Songs of Ascent - Fall 2020 - Reflection 1 of 6
By Pastor Matt Bisel
I have a pair of pants that are known as the “traveling pants.” They are stylish yet comfy and have a few extra pockets. These are all great qualities in a pair of pants when navigating airports, stashing away travel documents, and settling in for long flights. I tend to wear them when I travel. So, now when my daughter catches me sporting these stylish yet comfy, and best of all, practical pants, she asks me with a smirk, “Where we going?”
“Where are we going?” This is a question I’ve been asking myself lately, especially as I scroll through the news feeds and social media: COVID-19, George Floyd, protests, elections… It all leaves me feeling disoriented, longing for an answer to that question, “Where are we going?” It’s as if we have embarked on a journey with no clear destination, with no idea of what to expect along the way.
To reorient myself I turn to an old and well-worn songbook written for the journeyer. Tucked away in the Psalms, this songbook is known as the Songs of Ascent, Psalms 120-134. These are the songs of the Hebrew pilgrims as they made their way up to Jerusalem to worship. These pilgrims literally ascended into Jerusalem, the highest city in region. But the ascent was not merely a literal one. The journey to Jerusalem was a spiritual ascent, faith in action, one foot in front of the other, upward toward God. As Christian disciples we understand this as growing in our love and knowledge of God and of our neighbor so that we may become more and more like Christ.
Though we may be uncertain as to what this fall will hold and unable to answer the question, “Where are we going?,” we have a songbook at hand and will journey through these psalms together over the coming weeks. My prayer is that their words comfort, strengthen and encourage you along the way; that these songs become a compass, ever pointing us upward, beckoning us onwards toward Christ.
Read each psalm and discuss the questions below. Each Small Group is different, some tend to be more talkative, others not as much. Do your best to manage the time - it’s okay if you don’t make it through all the questions.
I cried out to the Lord when I was in trouble (and he answered me):
2 “Lord, deliver me from lying lips
and a dishonest tongue!”
3 What more will be given to you,
what more will be done to you,
you dishonest tongue?
4 Just this: a warrior’s sharpened arrows, coupled with burning coals from a wood fire!
5 Oh, I’m doomed
because I have been an immigrant in Meshech,
because I’ve made my home among Kedar’s tents.
6 I’ve lived far too long
with people who hate peace.
7 I’m for peace,
but when I speak, they are for war.
Common English Bible
1-2 I’m in trouble. I cry to God,
desperate for an answer:
“Deliver me from the liars, God!
They smile so sweetly but lie through their teeth.”
3-4 Do you know what’s next, can you see what’s coming,
all you barefaced liars?
Pointed arrows and burning coals
will be your reward.
5-7 I’m doomed to live in Meshech,
cursed with a home in Kedar,
My whole life lived camping
among quarreling neighbors.
I’m all for peace, but the minute
I tell them so, they go to war.
Psalm 120 seems a bit unsettling. It opens with “when I was in trouble” and ends with “they are for war.” It describes a culture filled with lies, distrust and “fake news” if you will. After scrolling through your social media feed, do you feel like you have a good handle on the “truth”? What about when you scroll through the news feeds? How does it make you feel? How does it affect your ability to trust others?
The psalmist describes themself as an uncomfortable immigrant living among quarreling neighbors who hate peace. Are there times that you have felt like the psalmist? Are there times to confess that you have been more like the quarreling neighbors? The first step in a journey towards God is repentance. Repentance reorients us; it is a turning away from the lies that the world tells us and from the lies we tell ourselves. Repentance points us in the right direction, it points us to the love of Christ. Take a moment in quiet confession as you begin this journey.
I raise my eyes toward the mountains.
Where will my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
the maker of heaven and earth.
3 God won’t let your foot slip.
Your protector won’t fall asleep on the job.
4 No! Israel’s protector
never sleeps or rests!
5 The Lord is your protector;
the Lord is your shade right beside you.
6 The sun won’t strike you during the day;
neither will the moon at night.
7 The Lord will protect you from all evil;
God will protect your very life.
8 The Lord will protect you on your journeys— whether going or coming—
from now until forever from now.
Common English Bible
1-2 I look up to the mountains;
does my strength come from mountains?
No, my strength comes from God,
who made heaven, and earth, and mountains.
3-4 He won’t let you stumble,
your Guardian God won’t fall asleep.
Not on your life! Israel’s
Guardian will never doze or sleep.
5-6God’s your Guardian,
right at your side to protect you—
Shielding you from sunstroke,
sheltering you from moonstroke.
7-8 God guards you from every evil,
he guards your very life.
He guards you when you leave and when you return,
he guards you now, he guards you always.
No journey is easy. We are sure to encounter slip ups, hardships, and troubles along the way. How do you understand God’s Providence? The psalmist says, “I raise my eyes toward the mountains,” then asks, “where does my help come from?” The Hebrew pilgrim on their way to Jerusalem would have seen temples and shrines to the gods, outposts scattered across the landscape, offering easy escapes to weary travelers. What are the things that distract us or lead us astray on our pursuit to become more like Christ?
*Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2000).