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Flourishing Like A Tree
In The House Of God

By Stephen R. Phifer

“But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God;
I trust in God’s unfailing love forever and ever.
I will praise you forever for what you have done;
in your name I will hope, for your name is good.
I will praise you in the presence of your saints” (Psalm 52:8,9).

As I prayed through the Psalms last fall, I found this incredible testimony of David. After reflecting on this psalm, I added its concepts to my daily prayers.

In Psalm 52, David compared the wicked Doeg to the righteous. Doeg boasted of evil (verse 1), but the righteous praise God (verse 9). Doeg trusted in his great wealth (verse 7), but the righteous trust in God’s unfailing love (verse 8). Doeg would be uprooted and torn from his tent (verse 5), but David was “like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God” (verse 8). David compared himself to a thriving tree that produced a steady crop of olives every year.

The historical context of this psalm involves the events surrounding Doeg and Ahimelech, the priest, that transpired when a demented King Saul was pursuing David (1 Samuel 21:1–9; 22:6–23). What did David do to earn Saul’s jealousy? He succeeded in the name of the Lord. He struck down Goliath and won the adoration of the people. Women sang of David and danced in the streets. They used exaggerated numbers to compare David’s statistics to those of the king. Saul’s own son, Jonathan, the rightful heir to the throne, was also David’s best friend and ally. Even Saul’s daughter Michal loved David, married him, and aided him in his flight from her irrational father. Worst of all, Saul needed David and his music. A troubling spirit from the Lord would torment the king’s mind and steal his rest. His only relief came when David played music. On two occasions these private recitals ended with David dodging Saul’s spear. Even Jonathan was a target for his father’s venom-tipped wrath. A jealous king is a dangerous thing — absolute power driven by paranoia.

Where could David find a place of safety? First, he went to Samuel (1 Samuel 19:18), and then to the priests’ conclave at Nob, a high place not far from Jerusalem. Here David found the compassionate priest Ahimelech who, though trembling and fully aware of the risk he was taking, provided David and his men with bread he had recently removed from the Holy Place. This act of kindness cost the priests their lives. When David reflected on this moment of provision in Psalm 52, he proclaimed that he found life and sustenance in God’s house.

After years of ministry, some ministers may find it difficult at times to flourish in God’s house. Instead, anointed leaders sometimes find God’s house to be a toxic place, not a place of safety. There seems to be a burr beneath the easy yoke Jesus promised His servants. Injustice reigns where there should be justice. Deceit lurks in words spoken by lips that should speak life and truth. Pastors expend vital energies intended for ministry watching their backs.

James said, “My brethren, these things ought not so to be” (James 3:10, kjv). But too often, like David, anointed ones find themselves in trouble in God’s house. Is there a solution to this dilemma in the words of David?

Trust

“I trust in God’s unfailing love forever and ever” (Psalm 52:8). The call of God on our lives — the easy yoke Jesus promised — is rooted in the unchanging character of God. God’s love for His servants is unfailing. Pastors need to realize the toxicity of the current situation falls safely within the boundaries of God’s sovereignty.

Trust believes when reason tells us to doubt. Trust means staying when our senses tell us to flee. Our obedience is not rooted in shifting circumstances, but is built instead on the rock of God’s unalterable veracity. As David fled from Saul, he hid in caves, fields, and heathen cities, but his trust was always in God’s unfailing love.

Praise

“I will praise you forever for what you have done” (verse 9). David expressed his trust through praise. His confidence in the future grew from his daily rehearsal of what God had done in the past. Praise builds faith, and faith yields courage. This is the courage required for the besieged leader to get out of bed each day, to go to the office, to answer the phone, and on Sunday to mount the platform when the sanctuary feels like enemy territory. And it only comes from a fresh review of God’s impeccable record of caring for those He has called. Daily courage is the product of daily praise. Even in the valley God is with us.

“In your name I will hope, for your name is good” (verse 9). The names of God reveal His character. The covenant names of Jehovah show His precise, comprehensive care for us. He is our healer, peace, friend, victory, sanctification, and provider. Jesus’ name is a refuge and a weapon. His good name is our strong tower. Speaking His name floods the soul with peace and courage as the enemy arrayed against us breaks formation at its sound.

“I will praise you in the presence of your saints” (verse 9). Added to David’s daily private praise was public devotion. Conflict centers on people, but public worship is about God. In the presence of the saints the leader’s praise (his faithfulness, sweetness, peacefulness, and spoken words) is significant. As leaders worship publicly, the focus shifts from them to God. People are watching leadership for their reaction to the strife behind the scenes. What they need to see is a worshiper giving all to the glory of God.

Never is the sacrifice of praise as costly as in times of conflict and stress. This is not playacting; it is genuine, desperate ministry to the Lord. When ministers come to God’s house, they must lay their burdens down as they enter into public worship. In these precious moments in the presence of God and His saints, they must worship, not worry; praise, not pout; give thanks, not make political pronouncements. The concentration required by worship in spirit and truth is the break needed from the strain of unnecessary combat with those who should be fighting alongside us.

How can a minister flourish in God’s house? The words of Paul to Timothy are the Lord’s words to us, “Do not neglect your gift” (1 Timothy 4:14); “fan into flame the gift of God” (2 Timothy 1:6). Our giftedness is the key to flourishing. If we are gifted to study, then study will become our refuge from the storm. If we are gifted in music, then music will become our sanctuary from strife. In times of personal danger and stress, we tend to neglect our gift. But flickering within the disciplines of our giftedness is the flame to fuel our peace.

The Lord is telling us to tend to His gift in us; fan it into flame. We need its light for the present darkness. We need its warmth deep within us as we face the cold winds of conflict. The study you do, the songs you write, sing, or play, the writing you produce will not only get you through the valley, your art will become a part of your testimony, a record of God’s faithfulness in your time of trial. The season of testing can also be a season of flourishing in God’s house.

It may seem difficult at times to flourish in the church. In seasons of distress, the minister can delight in the words of David. The righteous will flourish as they praise God, trust in His unfailing love, and abide in the house of God. “In your name I will hope, for your name is good” (Psalm 52:9).

Stephen R. Phifer, d.w.s., is music pastor at Word of Life International Church, Springfield, Virginia.

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