Songs of Ascent – Fall 2020 – Reflection 4 of 6

By Pastor Matt Bisel

Read the psalm and discuss the questions below. Each Small Group is different, some tend to be more talkative, other not as much. Do your best to manage time; it’s okay if you don’t make it through all the questions.

Psalm 129 – Perseverance

From youth, people have constantly attacked me—
    let Israel now repeat!—
from youth people have constantly attacked me—
    but they haven’t beaten me!
They plowed my back like farmers;
    they made their furrows deep.
But the Lord is righteous—
    God cut me free from the ropes of the wicked!
Let everyone who hates Zion be ashamed, thoroughly frustrated.
Let them be like grass on a roof
 that dies before it can be pulled up,
which won’t fill the reaper’s hand
        or fill the harvester’s arms.
Let no one who passes by say to them:
    “May the Lord’s blessing be on you!
        We bless you in the Lord’s name!”
Common English Bible

“They’ve kicked me around ever since I was young”
    —this is how Israel tells it—
“They’ve kicked me around ever since I was young,
    but they never could keep me down.
Their plowmen plowed long furrows
    up and down my back;
Then God ripped the harnesses
    of the evil plowmen to shreds.”
Oh, let all those who hate Zion
    grovel in humiliation;
Let them be like grass in shallow ground
    that withers before the harvest,
Before the farmhands can gather it in,
    the harvesters get in the crop,
Before the neighbors have a chance to call out,
    “Congratulations on your wonderful crop!
    We bless you in God’s name!”
The Message

Back when I was in seminary, one of my favorite courses was on the history of the early church. In my studies I was inspired by a common theme thread throughout the first three hundred years of the church. That theme seems to have characterized the church more than any of the theological debates, or apologies or developing doctrines of that time. The theme that I think characterized the early church more than anything else was it’s perseverance. There were just so many opportunities for Christians to give up and let the church fall apart: The persecution of Nero (54-68 CE), the persecution of Christians in Jerusalem during that same time, the persecution of Domitian (81-96 CE), the persecution of Trajan (98-117 CE), the persecution of Hadrian (117-139 CE), the persecution of Marcus Aurelius (161-180), the persecution of Septimius Severus (193-211), the persecution of Decius (249-251 CE) and the Great Persecution during the late years of emperor Diocletian (284-305 CE) in which Christians were kicked out of the military, houses of Christians were burned along with early church writings and many Christians were put to death. If Psalm 129 were written for the early church it may well have said, “From the beginning, people have constantly attacked us – and let all the saints with us say! – from the beginning people have constantly attacked us – but they haven’t beaten us!” What do you think gave the early church such perseverance when the powers of the world were against them? Wouldn’t it have been easier to just offer a meaningless little sacrifice to Caesar than to have your house burned or worse yet, be tortured and killed?

The church carried on, one generation after the other, passing down what Caesar did not know – that through Christ, “God had ripped up the harnesses of the evil plowmen to shreds.” Caesar’s oxen continued to trample up and down but the plows of persecution had lost their power. What are some stories of perseverance we find in the Bible? How did they endure? What kept them going? If you can’t think of any consider these: Jesus in Matthew 4, Paul in Phil 3:10-14, the widow in Luke 18:1-8 or in the Old Testament the stories of Ruth & Naomi, Job or Jeremiah. 

Sometimes we are beaten down by powers or circumstances out of our control. The outbreak of COVID 19 has disrupted our lives in this way. How are you enduring the pandemic? More often the things that trouble us on our walk of faith are things like self-doubt or pride, greed, addiction, busyness and even apathy. Perseverance isn’t about perfection, it means that we keep going, not giving up when we stumble over pride or slide back into unhealthy habits. Remember, we are studying the Psalms of Ascent, a journey in discipleship and it’s easy to feel beaten down on this long and bumpy road. So, what are the practices or disciplines that help a follower of Christ keep going? Oh, and don’t forget about grace. Perseverance “isn’t the result of our determination, it is the result of Gods faithfulness.”[1] In all of our wondering, in all of our stumbling or stubbornness, when we are paralyzed by fear or  when we run headlong in the wrong direction, God sticks with us, calling us back, picking us up, encouraging us to continue on.

[1] Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2000).

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