Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Psalm 27 and the "One Thing" We Need at Three in the Morning

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One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
and set me high upon a rock.
Then my head will be exalted
above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Psalm 27:4-6, NIV

Our dawn sky today

What is your “one thing?” If the Lord told you, as He did Solomon, that he would give you any one thing you asked, what one thing would you seek? Health, family, financial security? Success, influence, popularity? Wisdom, advanced degrees, expertise? Marriage, children, reconciliation, forgiveness?

In Psalm 27:4 and elsewhere, David—the man after God’s own heart—says that his “one thing” is to dwell with God, to behold Him face to face.

This is the third essay in our series reflecting on Psalm 27. In this psalm, God through David has given us a prayer-song for when we are afraid of the dark: whatever kind of dark, literal darkness or emotional and spiritual darkness. David seeks shelter in God’s personal presence with confidence borne out of His past rescues, and so can we. In the first post, we considered the themes and structure of the prayer as a whole. In the second post, we reflected on the first section of three verses. In that first section (27:1-3), David describes his experience of God’s saving defense. In this post we are looking at the second section (vv. 4-6), in which David expresses his expectant desire for God’s sheltering presence.

In David’s time, the tabernacle had already passed into cultural memory. Only the ark of the covenant, which was the gold-covered chest holding the tablets of the law God gave to Moses, remained. It had been captured by the Philistines before David’s time but was returned in David's lifetime to Jerusalem, God’s chosen city for the Hebrews to worship Him. It was housed in a tent, but not the beautiful, God-designed tent of meeting from Moses’ time. The temple, however, had not yet been built. David lived between the tabernacle of the past and the temple yet to come.

David desperately wanted to build a glorious house for the ark representing God’s presence; it would be the one designated place for ritual sacrifices to occur. When he told his desire, however, the Lord told him that David was not to build Him a house, but instead, God would build David a house. A dynastic house. And David’s son Solomon would in fact be the one to build a house for the worship of Yahweh, the God of Israel. We call this promise the Davidic covenant; in it, God promised that David’s descendants would be the rightful rulers of Israel. (This conversation can be read in 2 Samuel 7.)

Since David could not do what he wanted, he did what he could. He dedicated the spoils of his battles to the splendor of the temple to come.  Moreover, David told Solomon in 1 Chronicles 28:19 that the plans he was giving his son had been revealed to David by God Himself. To some extent, in some spiritual sense, David glimpsed what the temple would be, though it was not build during his lifetime. He even wrote a prayer-song for its dedication, as the epigraph of Psalm 30 notes.

In the above verses from Psalm 27, David freely uses a variety of terms for God’s dwelling: house of the Lord, temple, dwelling, shelter, and sacred tent (or tabernacle). The common connection among them all is the God who dwells there. More than anything in the world—and  David had wealth, power, influence, celebrity, and success—David wanted to dwell with God. In God’s presence, he finds beauty, shelter, victory, worship, and joy.

With Him, every wilderness was a castle, a paradise; without Him, every castle was a wilderness.

The New Testament reveals that Jesus is the true tabernacle and temple (John 1:14; 4:21-24; Hebrews 8:1-2, 5; 9:8, 11, 21, 23-28; 10:19-25). Jesus is for all time the presence of God in human flesh. He is the dwelling place of God.

Revelation indicates that all the tabernacles and temples of the past pointed forward to the new creation on the way to us, when the dwelling of God will be with men in the fullest possible way: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell [tabernacle] among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them, and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes,; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passe away’” (Revelation 21:3-4, NASB1995). In that age there will be no more temple, “for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its temple” (Rev. 21:22, NASB 1995).

Do you remember from the first essay in this series that I said, when I am afraid of the dark, when I am in a three-o’clock season of the soul, the two things I want most are a light and a person. Last time we focused on the light God gives. This time David points our attention back to a person, the person of the Triune God.

David’s “one thing” to dwell in God’s presence and gaze on His loveliness is the birthright of all who have been born again into God’s family by grace through faith. John’s gospel, in particular, emphasizes that the believer dwells or abides in God, and God abides in Him. We who believe in Jesus are never separated from God’s presence. He is nearer than our next breath. He is intimately acquainted with all our ways. He never leaves us alone in the darkness, and the darkness is not even dark to Him (Psalm 139).

He is not repelled by our sorrow, brokenness, and sin. No matter what we are going through right now, we are never “too much” for the Lord Jesus. In fact, the Puritan preacher Samuel Rutherford wrote from his imprisonment for the gospel, “There is no sweeter fellowship with Christ than to bring our wounds and our sores to him” (The Loveliness of Christ, Kindle location 130). The young Scottish pastor Robert Murray M’Cheyne advised, “Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely. Such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and all for sinners, even the chief! Live much in the smiles of God. Bask in his beams” (Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne, 293).

His love enlightens our darkness. His presence comforts our loneliness. Should we lose all lesser “one things” as Job did, should we even lose our earthly lives, we have enough and more in Christ Jesus. Any other thing we place on the throne of our lives will eventually disappoint, but Jesus never will. His love is better than health, wealth, power, or fame. His presence is better than family, earthly friendship, marriage, or children. “His love hath neither brim nor bottom. Go where ye will, your soul shall not sleep sound but in Christ’s bosom. I find that our wants qualify us for Christ” (Samuel Rutherford, The Loveliness of Christ, Kindle location 177).

Even when we feel our lives have hit rock-bottom, we have not found the bottom of His mercies, grace, love, and kindness. His love is deeper than our deepest needs and wounds. His love is stronger than whatever holds us in bondage. His love is greater than all we lack or lose.

Is this finding you in a season of darkness, beloved? Take your wants and your wounds to Jesus. Let His smile shine into your darkness. Lean into His presence by faith, if you cannot by feeling. If you can’t say with David that the Lord is your one thing, let’s ask together that it may be so.

Please pray with me.

“Grant, most sweet and loving Jesus, that I may seek my repose in You above every creature; above all health and beauty; above every honor and glory; every power and dignity; above all knowledge and cleverness, all riches and arts, all joy and gladness; above all things visible and invisible; and may I seek my repose in You above everything that is not You, my God. You alone are most beautiful and loving, You alone are most noble and glorious above all things. In You is every perfection that has been or ever will be. Therefore, whatever You give me besides Yourself, whatever You reveal to me concerning Yourself, and whatever You promise, is too small and insufficient if I do not see and fully enjoy You alone. For my heart cannot rest or be fully content until, rising above all gifts and every created thing, it rests in You” (Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ).

I ask these things in the name of Christ Jesus our light and our love. Amen.


  1. This has always been my go to Bible verse (I have it engraved on a ring I never take off) so you can imagine how excited I was to see your blog today!

    1. What a great ring idea! I love that! Thanks for taking time to comment. Hope the post encouraged you. Grace and peace to you in Christ Jesus.

  2. Thank you! Your words spoke peace to my heart


Thank you for sharing your day with me! Your presence here is a gift. *You* are a gift. Right now I am unable to reply to every comment, but please know I read and pray for each and every commenter. Grace and peace to you in Christ.