Psalm 84

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young— a place near your altar, O LORD Almighty, my King and my God.

Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you. Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.

Hear my prayer, O LORD God Almighty; listen to me, O God of Jacob. Look upon our shield, O God; look with favor on your anointed one. Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked. For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.

O LORD Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you.

The Valley of Baca (valley of tears) is a place near Bethel where the Angel of the Lord told Israel that since they hadn’t obeyed His command to wipe out all the indigenous people after conquering the promised land, He was no longer going to insure their victory over them. From then on the Canaanites would be a “thorn in your flesh” and their gods a snare for the Israelites. The people responded with weeping and wailing, hence the name. Later the phrase took on symbolic meaning as well, a journey through the Valley of Baca standing for periods of sorrow and regret in a person’s life.

But the psalmist wrote that those whose strength is in the Lord would find joy even in the valley of tears, making it a place of springs. Those who seek Him go from strength to strength until they stand before Him.

Maybe this is where Paul got his inspiration when he wrote to the Philippians, commanding them to be joyful always. It was during a time of great persecution for them, and for him as well, but he admonished them to rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:4-7)

He reminded them that He was suffering too, and that Jesus had suffered more than all of them, and that they should look upon their suffering for Christ as something that had been granted them, almost like a privilege.

It sure is a different perspective from what the world would have us embrace. It sees persecution as something to be fought against, something to wail long and loud about, to struggle with to the bitter end. We have rights, after all.

But for us it’s different. As a friend once told me when I was complaining about the persecution I was suffering, “Only the offended party has the right to climb up on the cross with Jesus.”

The Spirit in me replied, “I’m OK with that,” and immediately I felt better. After He suffered the maximum penalty for me, couldn’t I go through this little thing for Him? Of course I could. And as soon as I made that decision, things started changing. What had been a mess of lemons started looking more and more like lemonade to me. I began to see the silver lining, not just the dark cloud, and God’s promise that He’s working everything together for my good came back to mind. Then came that peace He promised, and finally the blessing that always follows adherence to His word.

Now I’m not saying it’s fair or that we should look for opportunities to be persecuted, but because we’re believers it’s likely to happen sooner or later and when it does we can turn to Psalm 84 and Paul’s letter to the Philippians for comfort. It’s water to a thirsty soul.