Thursday, May 1, 2014

Songs for the Journey

In the fast-paced society that we live in, we are constantly looking for the quick fix - the immediate fulfillment of our wants and needs.  In fact, for many, it is borderline obsession. "If we can't get it fast, it's not worthwhile, right?"  I'm sad to say that the same can often times be said of our faith journeys.  We look for the short list of things that we can do to grow closer to God; things like being a good person and going to church on Sunday, perhaps attending a weekly Bible study or doing service projects.  None of these things are bad, mind you; indeed they are all very good, and I would argue that they are an integral part of our faith journeys.  But when we lose interest, when the Good News loses it's novelty, what happens then?  God desires more of us than our seeking a "quick-fix" religion. To be a disciple is to be an apprentice to our master, Jesus.  As Friedrich Nietzsche so profoundly puts it, discipleship is a "long obedience in the same direction."

Let's think on that for a minute.... A Long Obedience in the Same Direction....

That phrase certainly gives me pause as I think about all of the things that I want to accomplish right now and consider all of the times that I was impatient today, but what exactly does it mean?  Eugene Peterson helps us to examine ourselves and find the answer.

In his book which utilizes the aforementioned phrase as it's title, Peterson shares with us the tools that the ancient Israelite people used as they traveled along on their faith journeys.  As modern pilgrims, we can utilize these same tools as we learn to grow in worship, service, joy, work, happiness, humility, community and blessing.  These precious gems are found in the fifteen chapters following Psalm 119, and are given the heading "Songs (Psalms) of Ascent."  Many scholars believe that the Psalms of Ascent were sung by pilgrims on their way UP, to worship in Jerusalem during the festival times.  These Psalms relate to the Israelites and to us on multiple planes (physical, spiritual, emotional), but at the heart of them is the theme of returning (looking UP) to God and the restoration of fellowship with Him.  These Psalms remind us of who we are, who God is, and where we are going.  Our relationship and fellowship are restored through a long obedience in the same direction.

The Psalms of Ascent are amazing in their depth and breadth.  One of my favorite things about the Psalms in general is that they are prayers offered by people like you and me; Not merely lofty praises to a seemingly distant God.  No, these Psalms encounter us where we are, delve into the depths of all human experience and bring us to the God who walks with us every step of the way.  Praise is offered amid suffering, Worship is done in the midst of grief, and Joy is proclaimed in the midst of great sorrow.  The beauty of the Psalms of Ascent is that they show us how to look to God in every circumstance of our lives; in the ups, downs and everywhere in between.  The Psalms of Ascent give us a pattern to follow.  They combine the cheerfulness of a travel song with the practicality of a guidebook and map.

As I've been preparing for my upcoming journey, I have spent a great deal of time pouring over guidebooks and maps.  It has been a long process of learning how to read them and utilize them together, so that I am able to find my way, should I become lost.  There have been several moments on my training hikes, when I have been unsure of where the next step should be or when I have been unsure as to how much distance I've covered.  In those moments, I consult my guidebook and map and can usually make a determination as to where I am.  The brief moments of panic and anxiety are assuaged by the knowledge that I have a tool that can help me to get back on track.  How comforting it is, to know that there is a guidebook and map containing songs and prayers for every season and circumstance of our lives!  These are the songs for the journey of a life worth living; the journey of a long obedience in the same direction.

I encourage you to take some time to read and pray these Psalms (120-134).  May they become for you a guidebook and map as you travel this life, continually pointing you back to God and renewing and restoring your relationship with Him.