For a decade or more, I’ve started almost every morning with the same “centering” prayer to give focus to my day and to my early morning time of Bible study and prayer. The prayer didn’t originate with me. It originated in the heart of King David who was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write it. The prayer is part of a larger prayer and it goes like this, “One thing I ask of the Lord, and this is what I seek, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. To behold the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” Many of you will recognize these as words coming from Psalm 27.
Currently, we may think that the fulfillment of the longing of this prayer is out of reach. For so long we’ve not been able to gather in houses of worship. Now, I know that there are some churches that will begin gathering in the next couple of weeks under new guidance. However, it will be a while for others. Central and Genesis has a task force that meets weekly on Zoom to work on plans for reopening. This task force is following guidance by the Arkansas Conference Task Force which is being led by the Bishop. Of course, there are state and federal guidelines as well, along with protocol from the CDC and the WHO. All of this to keep safety the top priority. Or as John Wesley, the father of Methodism would say, to “Do no harm” to another human.
It’s ironic if you compare our longing to return to our place of worship and David’s longing to be in the house of God. We long to return but want to do so when it is safe from our common enemy—a.k.a. the coronavirus. David wants to dwell in the house of the Lord because it is there that David feels safe from the enemies that threaten him. David goes to the house of the Lord in order to flee his enemies. So, David prays, “One thing I ask of the Lord, that one thing I will seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.”
There is a greater reason though for David wanting to dwell in the house of the Lord than fleeing from his enemies. David does not merely want to be out of the presence of his enemies, he wants to be in the presence of God. The central point of the request “to dwell in the house of the Lord” really means living permanently in God’s presence. This is the “one thing” of which David asks. Commentators note that David’s expression “one thing I have asked” is one of the most single-minded statements of purpose to be found anywhere in the Old Testament. In God’s presence, he hopes to have an extraordinary experience of God’s company and beauty.
Biblical scholar John Goldingay reminds us the phrase “one thing” is often found in the New Testament.
- Paul says, one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).
- Jesus says to the rich man, “You lack one thing” (Mark 10:21).
- To Martha, Jesus says, “Only one thing is needed” (Luke 10:42).
- And the blind man with restored sight giving witness to Jesus and Jesus’ healing power tells the religious leaders, “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25).
If you are like me, it is difficult to focus on “one thing.” As Goldingay notes, we like to pride ourselves on multi-tasking. With little thought, we add “one more thing” to our schedules without thinking through the fact that our schedules are overcrowded, and we don’t really have room for one more thing. When we continually add “one more thing” we are doing little, if any, self-reflection on what or who truly has priority in our lives.
Now, I know that our schedules are different due to COVID-19. Most things have been taken off our plates involuntarily. However, we won’t be distancing forever. Life will begin to change as places open and activities resume. This is a good time to think in terms of priority. It is an opportunity to consider what or who gets ultimate priority. What “one thing” will you be seeking?
The really good news is that we are God’s priority. While we long to be in the house of God, we are reminded that Jesus has brought the house of God to us. John’s gospel tells us that Jesus came and dwelt among us—literally, tabernacle among us. The tabernacle was Gods’ first ‘house’, representing God’s indwelling presence among his people. Jesus is the one in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. What kind of home does Jesus offer us? Henri Nouwen says that Jesus offers us a house of love where he is the host. When we gaze upon Jesus, we gaze upon the beauty of the Lord.
Let me close by sharing a story from the life of Brennan Manning. A man who, like the rest of us, often wrestled with the “one thing” in his life and yet in this story I’m about to share, beheld the beauty of the Lord. Brennan writes,
In the winter of 1968-69, I lived in a cave in the mountains of the Zaragoza Desert in Spain…
On the night of December 13, during what began as a long and lonely hour of prayer, I heard in faith Jesus Christ say, “For love of you I left my Father’s side. I came to you who ran from me, fled me, who did not want to hear my name. For love of you I was covered with spit, punched, beaten, and affixed to the wood of the cross.”
These words are burned on my life. Whether I am in a state of grace or disgrace, elation or depression, that night of fire quietly burns on. I looked at the crucifix for a long time, figuratively saw the blood streaming from every pore of his body, and heard the cry of his wounds: “This isn’t a joke. It is not a laughing matter to me that I have loved you.” The longer I looked, the more I realized that no man has ever loved me, and no one ever could love me as he did. I went out of the cave, stood on the precipice, and shouted into the darkness, “Jesus, are you crazy? Are you out of your mind to have loved me so much?” I learned that night what a wise old man had told me years earlier: “Only the one who has experienced it can know what the love of Jesus Christ is. Once you have experienced it, nothing else will seem beautiful or desirable.”
“One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek to behold the beauty of the Lord…”. We are God’s priority. He is saying to us, “Only one thing is important.”
Thanks be to God. Amen.
May the peace of Christ be with you!
 John Goldingay. Psalms for Everyone, Part 1. (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2013), 85.
 Goldingay, 86.
 Brennan Manning. Reflections for Ragamuffins (New York: Harper Collins, 1998), 126-27.