I wonder what your routine is when you are about to set off on long journey. Deciding what choice of music, audiobook or radio station to have on. Or maybe yours playlist is ‘are we there yet?’ on repeat by the backing singers. It was much simpler when all you had in the car was the cassette tape because we had limited options; looks like it’s Bruce Springsteen or The Archers! Now it’s “Alexa, play…” and let the argument or the indecisiveness begin. Getting started is sometimes the hardest part of any journey and not just the choice of music.
We are starting our series on the Psalms (or Songs) of Ascent; these Psalms were sung by pilgrims travelling over the nation of Israel for three of the major festivals throughout the year; Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of tabernacles. You could say this was the Pilgrims’ mixtape.
The meaning of these Psalms has been interpreted in a few different ways. Jerusalem was, topographically, the highest point in Israel so wherever you were travelling from you would be going up. But it could also be seen as a metaphor for moving towards God; as Eugene Peterson puts it the trip to Jerusalem acted out a life lived upwards towards God from one level to another developing maturity. As we move through these Psalms over the Summer, we will see in these Psalms a journey from distress to power and to security in God.
The Journey Begins
Track one in the playlist is one of distress; the Psalmist is asking to be rescued from lying lips and deceitful tongues. The psalm starts with distress and ends with war; it is not a happy psalm. But it is the start of the journey. The psalmist is looking around and does not like what they see and where they dwell and basically saying “get me out of here, I do not belong in this place!”.
When I first became a Christian and my journey began, I recall greatly how painful the start of that journey was. At 15 years of age, I had encountered God, felt his presence and for the first-time unconditional love with a desire to live, love and serve Him. That was easier amongst those who also believed but not so with those who do not.
Turning away from old behaviours and attitudes at school which made me an alien and target; shunned even more in what was a particularly challenging and difficult homelife. The start of the journey was hard, but I remember praying most nights, blessed me your name and, like the Psalmist, Lord get me out of here. And you know what, He did just that. A year later I was living with caring and nurturing foster parents that still to this day walk with me.
Our walk as disciples as followers of Christ can and will make us aliens in the land that we live but we walk these dangerous and challenging roads in the confidence of who God is and what Jesus Christ has done for us on the cross and because of that we live differently and as John rightly pointed out last week that our lives should point to Jesus and that people will see Jesus in us; some will be attracted and some will be repelled. Our journey is one that is counter-cultural in an ever-increasing hostile culture. The great thing for us here and now is that we can turn to God on that journey and that by his Spirit we can be guided through the difficult parts of the journey and to also be excited about how God may use us on our journey for his Glory.
Turning to God on the Journey
The psalmist shows us at the very beginning and throughout the journey we too can turn to God, cry out and asked for deliverance. Our walk with Jesus was never going to be carefree because we live in a world where there is danger, injustice, and temptation. A world that the psalmist in v5 likens to Meshech and Kedar. It was unlikely the psalmist was in these places physically but rather they were metaphors for one being a remote place and another being hostile.
We may find ourselves working and living in places that sometimes seem so distant and detached from God; where we dwell among those who hate peace. The journey can and will be messy, it can take different turns and people from all over will join on the upward climb. We become more like who God wants us to be as we continue this upward walking with Him.
When I find myself in conversations with people about God’s grace and that all who honestly believe and repent can be forgiven this can cause offence because it His grace is remarkable! You only need to look at the media to see how well received forgiveness of people’s mistakes is; to forgive and move on is incredibly counter-cultural yet it is at the heart of God’s saving works.
Working in the prison education I am constantly in discussion with people about why we do what we do and battle with people (some that work in prisons) about whether people can change or not. What grieves me, what distresses me is that I see and work with so many people that did not have a good start to their journey in life and as a result end up on the wrong side of the law.
This is then reinforced by remaining stigma; one learner of mine said to me “Danny, once a prisoner always a prisoner in the eyes of society”. It breaks my heart because I believe and trust in a God that can and does change hearts and minds; that turns people’s lives around. Yet, I find that I dwell amongst people who reject this. The world does not dictate our journey and as we are reminded in the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15, those who are lost can be found. And I get so frustrated because I just don’t understand why people do not want to champion people’s recovery in order that they don’t reoffend and get stuck in a vicious circle; it pains me.
I know that many of us right now feel distressed, are tired and are restless as a result of the last 15 months of going through a journey in our society we are still yet to finish. The journey has been a challenging and frustrating one whereby people have felt much pain, loneliness, and detachment from loved ones.
It has been a painful journey on top of all the other things in life that concerns us individually and corporately, our past, our struggles with others; our issues at work; financial concerns; health concerns; and the issues of injustice in the world and we think ah! how can we make this journey? We do this one step at a time with God who is faithful and will walk with us; He is our living hope. Day by day, step by step, let us continue to walk with Him and together; this journey is to be walked as a community.
What has been encouraging is how people have journeyed together online, onsite, homegroups and so on. As well of those who have joined the journey during this time.
I wonder what your Meshech and Kedar is right now; whether be work, family difficulties strained relationships, I encourage you bring these places before God and be assured that God can make his presence known.
What we can take from this psalm is that it teaches us that is it okay to express our frustration, our weariness, our anger at the injustice we see in the world around us and look to God the who gives us hope and strength for the journey. This journey both physically and spiritually is about journeying towards God.
Unlike the psalmist, we do not need to travel physically to be where God is but by his Spirit he can and will make his presence known. And that we can take his light into the World and others will see Him and join his journey.