“It’s not always going to be like this. Things are going to get better.” I hear statements like this often. Usually, they are from well-meaning people who are comparing their hard situations to my circumstances as a quadriplegic. I appreciate their optimism and encouragement. I am also happy that they are hopeful. Often, their reasoning goes something like this. Things cannot get much worse (or at least, so it seems). And if things can’t get worse, they will have to get better! So, they must improve.
Consider these popular beliefs which are said to give help in times of trouble.
- The power of positivity: “If I keep a positive mental attitude, I’ll handle my troubles better.” Response: some circumstances are really hard and may not get better. It is not possible to “be chipper” all the time.
- The power of faith: “You gotta keep the faith. If I stay optimistic, things will work out.” Response: things don’t always “work out.” Other, stronger factors may be at work.
- The power of prayer: “my thoughts and prayers are with you.” “Prayer changes things.” Response: thinking about someone or something may provide you better insight but have no real ability or power to change things. Prayer does not change things; only God can ultimately alter circumstances. It is more likely that he will change my perspective in responding and changing the circumstances.
When I look to myself and others for satisfaction, I am setting myself up for disappointment because all human beings are frail, weak and subject to change. What I mean is that even my strengths become exhausted; circumstances may change my desires and perspective. Often what I really need is beyond my ability.
The bottom line is that I really need help beyond myself. I need help from outside of me. A popular criticism of Christianity is that it is a “crutch.” What is implied is that Christianity is for weaklings. (And not for someone strong like me!) When someone raises this objection to me, I heartily concur and confess that I am weak. And so is everyone else. Every one of us has great limitations, weaknesses and inconsistencies.
So, you’re having a hard time. I get that. Life makes us aware of our limitations, even if we are reluctant to call them weaknesses. In Psalm 23, David has reflected on these obstacles and how Yahweh his God has helped him. As he is about to conclude his meditation, he writes, “… and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
It strikes me that David comforts himself with the prospect of living in “the Lord’s house” forever. Let’s make a couple important observations.
- Because of David’s relationship with the LORD, he anticipates – looks ahead to a much better future, specifically, living in the house of the Lord forever. Although David may not know the details, he confidently expects his relationship with his God to be a lasting one. With this he is content.
- David’s bright future focuses on the house of the Lord. This phrase also occurs in Psalm 27.4: one thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: 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 inquire in his temple.
Here, David seems to be finding comfort and strength to respond to threatening circumstances. The house of the Lord symbolizes security and comfort because it represents the physical presence of the LORD, in his Temple. This phrase, the house of the Lord, is used frequently in the OT, especially the Prophets, to refer to the Temple.
Looking in the New Testament, this phrase is not used directly. It is striking, however, that Jesus, our Good Shepherd, uses a similar phrase when he speaks of his Father’s House. For instance, the words of Jesus are quoted in John 14:2: In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? But this is not the first time. On other occasions, Jesus referred to the Temple as his Father’s house (see Luke 2.49 and John 2.16 ESV).
Here is the picture. Jesus is Immanuel – God with us and who dwelt – is “Tabernacling” or has pitched his tent – among us (John 1.14) refers to the Temple as his Father’s house. Jesus is God in the flesh, present with his people, pointing ahead or forward to another time and place where he will be physically present with them.
Now, when I read Psalm 23.6 – and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever – I can understand that David points to future blessings, in the same way that Jesus anticipates enjoying the company of his disciples in his Father’s house, which has many rooms and is a place, being prepared for us. In other words, both David and Jesus anticipate intimate future fellowship in the very presence of God. Put another way, David and Jesus both point to a wonderful future in the very presence of God!
On the one hand, I know that I long for this. But on the other, I am deeply attached to this life, as difficult as it may be. Incidentally, the apostle Paul shared the same quandary. (See Philippians 1.20 ff.) Paul intensely desired the spiritual edification of his readers so much that he tempered his desire to be with Christ.
So, as I look ahead to my unknown future, I aspire to be useful for Christ, serving faithfully where he has put me now, while I anticipate a fantastic future with Jesus and my Christian brothers and sisters. We will be together and live in the house of the LORD forever.
It in the meantime, like most others, I struggle with this tension. I once heard someone say, “Everyone wants to go to heaven – just not today!” Even so, I know that Jesus is with me always, even to the end of the age – and beyond!