What is your aim in life? I mean, what do you think about when there is nothing pressing on your mind? What do you want out of life? What “turns you on”, keeps you going when things get tough?
That great sage and philosopher Alfred E. Newman said, “Most people don’t know what they really want, but they are sure they haven’t got it.” A. A. Hedge said, “No man can ever rise above that at which he aims.”
Choosing a satisfying aim in life is not as easy as it may seem. If you set your sights too low, you will not be sufficiently challenged and will be let down when you achieve your aim. On the other hand, if you set your aim too high you will be frustrated and disappointed when you realize that you will never achieve it.
The writer of Psalm 84 gives us an aim in life that is sure to be satisfying:
How blessed is the man whose strength is in You, in whose heart are the highways to Zion! Passing through the valley of Baca they make it a spring; the early rain also covers it with blessings. They go from strength to strength, every one of them appears before God in Zion. (Psalm 84:5-7 NASV)
This is a pilgrim psalm, written by someone who embarked on a long and difficult journey to Jerusalem joyfully and passionately anticipating a visit to the Temple of God for a worship experience. The writer probably lived approximately 900 years before the birth of Christ. Less than half of the Old Testament Scriptures had been written at that time, and the only opportunity the average person would have to hear them read would be during a visit to the Temple. He had likely memorized the psalms of David. Even on his journey, he was enjoying focusing his attention of God instead of his daily work responsibilities.
He wished he could spend all of his time in that special place where God met with His people. The Temple gave him a sense of belonging, of basking in the love of God as one is warmed and cheered by bright sunshine, of being sheltered and protected as if he were covered by the shield of a mighty warrior. He envied the little birds who make their nests in the house of the Lord every day of their lives. After his brief visit, he would have to leave the Temple and Jerusalem and return to his dwelling place in another city.
As Christians we have the blessed privilege of doing what the sparrows and swallows did, living in the Temple of God every day of our lives. Paul wrote, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (I Corinthians 3:16 NASV) What a privilege we have that Old Testament saints could only dream about; but do we have the passionate longing for fellowship with God that the psalmist did? He wrote, “My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God” (Psalm 84:2 NKJV) A commenter on this verse observed:
We must supply the desire, the intense, consuming overwhelming desire, the desire for God that overshadows all else, that blots all else out, the recognition of need and helplessness and uselessness and insignificance, the yearning and the longing , the sense of utter natural emptiness, and God will supply the rest: richly, abundantly, bountifully as we are able to receive it, as we empty ourselves and prepare ourselves for it, as we appreciate it and lay hold on it and use it.
The passionate desire to know God is the highest aim we can set for our lives. Alexander MacLaren wrote:
On any lower level it is perfectly true that the very salt of life is aspiration after an unattained ideal; that there is nothing that so keeps a man young, strong, buoyant, and fits him for nobilities of action, as that there shall be gleaming for ever before him in the beckoning distance a horizon that moves ever as he moves. When we cease to be the slaves of unattained ideals in any department, it is time for us to die; indeed, we are dead already.
This goal is so big that it will take a lifetime to come even near to achieving it. Yet, every believer who sincerely desires to know God will eventually achieve that goal. Paul wrote:
For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away…For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. (I Corinthians 13:9, 10, and 12 NASV)
In verse 6 Psalm 84 gives us insight into one of the primary ways we gain this knowledge of God and His ways. He says that the man whose heart is set on pilgrimage will pass through the valley of Baca on his way to worship God in the Temple. The valley of Baca is a dry place fraught with difficulties and discomforts for the traveler. It may have been a literal place, but we don’t know where it was located. The name Baca literally means “balsa tree”. That is significant for two reasons. One is that the balsa tree only grows in dry arid places. The other reason is that its leaves secrete sap in little droplets that look like tears. In fact, the name, Baca, may be a play on words, because the Hebrew word for “weeping” is bacah.
We would like to think the road to Zion is broad and smooth, and that we can just stroll and sing our way to the Temple; but we don’t get to know God when everything is going our way. In fact, that is when we are in the greatest danger of drifting away from God.
It is when we face obstacles and hardships that are more than we can handle that we turn away from reliance on our own strength and turn to God to draw from His strength. You see Him work in ways you have never experienced before.
When God works His ways in the hurts and sorrows of your life, He turns the dry valley into a spring. He showers you with “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3 NKJV). With every hard experience you grow stronger spiritually. You go “from strength to strength”.
The older you get, the more difficulties you will face. That is no happenstance. It is one of the fundamental ways God works in your life. When sorrow or hardship comes into your life, don’t resent it as an intrusion. Don’t frantically exhaust yourself trying to avoid it. See and accept it for what it is: another step in your spiritual pilgrimage that is taking you closer to God.
So, what is your heart set on? When your aim in life is to know God and His ways, all your hard experiences are opportunities to advance toward your goal.
I have been through the valley of weeping,
The valley of sorrow and pain;
But the God of all comfort was with me,
At hand to uphold and sustain.
As the earth needs the clouds and sunshine,
Our souls need both sorrow and joy;
So he places us oft in the furnace,
The dross from the gold to destroy.
When He leads through some valley of trouble,
His omnipotent hand we trace;
For the trials and sorrows He sends to us,
Are part of His lessons in grace.
Well He knows the affliction is needed;
He has a wise purpose in view,
And in the dark valley He whispers,
‘Hereafter you’ll know what I do.’
As we travel through life’s shadowed valley,
Fresh springs of His love ever rise;
And we learn that our sorrows and losses
Are blessings just sent in disguise.
So we’ll follow wherever He leads us,
Let the path be dreary or bright;
For we’ve proved that our God can give comfort.
Our God can give songs in the night.
J. Ray Smith, President, Fair Havens Publications
Copyright: / 123RF Stock Photo
The Barnabas Community
If you would like to receive regular updates about articles like this one, become a part of the “Barnabas Community” by subscribing to our free monthly newsletter. Barnabas was an evangelist who encouraged and aided both Paul and Mark in their ministries. His name means “Son of Prophecy”. The purpose of the newsletter is to encourage you to face the future and share your faith with confidence.
Comment and Share
Do you have any questions or thoughts about spiritual pilgrimage? Take a moment to enter the discussion and share a comment. You could encourage someone else. Please see our Comment Policy below.
Can you think of a friend who could benefit from reading this article? Use the button on the left of this page to send an email. Also, it would help us if you would give it a “like” in social media.
Your comments are welcome, even if you do not agree with us. We require that you limit them to the subject of the blog, show respect and civility, and refrain from abusive or inappropriate language. We reserve the right to remove comments at our sole discretion.
Permission is granted to post this article on your web site or reproduce it for a teaching ministry provided it is used in its entirety with no editing or omissions, and if the author’s tag line is included with the company name and web address or link if used on a web site. This article may not be used for commercial purposes without additional permission from Fair Havens Publications. Please see “Permissions” in the tool bar at the top of this page.