“For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.” (Ps 84:10a)
Becoming a Christian involves a radical reorientation of the heart. A heart that once found God boring, now finds Him thrilling. A heart that once thought God irrelevant, now sees Him supremely important. A heart that once spurned God’s love, now believes that love to be better than life itself (Ps 63:3a). In short, a Christian desires and loves God above all.
The verse we consider today in Psalm 84:10 displays this orientation of the heart. The Psalmist heart is God-ward when he says, “a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.” To be in the “courts” of God refers to the temple courts mentioned in the OT; there, a person would draw near to worship God. Thus, “being in the courts,” of God for us might best understood as drawing near to worship God and experiencing communion with Him. The Psalmist tells us that even one day of this is BETTER than a thousand days somewhere else or doing something else.
If we were to personalize this statement today, we might say that to worship God and draw near to Him for ONE day is better than a thousand of the best days anywhere else without Him. It is better than 1,000 days at the beach or on a vacation or in an exotic foreign country or with our best friends. It is better than 1,000 days of being healthy or financially secure or appreciated by others. Knowing and treasuring and worshipping God is better than anything! This is the attitude of someone who has come to know the one true and living God. Such a person does not necessarily reject the many good pleasures of this life (family, friendship, good food, games, vacations), but recognizes that they all pale in comparison to knowing and loving God.
An attitude that declares God to be the great treasure, better than everything else, is a radical change from what we naturally experience in this world. Because of sin, our heart no longer naturally desires and loves God. Instead we give our love to others things. The great theologian Augustine describes the problem as a wrong “ordering of loves.” While our culture would not categorize ignoring God or loving things above God as evil, the Bible reframes the act: it is idolatry; it is cosmic treason against God the king; it is a spiritual adultery; it is a self-destructive and foolish posture that must be repented of, lest we perish.
This state of sin is not something we can save ourselves from, rather, we need God Himself to come and save us. And, this is what happens in Jesus through the gospel. Jesus is the one who comes to open our eyes to the truth of who God is (John 1:18). He brought the kingdom of God and tells us the truth (John 14:6). Jesus perfectly loved God, and in his great love for us, paid the penalty for our sins on the cross (Matt 20:28). He rescues us from alienation and estrangement from God; he rescues us from God’s just condemnation on our sin and the sentence of hell. He makes us a new creation (2 Cor 5:17) and saves us from the lie that a THOUSAND days elsewhere could ever be better than knowing God or could ever satisfy our hearts.
The question for us is this: does our heart find God better than everything? Do we say with the Psalmist that one day of knowing God is better than a THOUSAND days of having the best of what the world could offer without Him? If so, it is only by God’s grace. If not, may we ask for God’s grace to open our eyes to this truth. May He grant us repentance of sin and faith to trust in Christ. Maybe this will be for first time. Or perhaps we need His grace to behold and live this truth again. As Luther once said, ‘All of a Christian’s life is one of repentance.’