One thing I ask of the LORD,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to seek him in his temple.
You have probably seen the movie. Many critics have declared it the greatest ever made: Citizen Kane, the brain child and production of Orson Welles. The opening scene shows the great man in his mansion, surrounded with his belongings, dying alone. In his final breath his lips utter the word, “Rosebud,” and the remainder of the movie traces down why this word was spoken by this man whose power and wealth were the envy of others.
The answer revealed a man who truly longed for simpler things, whose worldly success had left him empty, and who only on his death bed began to grasp his own foolishness. Jesus said, “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world yet lose his own soul?” (Luke 9:25) and though a fictitious character, Kane was the embodiment in art of such a man.
In life we have a choice to either live for the world or live for God. A worldly focus may reveal itself in many ways. We may run after the approval of the crowd, the possession of wealth, the solidification of our power, or the entertainment of our lusts. We may coddle our egos with achievements or escape responsibility through sloth. Regardless of how we express it, the common theme of a worldly focus is that it is not centered in God and leaves us empty and unsatisfied. All who select to run after the things of this physical life will have traded in the eternal beauty of God for the fading beauty of the world.
David the psalmist demonstrated the opposite spirit from Kane. A leader and eventually king, many lusted after his power and influence, but David sought the Lord. He would have preferred to have spent his days in the temple seeing the beauty of the Lord than in the seat of an earthly kingdom. He used the word “temple” and for David it would have referred to the house of worship constructed in Shiloh, where the tabernacle had come to rest and had begun to disintegrate over the years. We are never given a description of this temple – it was built out of necessity and not from a command of God. No one spoke of its majesty or its beauty, just of its existence, but for David it was the house of the Lord and the reality of God he experienced there resonated with his soul. It was specifically the beauty of the Lord that he sought, not the beauty of the building.
In a time of fasting there is the temptation to think that we have traded in something good for something unpleasant, food for devotion. Let’s remember the point of fasting: to remind ourselves of the fleeting nature of this physical life and this physical world and the eternal nature and value of God. Fasting is an act of humiliation and devotion, to remind ourselves that we as a species are much more than mere earthly beings. We are created for fellowship with God. The world appeals to our appetites – not only the natural ones that sustain physical life but the unholy appetites as well. Food has its own beauty, and any of us can be obsessed with this beauty, but the Lord is more beautiful by far. And if food is not our weakness, then there are a thousand and one other temptations to draw us away from God. Fasting does not earn us His favor, it is only meaningful as the response of hearts who have found the favor of God expressed to them through Jesus Christ.
A proper analogy of the one who fasts in the right sense is like someone who works in a junk yard, where the old decayed and rotten things of the world are cast off. But on his lunch break, rather than eating with the other employees of the junk yard, decides to go to a museum and see beautiful works of art. He missed his meal that is normally taken amid the garbage, but he traded it for something more beautiful and uplifting. This is something like what we are to do when we fast: consider the attributes of the God we serve.
What is the temple today where we can see God? Creation would be one of those places, where we commune with God and see Him reflected in the order and balance of nature. His world and universe tell us that He is a God of beauty and order, whose attentiveness takes in the tiniest detail and the greatest expanse of the heavens. From the smallest molecule to the Milky Way, we see His hand, and though this world is fallen and it awaits the full redemption of God (See Romans 8:21-22) it remains our Father’s world and our Father’s universe as well.
The New Testament insisted that the temple of today is the people of God, the assembly of the church of Jesus Christ, the redeemed sons of Adam now brought into this saving relationship with God through His chosen Messiah. “Don’t you know,” wrote Paul, “that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16) Where God’s name dwelt on the temple, God’s Spirit now dwells in His church. David could observe the symbols of the work of Christ in the rites of the temple: the sacrificial animals that depicted the righteousness of God and the coming sacrifice of Christ; the showbread that symbolically represented Christ as the Bread of Life (John 6:35); the menorah that lit the room and symbolized Christ as the Light of the World (John 8:12); the altar of incense that symbolized Christ as our Intercessor and Advocate (Hebrews 7:25).
Can we not today see God in His modern day temple? We see lives that are saved by His grace, who have come from darkness to light. We see His followers maturing in grace, learning to love and to believe. We see people whose hard hearts have been softened, whose minds have been opened to understand the truth, whose marriages have been saved, whose futures have been redeemed. We see common, fallen, and sinful humanity brought into a new union as God’s people and grow together, love together, serve together, and follow Christ as one people. All of this reveals the wisdom, the power, the love, and the beauty of God.
We are too quick to find fault with one another. Though there is no perfect church or perfect Christian, we are missing the vision that God is setting before us daily if we cannot see the progress that people are making in Christ. In David’s day others saw the temple through the eyes of unbelief or distraction and missed the message of the beauty of the Lord that connected with David’s heart. So in church and around God’s people, the beauty of God is being revealed if we will only open our eyes to see and our ears to hear.
The prayer of Thomas a’ Kempis (1380-1471) below requests of God a change of heart, and this also invites us to let the beauty of the Lord that He reveals to us touch and shape our hearts. Remember the words of Christ, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).
Grant me, O Lord, to know what I ought to know,
To love what I ought to love,
To praise what delights Thee most,
To value what is precious in Thy sight,
To hate what is offensive to Thee.
Do not suffer me to judge according to the sight of my eyes,
Nor to pass sentence according to the hearing of the ears of ignorant men;
But to discern with a true judgment between things visible and spiritual,
And above all, always to inquire what is the good pleasure of Thy will. Amen.