Pursuing God (Psalm 34)
What does it mean to seek after God? How does one pursue the Almighty? Let’s explore Psalm 34 and take note of how David did it. There are six things I want you to consider as essential in pursuing God.
First, celebrate God (vv. 1-3)! Observe the passion and intensity of David’s worship.
“I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!” (vv. 1-3)
David’s worship was voluntary (“I will bless the Lord”). It was a choice, a decision of his soul irrespective of what others may do. “I’ve determined to celebrate God. I’m resolved. My mind and spirit are fixed. My heart is riveted on him!”
David’s worship was constant (“at all times”). Not just on Sunday (or Saturday, in his case). In all situations and circumstances, at every possible moment of every possible day. Not just when one feels like it, but even when life’s a mess. Said Spurgeon: “Happy is he whose fingers are wedded to his harp” (1b:122).
David’s worship is verbal (“in my mouth”). Whether in speech or song, David articulates his adoration of the Lord. If God’s praise were at all times in our mouths, what place would be left for slander, gossip, complaint, or criticism?
David’s worship was boastful (“my soul makes its boast in the Lord”). Bragging comes easily to us. No one has to teach us how to boast. So let’s just replace ourselves and what we’ve done with God and what he’s done! God is our boast! Brag on the Lord! Make much of him!
David’s worship is contagious (“let the humble hear and be glad”). Only humble people will enjoy hearing others brag on God because the proud want only to hear about themselves.
David’s worship is corporate (“magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together”). As much as one might enjoy private praise, there is something special and empowering and encouraging in joining with others in the adoration of God. Jointly and corporately celebrating God in the community of faith is non-negotiable.
Second, pray to God (vv. 4-7). David “sought” (v. 4a) the Lord by crying out to him in need and trusting him alone for both deliverance from fear (v. 4b) and salvation from trouble (v. 6). How does one know if a person is pursuing God in prayer? They glow! “Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed” (v. 5). The one who passionately seeks God’s face will reflect the glory of the original! His joy will ignite theirs.
Note well: they look to “him”, not just ideas or propositions or speculative theories about what he’s like. They settle for nothing less than the intimacy of spiritual eye contact. The result is that they are never ashamed (v. 5b). When we seek God this way he promises never to shame us or humiliate us or mock our feeble efforts. God will never belittle or demean you for coming to him! Just think of it: no shame . . . for those who seek God!
Third, enjoy God (v. 8)! “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.”
Why “taste”? Why didn’t David exhort us to “think” or “remember” or some other purely cognitive exercise? Because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him (Piper)! The imagery of tasting makes the point that experiencing God is pleasant and enriching to the soul. There’s a spiritual sweetness to the knowledge of God! God is delicious! Jesus is delectable! It’s as we savor the flavor of his glory and splendor that he is most honored and exalted in us. Here’s how Jonathan Edwards put it:
“God is glorified not only by his glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it. God made the world that he might communicate, and the creature receive, his glory . . . both [with] the mind and the heart. He that testifies his having an idea of God’s glory [doesn’t] glorify God so much as he that testifies also his approbation [i.e., his heartfelt commendation or praise] of it and his delight in it” (The Miscellanies, Yale 13:495, no. 448; emphasis mine).
This isn’t to say that those who “taste and see that the Lord is good” will be insulated from pain and persecution. Far from it. Their determination to seek ultimate satisfaction in God above all else may in fact expose them to even greater oppression and opprobrium. But it matters little, for abiding in his presence awakens spiritual joys that are incomparably full and spiritual pleasures that never lose their capacity to enthrall and satisfy (cf. Ps. 16:11).
Fourth, fear God (vv. 9-14)! Wait a minute. First David tells us to “taste” God and savor his goodness, then turns around in the next verse and commands us to “fear” him! Are you kidding? Not at all. We must both enjoy God and tremble at his greatness. We must rejoice and revere. We must both adore him and fall on our knees in awe of his power and authority and holiness.
Fifth, obey God (vv. 15-18)! “The eyes of the Lord,” said David, “are toward the righteous” whereas the Lord “is against those who do evil” (v. 15-16).
One of Franki Valli’s greatest hits declared: “Can’t take my eyes off of you”! Well, God can’t take his eyes off those who love obedience and are passionate about purity. He gazes on them with tenderness and warmth and loving affection, watching every move they make. No less so his ears: he listens to every prayer, takes note of every groan, is pleased with every song of praise, is moved by every cry of anguish. Others may slight you. Others may ignore your plea. But not God!
Don’t overlook the remarkable statement in v. 18. Contrary to all our instincts, David declares that “the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit”! The brokenhearted, more than others, are convinced God is distant and remote and uninvolved. It’s the crushed in spirit who more quickly despair of all hope. Yet God is near to them in their misery, quick and able to save and comfort and console.
The weak and broken and most helpless of God’s children should never think that for those reasons they are off-limits to their heavenly Father. It is to those, in fact, that he especially draws near!
Sixth, and finally, trust God (vv. 19-22)! The key statement in this closing paragraph is David’s promise that none are condemned “who take refuge in him” (v. 22).
Taking “refuge” in God is simply another way of saying: trust him! But for what? Many are dismayed because God didn’t seem to come through for them when they needed him most. They laid hold of him in their need and came up empty.
May I suggest that God appears not to deliver the goods only because we trust him for things he never promised! You can’t trust God to do things your way, according to your timetable, for your praise. You can’t trust him to manipulate circumstances to bring you worldly success or to insulate you from the hatred and ill will of his enemies. This isn’t because God isn’t trustworthy, but simply because these are things he never guaranteed.
For what, then, may I trust him? You can trust him to provide you with eternal security for your soul, guidance and wisdom, forgiveness, spiritual satisfaction, joys that are full and abundant, pleasures that never end. You can trust him never to leave you or forsake you. You can trust him to be good and gracious and tenderhearted and kind. You can trust him to orchestrate every event, even the evil ones, to work together for your ultimate spiritual conformity to the image of his Son. You can trust him for a place in his purpose and undying peace in your soul.
In view of David’s exhortations, does it not appear that the passionate pursuit of God is the most sane and sensible, and yes, the most satisfying thing anyone can do?