart that’s really free? Do you long to gather strength as you endure life’s long and perilous road? Psalm 84 assures us that all is available to the one who praises the Lord, follows him, and trusts in him. He will never fail you.