You can tell a lot about a person if you know where he aims to spend his time. A self-professed “family man” who spends every free weekend out with his buddies and away from his wife and children has demonstrated the emptiness of his claim. On the other hand, the man who must put in a few extra hours “off the clock” shows a profound devotion to his family if he wakes up before they do and gets his work done before they get up so that he can spend his time at home with them.
God’s people show their deep commitment to Him by longing to be with Him and His people, and today’s passage provides us with an example of one who was devoted to the Lord above all else. Psalm 84 reveals the heart of a psalmist who saw worshiping the Lord as his highest priority. The author begins with a declaration of the loveliness of God’s dwelling place (v. 1), a reference in the original context to the temple of the Lord. From the description of the colors, cloths, precious metals, and fine woods used to build first the tabernacle and then the temple (Ex. 36; 1 Kings 5–7), we know that these sanctuaries were aesthetically beautiful and engaging to all of the five senses. In turn, this shows us that our Creator has a love for beauty and that it is right to make the places where we gather for worship appropriately beautiful. We would be mistaken, however, to understand the psalmist’s reference to the loveliness of God’s house as having primary reference to the physical beauty of the temple. In the first instance, the temple was beautiful because the beautiful God chose to make His dwelling place there. When idolatry was committed there and the Lord left the building, it was no longer a lovely place but an empty tomb fit only for destruction (Ezek. 8–10).
Though God is extraordinarily lovely, one does not have to be extraordinary to enjoy life in His presence. Psalm 84:3 notes that “even the sparrow finds a home” in the Lord’s temple, even in the holy place near the altars. That a lowly, common sparrow is welcome in the place where our Creator dwells shows that the lowliest human being can dwell before the Lord in peace and gladness—provided, of course, that person is in a right relationship with God. In ourselves, we are unlovely and unfit to dwell in the Lord’s presence. But in His grace, God has provided a way to make us lovely, covering us with the loveliness of the righteousness of His Son when we trust only in Jesus for salvation (2 Cor. 5:21).