Webster’s Dictionary defines the term sojourner as a person who resides temporarily in a place. From my point-of-view, it describes the Christ follower’s life in this present age to a tee. According to the Apostle Paul, the believer’s citizenship is in heaven where our Savior dwells until the end of the age. At that time, Christ will glorify the redeemed with new bodies while renewing the cosmos (Romans 8:19-21 & Philippians 3:20-21, ESV). Believers dwell in temporary bodies on a temporary earth as both are destined to pass away (Matthew 24:35, ESV). This begs the question about the believer’s purpose in life and the church as a whole. Where does a Christian’s and the church’s meaning come from in light of a transient existence? I want to examine the following text from the Psalter:
“5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
6 As they go through the Valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
7 They go from strength to strength;
each one appears before God in Zion” (Psalm 84:5-7, ESV).
Allow me to set the context of these three verses. The Psalmist declares in the first two verses of this passage that God’s presence and temple are the best places to be for his people. In verses three and four, he observes how God’s presence sustains the tiny sparrow with glorious provision. Jesus alludes to this Psalm in the sermon on the mount where our Savior admonishes the crowd to trust the Father, who provides for the birds of the air (Matt. 6:26, ESV). Later on in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus exhorts his disciples to persevere through persecution by trusting in the Father, who knows when a sparrow falls to the ground (Matt. 10:29-31, ESV). This highlights the value that the Father places upon his people; consequently, the Psalmist declares a blessing for all those who dwell in the Father’s house (Psalm 84:4, ESV). Therein lies the source of the believer’s and the church’s meaning or purpose.
Because the Psalmist paints in clear terms the benefits of God’s presence, it only makes sense for the writer to declare another blessing and an illustration of it. The writer notes two important points for those who are blessed in the fifth verse: first, God’s people place their strength in him, and second, their way of life, or highways, lead to Zion where the Father dwells. The bride of Christ must draw life from her bridegroom, who is her Lord and Savior. This means that she must dwell or live in God’s presence, which requires a lifestyle of obedience and worship. The church exists because her bridegroom gave himself wholly and without equivocation for the grand work of redeeming and glorifying her (Ephesians 5:26-27, ESV). Christ is both the means and the end for the lives of believers and the church. The Messiah’s strength becomes his people’s strength.
When the Father’s strength empowers his people, they are able to walk through emotional and spiritual valleys with victory. Let me develop this a little more. The Psalmist writes the following in verse six: “As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs” (Psalm 84:6, ESV). In the original Hebrew, Baca means weeping or sorrow. Over the course of their lives, God’s people face trials and suffering of all types. There is no if about suffering for the people of God. Based on Psalm eighty-four’s context, the highway of righteousness leads God’s people right into the valley of sorrow before arriving at Zion. Once in the valley, the people of God turn this desert region into a spring. Life returns to this sunken valley. How does this happen? Because God’s people dwell in his presence, they take on his life-giving character; consequently, God’s life flows out of his people and into the surrounding area.
Rounding out the text is the seventh verse, which indicates the spiritual progression of God’s people. The Psalmist writes that these sojourners of God go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion (Psalm 84:7, ESV). In this life, the Christian is to grow in Christ, which impacts his character (2 Peter 1:3-11, ESV). All spiritual growth hinges upon dwelling in the Father’s presence. He is the source of life. This means that entrusting oneself to the Lord opens up the heart to receive his strength. For the sake of argument, one might view this as the first level of strength in the Lord. The next level comes from acting upon that which the Lord has given me by virtue of being in his presence. It does not matter if God’s people travel through the valley of sorrow. The Father’s joy and strength flows out of his people even stronger and brighter due to the tough circumstances. What is even more amazing is that the reward for such a spiritual journey is seeing God where he dwells (Psalm 84:7b, ESV). That will be a glorious day.