song of ascents

It sure seems the last few months have been a journey, an especially long one with both destination and expected time of arrival unknown. Lately I’ve felt we’re on a pilgrimage that we didn’t quite expect to go this way. Yet, when we live a life of faith we know that every moment is sacred, not a single moment is wasted. God’s presence within us makes each moment a holy encounter with God. Each day is a pilgrimage to know God, to love God, to glorify God.

I’ll be the first to admit that as of late I’ve been guilty of not seeing the forest for the trees. Facing the daily ramifications of a global pandemic, attempting to comprehend the vast amount of information, weighing the many factors for future decisions has left me with nearsighted vision. Focus too much on the details in front of you and soon thats all you can see and even that gets a little blurry.

The pilgrimage can feel like an uphill struggle.

So what did I do? I decided that if life feels like an uphill struggle then maybe it was time to hike a real uphill climb for some perspective.

The kids and went for a familiar hike up through camp. As my children ran on ahead, relatively unhindered by the climb, I set to the task of minding my footing so as to avoid slipping, tripping or falling. Leaves, branches, rotten wood littered my path and again I was losing the forest for the trees. Suddenly I looked up at the rocks around me and Psalm 121, one of my favorite scriptures,  came rushing back to me…

Psalm 121

A song of ascents.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

Can you picture this scripture come to life? Can you imagine the sight people making their annual religious pilgrimage to Jerusalem? Along the journey, as the destination came into view, their voices could be heard joining together singing the songs of ascent (Psalms 120-134).

As glorious of an undertaking as it was for them to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, this was also a journey of sacrifice, hardship and struggle. And as they entered the final stages of the trip, there before them were the mountains where Jerusalem sat, both a sign of their destination, the end of their travel, but first they had to climb final ascent.

I can imagine the mix of emotions they may have felt… exhaustion, elation, joy, awe and wonder… all while they looked up a the climb to come to reach their long sought for destination.

This psalm is a song of confession and assurance. The journey is difficult, even a journey with a sacred purpose is fraught with struggle and trials. Gazing up the mountains, the last stage of the journey, pilgrims sang together from their exhaustion and excitement. But the true confession and encouragement is this: it isn’t the destination that brought rescue but the Lord himself that was their help.

We may not be staring at the hills of Jerusalem but many of us are needing encouragement and strength along this stage of the pilgrimage of life.  Take some time to reread this psalm and allow the Lord to speak truth and bring comfort from His presence.

-What hills and mountains are you facing?
-Are you turning to the Lord as your strength in this time?
-Where do you feel your “feet” slipping or your strength fading?
-What are you doing to hold fast to the truth that the Lord is ever-present and all-powerful to help you?

Just like the pilgrims facing that final ascent into Jerusalem who found confession, encouragement and community in song… my heart is comforted, my spirit lifted and my mind centered on the Lord through worship.

During this time of social distancing I’ve missed worship!

In my daily reading plan I found this verse tucked away in 1 Chronicles 9:33, “The musicians, all prominent Levites, lived at the Temple. They were exempt from other responsibilities since they were on duty at all hours.”

Musicians at the temple were on duty at all hours.

Isn’t that wonderful? Music isn’t contained to the hours of a worship service? What a gift music is in our lives!

Since I was a teen I wished I had two gifts: intercessory prayer and leading worship. While I believe both are significant in my life, neither is my spiritual gift, not my calling, nor my talent. But, oh my word, is my heart happy in times of fervent prayer and worship… at all hours of the day or night.

And I realized something, I hadn’t been taking time to worship the Lord in song and focused prayer. While life has been on pause and so much of our schedules have been put on hold, that didn’t mean I had all the time in the world. Even with no where to go and so much that couldn’t be done my days and nights were still full. Seems the laundry keeps on coming, work still needs to be done, decisions need to be made, there are more phone calls and webinars to attend than I ever imagined possible, making the most of the moments with my family and being present for the difficult times, along with every social media distraction possible made the days feel like they were flying past. And the nights too. For all too many nights, as my eyes were closing to sleep, I was already thinking the night seemed short when it hadn’t quite begun…

The pilgrimage can feel like an uphill struggle.

It may seem too simplistic to hear but what my heart was needing most was just what the pilgrims on facing those final mountains climbing to Jerusalem found too: worship.

When the pilgrimage feels like an uphill struggle and the mountains are all you can see, sing your song of ascent, your song of confession and encouragement. Remember who God is and who you are in Him. You are not defined by the moment you’re in, not by the joys or struggles, not in what you’ve accomplished and what you can’t complete, not by your understanding or lack thereof… your identity is found in whose you are and who you are in Him.

You are a child of the King, lavished with His mercy, filled with His grace, loved beyond imagining.

Sometimes you have to look up to see it. Sometimes you have to sing to hear it.

This week I realized how much I’ve been missing worship in song. And this song here, this song of ascent, is one way I pour out my heart in prayer to the Lord and allow truth from His word to minister to me. In worship I lift my eyes, not to the mountains and destinations it seems I can’t reach but instead to the one who holds all things, to the one who loves me and holds me close, to the one strengthening me for the journey.

What songs remind you of the truth of who God is and who you are in Him? Share your worship playlist! What scriptures speak deeply to you? Share those here. What prayers do you pray to focus and encourage you on this journey of life?

We aren’t alone, even in the times we’re apart. Thanks for sharing life with me!

~Jillene

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