"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." Psalm 27:4
1. The thoughts in this verse are more profound than they are complex. There are no big words. Yet the concepts are deep, rich, meaningful, and essential to an intentionally well-directed life. This verse responds to a host of important and serious philosophical questions that are great problems for many people, questions such as: The purpose of man, motivation, values, and life goals.
2. Exclusivity – The "one thing" and "only" of this verse clearly excludes all else. On the other hand, we know that David played the harp, watched sheep, led soldiers, and administrated kingdom matters. So we can assume that on a practical life level he did other things also. And the "one thing" and "only" therefore probably mean that when David was free to pursue his interests, this is what he would seek. If David didn't get anything else done, this would be the one thing he would do as his first priority. ". . . ask from the Lord. . ." We cannot even adequately seek God unless He helps us.
3. The word "ask" recognizes the personal inadequacy of his own efforts to seek. David seems to be saying; 'Even though I "seek" yet I also ask for help in seeking. Even though I have decided to seek you, I still need your help to succeed. Lord, I am trying to seek you, but I recognize that my seeking is inadequate; I need you to help me in this search. Please help me in my search for you.'
4. "Seek" – On the other hand, I don't become passive and only depend on God's help by asking, I also actively initiate the process and engage in actively trying to obtain; I seek. "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you." We, not God, initiate the closeness; we choose.
5. "Dwell" has a long-term meaning. "Dwelling" is normally a word for a house where you live. You don't visit your "dwelling," you live in it. This choice of words is consistent with the other words at the end of the sentence: "all the days of my life." It is a place or position into which we move and make ourselves comfortable; we don't leave it, we "dwell" there.
6. The expression "all the days of my life" further reinforces the long-term aspect, the permanence, of David's search. But why did David not just use the word "forever" as he usually or often wrote? Why did he say "all the days of my life?" Perhaps it was to eliminate the possibility that someone would think that his "gazing at the beauty of the Lord" was limited to the after-life. He wanted to emphasize that he is talking about earthly life, not just later—in heaven. We will all gaze on His beauty there and then too, but David wants us to know that even here and now we can "gaze on the beauty of the Lord" in the Spirit. We live a day at a time and David was saying he wanted to dwell, gaze, and seek every day, here.
7. What is the meaning of the two expressions of location, "In the house of the Lord"? Solomon's temple was not yet built in David's day. There was no temple in David's day; they housed the ark of the covenant in a tent. So why did David say "in the house of the Lord" and "in His temple"? Jesus, in His conversation with the Samaritan woman at Sychar (John chapter four) makes it clear that worship in the Spirit and in truth does not depend on being in the right location, but rather having the right attitude and condition of heart. Worship can take place anywhere. So back to my question, why does David refer to "in the house of the Lord" and "in His temple"? Anywhere I am at any time I can in my spirit make that place the house of the Lord or His temple. The place is not automatically a temple—though all of creation is the house of the Lord in the sense that He is there. I make a place his temple by my frame of mind. Anywhere is okay, but our focus on God can distinguish the present time of worship (wherever it is) from secular locations or activities. Whether at work, home, or the market place, we can deliberately and consciously make the place "the house of the Lord" and "His temple" to ourselves at the time. Or, as an alternate thought, though David worshiped in a tent, he was so in love with God that the humble tent seemed like a temple to him.
8. "Gaze" means to focus on a visible object for a prolonged period of time. Since God is Spirit and not visible to the human physical eye and this verse applies to earthly life here and now, David cannot have been saying that he wanted to "gaze" on God in a physical sense. Rather, David wants to gaze and focus his attention on something more beautiful than what merely has a beautiful appearance, but rather something beautiful in concept. Following this line of thought, similar expressions for "gaze on" could be "focus on His goodness," "concentrate on," "look at in the spirit," "contemplate His greatness," "consider his grandeur," or "meditate on His splendor."
9. "The Lord" and "Him" are the object of the seeking. David directs his prayer and his pursuits to the Lord. If we string the five verbs of this verse —ask, seek, dwell, gaze, and seek—together it would say: "I ask and seek that I may dwell to gaze and seek." Why does David ask and seek that he may dwell to gaze and seek? God, the Lord, is the object of all this activity. Consider the greatness and beauty of God. His perfect goodness, wisdom, and power are awesome. He operates only in ways consistent with His goodness, wisdom, and power, never doing anything that is in any way less than the best good, a reflection of perfect wisdom, and product of the limitless power he possesses. These beautiful concepts deserve to be—must be—pondered if they are to be understood.
10. A further simplification of the verbs reduces the sentence to "I Seek . . . . . . to seek." We already simplified the sentence to "I ask and seek that I may dwell in order to gaze and seek" and now we further simplify it to the bare bones to say: "I seek to seek." This increased simplification merits our contemplation. It is as though David knew he could not seek adequately, that he realized that he only poorly sought God and that he wanted to seek God more perfectly. If we skip over many of the words we have a sentence that literally says ". . . I seek . . . to seek." I admit I don't want or love God like I should. I want other things. But I want to want God like I should. There are competitive things that allure me away from my search for God. I do not seek Him like He deserves to be sought, but I want to want Him like I should, I seek to seek Him like I should. Far from be a weaker expression, this one is stronger because it is honest, the human sinful nature must be considered—to seek to seek God is a great step forward. That was David's desire and it is becoming my desire.
11. The personal pronoun "I," "I ask," "I seek," "I dwell," and "my life" are all personal pronouns. If we change our sentences from discussing what David the psalmist said and insert the pronouns "I" and "my," we can indicate that we also buy into David's idea. There are no admonitions in this verse; it is testimony. This is David's declaration; it is not a command, but any one of us can say "I too" and make it our own. David leads by example. He does not instruct, reprimand, command, exhort, or even suggest. He simply states what is his priority and I have come to believe his priority is the priority. I have decided; it is mine. And you can make it yours.
12. Practical Conclusions and Applications:
A. If a man or woman of God is to represent God and introduce him to others, he or she must first know God. How can you know Him without seeking Him?
B. Seeking such an excellent good fills my deep limbic system with calming, soothing, confidence, enabling me to optimistically process events of life here on earth some of which are negative. Thinking about God helps me avoid automatic negative thoughts. Gazing on the beauty of the Lord can counteract the ugliness we see around us.
C. If everyone on earth already understood the priority, there would be no need for world missions. Many people in the world do not understand the priority, therefore missions is extremely important.
D. It is within your power to make the priority your priority.
E. If David's priority seems uninteresting, incomplete, or anything less than wonderfully completing to us, it may mean that we have idols or other gods in our hearts. This should be a sobering warning.