What prevents me from getting out of the bed I’m choosing?

I am thinking today about the wonder of being with God. I am pondering the pleasant problem of choosing to love God and to express my love. Jesus found me and here I am longing for God’s “courts.” That’s amazing! — and requires some meditation.

I have a commentary/translation on the Psalms sitting by my prayer chair at home. I often turn to it when I am spending time with God in the morning: The Book of Psalms by Robert Alter. I like his de-Europeanized translation and how he helps me understand how to sing the songs. This morning he got me thinking about a famous verse we sometimes sing in a song:

Better is one day in your courts,
better is one day in your house,
better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.

To be honest, I don’t know what we are supposed to be thinking when we sing that song. I usually just wait until it is over. (To keep being honest, I sit through a lot of songs my leaders present to me with no explanation). Is it about the courts of heaven and I am a courtier? Is it about the “temple courts” and I am supposed to think this worship time in “God’s house” is the best thing ever? Is it just a metaphor for being with God, like I am being hosted in His beautiful courtyard?

In most versions Psalm 84:11 is translated something like: “One day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.” The focus seems to be on duration: I’d rather spend one day with God than a thousand days somewhere else. I can sing that.

The original context is about being a pilgrim to Jerusalem.  It is all about feeling excitement over being at the end point of a pilgrimage to a holy place — “I am actually going to spend the day in the Temple! This is the best!” Even more specific, it is being like King David going to the Temple, and feeling what he feels about that.

Robert Alter translates the line from the song we sing more specifically and brings up a small nuance that translators argue about. His translation is,

“For better one day in your courts than a thousand I have chosen.”

Alter’s is probably the most literal translation. Other translators who try to translate strictly  have gone with an emendation to some of the Hebrew texts that allows the English to read,

“Better one day in your courts than a thousand in my bedchamber.”

Both these more specific translations make more sense to me than a simple “a thousand elsewhere.” And I think they make sense for us, too, for two reasons:

For one thing, many of my friends prefer their bedchamber to God. Either their laziness or their sexual immorality is keeping them there. So they don’t get to the courts of God too often, privately or publicly. I think Alter’s preferred translation hits the nail on the head when it comes to these people: “Better is the one day I have turned my attention — mind, body and soul, to God than the thousand I have chosen to be free of the Lord. Better is the one day I got up out of bed, or got out of bed with person or thing controlling me, than the thousand I spent avoiding the soul-choice I need to make.

The main thing is brought up by Alter’s translation: “Better one day in your courts than a thousand I have chosen.” Our problem is in the choosing. Normally, most of us think choosing is “freedom.” We think we can’t even help what we choose, that it is genetically determined. We want the right to choose above all things. I think many of us would automatically think that being in God’s courts is like having to “show up in court” to account for something we have done wrong, to be threatened with “lock-up” and deprived of the choice that makes us who we are. We spend our days “on the lam” when it comes to God!

How tragic it would be to miss the joy of this psalm because we are afraid our choice would be stolen! — the appreciation of God’s splendor, the anticipation of intimately experiencing his favor, the ennobling confidence of standing in God’s presence and feeling welcomed, even called, and the promise of life forever, freely given to a being who can freely love it. I can’t get my heart to stop feeling for people who never get there and just long for their bed. What prevents us from getting out of the bed we have chosen?

I am not the best example. But I am glad God got me out of bed, somehow, so I could spend some time meditating today about the wonder of being with God and the difficulties I face in choosing to be there. I am pondering the pleasant bondage, the frightening but comforting inevitability, the alarming but invigorating, overpowering draw that I can’t deny when it comes to knowing God.  Jesus has come and found me and here I am longing for God’s “courts.” How amazing to have journeyed this far!

Knowing God is better than all the things I found for myself (and often continue to think I ought to find). I was telling my friend yesterday that being real is all I want. In the “one day” I know God, I know me. Better is that one day. One moment of knowing God is better than the rest of what I could choose, and certainly beats the mess I have often chosen.

[A few of you may recognize this from a few years ago — I reconsidered it]

4 thoughts on “What prevents me from getting out of the bed I’m choosing?

  1. Good word, Rod! I’ve been thinking a lot about choice recently too. The things I, and my friends, we sell out ourselves too. I’ve been thinking about Recreation (I’m reading one of Watchman Nee’s books). Within that context, reflecting on, and working on the practice the discipline of early-rising. What sounded like a simple task of making sure I get myself in bed early enough at night so that I may get up to meet God each day…has shown me the hundreds of things I ‘choose’ as distractions. So its been painfully wonderful one might say. This idea of choice when it gets going in our mindset reveals itself in the time we go to meet with God, but most boldly when we do not. And its hard to avoid this temptation in our spiritual life when it is what is preached from all corners of our ‘free’ society. But what we see is certain peoples’ freely chosen lifestyles stripping away the rights and dignity of others. And in the church it is no different. But I believe we are called out of that and to be called Home. I pray we, all, can put down our metaphorical sweet new headphones to hear it.

  2. I too, strongly dislike that song.

    Interesting stuff though on the whole choice idea. I’m going to need to check out that book you referenced.

  3. Thanks for unpacking this Psalm, Rod. I’m impressed that one of the results of the pilgrims’ knowing God was this burst of a song. In this “court” we are God’s courtiers. Courtier’s do a lot of singing and dancing right? Knowing God and one’s self is freeing to begin to move/speak in the fluid form of God’s way. That is better than choosing bondages.

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