The Psalms of Ascent are Psalms 120-134. They are the ones sung by the pilgrims climbing the hill to the temple in Jerusalem. They are repeated to point us toward heaven and God. They are songs “for the road.” They are to take away the fears and anxieties and bring us instead to the promises of God. These psalms are about “joy” for the journey. Is that a perspective through which you travel the rough roads of life? I thought so; it is just not a common view of trials and troubles. James said we are to, “Consider it pure joy when you come into trials of diverse kinds. Because the testing of your faith develops perseverance which must finish its work so that you may become mature and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4). Yes, joy is the word from God. Most of us need to seek Him for that necessary wisdom to do that. The next verse says that if we do not doubt that He will give it to us generously all we need to do this. So I look to these special psalms for the rough road wisdom. Eugene Peterson, the author of A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, talks of this discipleship in an instant society. These psalms include a few themes, but I will choose joy today as described in Psalm 126.
When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion,
We were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
And our tongue with singing.
Then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
And we are glad.
Bring back our captivity, O Lord,
As the streams in the South.
Those who sow in tears
Shall reap in joy.
He who continually goes forth weeping,
Bearing seed for sowing,
Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing,
Bringing his sheaves with him.
What a triumphant song of rejoicing. The pilgrims have been brought out of captivity in Babylon and they can hardly believe it. They have not been fully restored as yet, but they are “dreaming” of it. They are singing of it with laughter in their mouths. Why can they do this? Because ‘The Lord has done great things for them and us.” (v.3). They had been released back to Jerusalem by Cyrus the King. After years in captivity they were free. That is the gospel. Martin Luther said, “The gospel is nothing else but laughter and joy.” Can you say that? Has Christ Jesus set you free indeed? If not grasp these ancient words of harvest joy. It speaks of ‘streams in the South, Negev or desert.’ This is an allusion to the incredible transformation that God brings. Peterson poetically writes, “With such suddenness are long, dry periods of waiting, interrupted by God’s invasion into our lives in Jesus Christ.”
Note that they were like men who dreamed. Dreams play an important part in Old Testament Scripture, particularly with Joseph and Daniel who interpreted dreams for kings while they waited in prison or captivity. Joseph was thrown in the pit by his brothers because of his sharing his dreams. Yet, later he was promoted from prison to Prime Minister for his interpretation to Pharaoh. I am not big on interpreting dreams as part of counseling. I do believe that God can use anything to get to us if we are listening. I also think nightmares and good dreams might reveal where your mind and spirit reside. Write down visions you see at night if you awake. In the morning these thoughts might be full of meaning for you. I have seen it through my wife who is a constant prayer. She has been warned with vivid dreams.
Isaiah the Prophet has a very vivid poem for the joy of the redeemed. “The wilderness and the wasteland shall be glad for them,
And the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose;
It shall blossom abundantly and rejoice,
Even with joy and singing… Strengthen the weak hands,
And make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are fearful-hearted,
“Be strong, do not fear!
Behold, your God will come with vengeance,
With the recompense of God;
He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
And the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
Then the lame shall leap like a deer,
And the tongue of the dumb sing.
For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness,
And streams in the desert.
The parched ground shall become a pool,
And the thirsty land springs of water;
In the habitation of jackals, where each lay,
There shall be grass with reeds and rushes.
A highway shall be there, and a road,
And it shall be called the Highway of Holiness.
The unclean shall not pass over it,
But it shall be for others.
Whoever walks the road, although a fool,
Shall not go astray.
No lion shall be there,
Nor shall any ravenous beast go up on it;
It shall not be found there.
But the redeemed shall walk there,
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
And come to Zion with singing,
With everlasting joy on their heads.
They shall obtain joy and gladness,
And sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”
“The Way of Holiness” or “The Most Excellent Way” as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:31, is about the way of the holy and redeemed of God. Isaiah and this psalm speak of the coming of God’s solution for life and joy for those who would walk in it. My book This is the Way, Walk in it, speaks in two volumes of how to walk in this way at Isaiah 30:21 tells us. It is by obeying God’s voice he tells us, through His Word.
“Joy is not a requirement of Christian discipleship, it is a consequence,” Peterson tells us. If we are with the Lord continually, expectantly, we will be glad and full of joy. This theme is also for those in mourning or grieving. God wants to “turn our wailing into dancing, and clothe me with joy” (Psalm 30:11 paraphrase).
I love the thought of being able to laugh about the trials of life. Proverbs Epilogue about the “Woman of Noble Character” tells us that she was clothed in strength and could laugh at the days to come with wisdom. It was because she feared, obeyed and praised the Lord. Can you do that? This laughter and joy come from living expectantly in the world of troubles and pain. We know that He will wipe away our tears and lead us to springs of living water as Revelation 7:17 tells us. What a promise in the end times. God has come and He is coming again. He is returning very soon to take His redeemed to be with Him in heaven. We can rejoice about that in the middle of our problems. That is A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.
“Rejoice, I say again rejoice, let you gentleness be known to all for the Lord is near” (Philippians 4:4).