This fall, I joined a Bible study doing Stepping Up: A Journey Through the Psalms of Ascent by Beth Moore. I’ve had the study guide for several years and thought this might be the season of my life to do it. I had actually planned to do it by myself, but when I went to checkout the videos, I found out another group was doing it. One of my friends invited me to participate with them. For six weeks, I joined a lovely group of ladies – some I knew and some I didn’t – on the journey to Zion.
Studying the Psalms of Ascent is a journey about a journey. We began in Psalm 120 far away from Jerusalem. We learned and experienced how God guards us (Psalm 121). We prayed for peace (Psalm 122) – and I wondered whether there was really any other type prayer. We sung of the necessity of God’s salvation (Psalm 124) and the joy of being in God’s presence (Psalm 126). We acknowledged the emptiness and vanity of life without God (Psalm 127). We waited and were taught to trust in God (Psalm 130).All you who serve the LORD: bless the LORD right now! All you who minister in the LORD’s house at night: bless God! Lift up your hands to the sanctuary and bless the LORD! May the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth, bless you from Zion. – Psalm 134 (CEB)
Today we finished the study with the final Psalm. Here, as we stand before the LORD, we recall the purpose of our journey: to bless and worship the LORD. But I wondered, will I remember (or realize) what was the purpose of my journey? Will I remember the purpose of the communion and community I shared with my fellow pilgrims?
What will my priorities and desires be, when I arrive where God has brought me?
The pilgrims would arrive at the Temple to worship, but this was only the end of one journey. They would return home and make this trip two more times each year. Certainly life – and our life of faith – is a journey; I don’t think we ever “arrive.” However, just like there are many labyrinths we walk in the labyrinth of our life, there are times when one journey ends and another begins.
The pilgrims knew that their journey would bring them to the, but I don’t know if we always realize when we have arrived. Sometimes we might think it is a place still ahead of us, and sometimes we might think we already passed it up. My experience is often that it doesn’t look like what I thought it would once I get there. And this brings me back to my priorities and desires when I arrive.
The journey is an important part of the arrival. I know we know that, but I find that it’s easy to forget. What I learned in the Psalms of Ascent is to maintain my focus on the purpose of the journey, which is not just to arrive. We arrive in the places God brings us for a purpose, and each step we took along the way was part of that purpose. When we arrive, we may find that there is something we need to learn, something we need to do, someone we need to love, or something we may need to leave behind. Regardless, the same God who was with us on the journey is also the same God who brings us to where God is – for the purpose of participating in what God is doing in the world.
Like the psalmist, I may begin the journey to worship God in a holy place. But like Isaiah (Isaiah 6:9), I may be sent out to proclaim God’s truth. Like Zechariah (Luke 1:20), I may be sent out to testify to God’s plan of salvation. Like the man made well (John 5:15), I may be sent out to proclaim how Jesus has healed me. Like Peter (Acts 3:6), I may be called to give what I have to those in need. Or I may just need to draw near to the throne of grace and receive mercy (Hebrews 4:16).
I guess the challenge is to want what God wants rather than what I think God should want. It’s not just about allowing Christ to crucify my sin but also to allow Christ to empty me of myself so that I can be filled with grace. It is only then that I have arrived with purpose to the place where God has brought me so that I go to the place where God is sending me. Lord, I pray this may be so.