The Songs of Ascent
The Songs of Ascent are a collection of 15 Psalms that were traditionally sung by Hebrew pilgrims, who ascended the uphill road to Jerusalem to attend annual festivals in the Temple.
These pilgrimages would happen three times a year, as commanded in the Torah.
Three times a year all your men must appear before the Lord your God at the place he will choose: at the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks and the Festival of Tabernacles. No one should appear before the Lord empty-handed (Deuteronomy 16:16).
Tradition tells us that the pilgrims traveling to these feasts would sing Psalms 120-134 on their journey. Since it is an uphill climb to Mount Zion, those fifteen psalms became known as “The Songs of Ascent”.
Eugene Peterson wrote an amazing book on these Psalms called “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society.” The title comes from a quote from atheistic German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who once wrote, “The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is.… that there should be long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.”
Peterson’s point, and the underlying point of those Psalms, is that we grow closer to God through persevering faith. The same way pilgrims had to grind out mile after mile over, sometimes our faith can feel like a determined march. This flies in the face of our “instant society” where microwaves can prepare dinner in minutes and Amazon can do all your Christmas shopping in an hour. Headphones and iPads can appear on our doorsteps within an hour or two ... the fruit of the Spirit can take much longer.
It is not difficult in such a world to get a person interested in the message of the gospel; it is terrifically difficult to sustain the interest. Millions of people in our culture make decisions for Christ, but there is a dreadful attrition rate. Many claim to have been born again, but the evidence for mature Christian discipleship is slim. In our kind of culture anything, even news about God, can be sold if it is packaged freshly; but when it loses its novelty, it goes on the garbage heap. There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.
This doesn’t mean that our faith doesn’t bring joy. Persevering is how we get to joy.
Our best relationships have seasons that call for sustained patience. Whether we are rocking a teething baby back to sleep for the twelfth time or taking a loved one to yet another doctor’s appointment, we learn not to quit on the people that matter to us.
As we draw near the end of another year, my prayer is that you will find the strength to keep going. I know it’s easy to quit reading the Bible, to stop going to church, or to let habits of gratitude fade away. My prayer is that we will find the grit to keep going and the joy that comes with it. Trust me, it’s worth it! As Peterson writes:
“Hoping does not mean doing nothing. It is not fatalistic resignation. It means going about our assigned tasks, confident that God will provide the meaning and the conclusions. It is not compelled to work away at keeping up appearances with a bogus spirituality. It is the opposite of desperate and panicky manipulations, of scurrying and worrying.
And hoping is not dreaming. It is not spinning an illusion or fantasy to protect us from our boredom or our pain. It means a confident, alert expectation that God will do what he said he will do. It is imagination put in the harness of faith. It is a willingness to let God do it his way and in his time. It is the opposite of making plans that we demand that God put into effect, telling him both how and when to do it. That is not hoping in God but bullying God. "I pray to GOD-my life a prayer-and wait for what he'll say and do. My life's on the line before God, my Lord, waiting and watching till morning, waiting and watching till morning.”
Upcoming Daily Audio Bible Readings
December 7 Hosea 6:1-9:17, 3 John 1:1-14, Psalm 126:1-6, Proverbs 29:12-14
December 8 Hosea 10:1-14:9, Jude 1:1-25, Psalm 127:1-5, Proverbs 29:15-17
December 9 Joel 1:1-3:21, Revelation 1:1-20, Psalm 128:1-6, Proverbs 29:18
December 10 Amos 1:1-3:15, Revelation 2:1-17, Psalm 129:1-8, Proverbs 29:19-20
December 11 Amos 4:1-6:14, Revelation 2:18-3:6, Psalm 130:1-8, Proverbs 29:21-22
December 12 Amos 7:1-9:15, Revelation 3:7-22, Psalm 131:1-3, Proverbs 29:23
December 13 Obadiah 1:1-21, Revelation 4:1-11, Psalm 132:1-18, Proverbs 29:24-25
December 14 Jonah 1:1-4:11, Revelation 5:1-14, Psalm 133:1-3, Proverbs 29:26-27
December 15 Micah 1:1-4:13, Revelation 6:1-17, Psalm 134:1-3, Proverbs 30:1-4