In Immanuel's "Read Through the Bible" plan we're now in the section of "Songs of Ascent." We need to read the title carefully. It's not "assent" as in "agreement." It's ascent" as in "going up."
Which begs the question: going up to what? Well, to Jerusalem, of course.
Jerusalem is on a hill. From any direction, to get there you have to go up. If you've been there, you know that the modern highway that now approaches the city makes it feel like you go up, and up, and up some more.
In the Psalms, the "Songs of Ascent" are grouped together. They are psalms 120-133. The Book of Psalms is often called "the prayerbook of Israel." And so it is. These psalms are grouped together so that the pilgrims could find them easily and sing them as they went up to the Holy City.
Imagine a group of sandal-shod pilgrims going to a religious festival. They've traveled by foot. They've planned out their journey, they've packed their meals. Mom and dad may be squabbling about directions. They've brought Aunt Bethany along. The kids are picking on each other.
This is why these psalms were written, to re-focus the mind from the mundane and back to the things of God.
"In my distress I called to the Lord, and He answered me." (120:1)
Funny that the first one starts out at the difficulty of following God. And yet it quickly answers that God acts to save His people.
"I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth." (121:1-2)
Here's the traveler beginning his journey; looking up to the hills, getting on his way to meet with God, and trusting in His provision along the way.
"I was glad when they said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the Lord.'" (122:1
What a refreshing attitude: a follower of God who looks forward to church, who's encouraged by his fellow believers to go, and who responds by going with them.
"If it had not been the Lord who was on our side
When people rose up against us,
Then they would have swallowed us up alive." (124:2-3)
Oops…I forget this part: It's always been a challenge to follow God. It is now, of course; but this is not new. Still, God is greater than who oppose.
"When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
We were like those who dream." (126:1)
Hardship? Sure, but the Lord also brings times of refreshment and restoration. Grant it, Lord.
There are several more. You can read them and see the range of human experience. Joy, sorrow, commitment, the difficulty of following through on commitment. This is what makes the psalms so wonderful. They're thousands of years old. But the words sound like the very things we've thought and felt.
In that way, they validate our own faith experiences. Of course they never leave us thinking of ourselves alone. They point us to God, to His house, and to true worship of Him.
Psalm 131 in its entirety:
"O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
My eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
Like a weaned child with its mother;
Like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
From this forth and forevermore."
Or we can say it like this: O church, hope in the Lord. There's no other way to get there.