Series Title: Going Up with the Psalms of Ascent (episode 4)
These edited transcripts are taken from Dwight's most loved audio series, Highways in Their Hearts. Click here to see the downloadable audio version in our online store.
We will look at these psalms from the point of view of what lessons, principles, and perspectives can inform us so that we can go up even closer, even more intimately, into the presence of the holy God. How can we come from Babylon – from confusion, from exile – and come up to Zion? We all, in our own ways, have confusion. And in one way or another, we are all in exile.
I believe you share my desire to go up, as it were, and be with God. We want His glory (shekhinah) to indwell us, live in the midst of us, and work powerfully through us. We hunger for the Good Shepherd to guide and direct us in paths of righteousness for His Namesake. We are looking at these time-tested psalms as a metaphor for growing up into spiritual maturity for such a time as this.
And that, my friends, is the beginning point of any true spiritual pilgrimage. It is a longing born from a need for God, a sense of urgency typically arising from pain and despair. Look at Psalm 120:1. In my distress, I called to the LORD. No doubt your story attests to that. Yet our testimony continues with an even greater truth, and he answered me. Those who call on the name of the Lord shall find salvation!
The psalmist is in a place of distress. For us in this study, the principle is this: those who desperately desire the things of God find God. Selah.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, Jesus says. Who are these poor in spirit? They are the down-and-outers, the ones who recognize their need for God. Those who realize they have nothing to stand on in the sense of their worth, dignity, or power. They are those desperate for God's help. These are the ones who are blessed by coming into His rule and reign, those who are under the lordship of Jesus.
Distress comes in many shapes and sizes. It can be a catalyst leading to the recognition that we are poor in spirit, creating a hunger and thirst for righteousness (to be in a right relationship with God and one another). Hallelujah! He hears and answers our cry.
The problem is that we come into the kingdom with this hunger and thirst, but we quickly learn to adapt.
The distress begins to fade as God takes care of our needs. He meets us at the place of our repentance, and we are satisfied—for the moment. The distress dissipates, and we gradually accommodate ourselves to this world's comforts, conveniences, and culture. We turn our back on the One who rescued us, only to resettle in the world. We become sated, no longer hungering and thirsting. No more do we cry out of spiritual poverty.
Our faith has become captive to our culture. We think the preamble of the kingdom is the same as the preamble of the American Constitution: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. To the contrary, the Psalms remind us the kingdom of God is about life, liberty, and the active pursuit of holiness. We are to set ourselves apart for the exclusive service of our God, who by self-definition is kädōsh, kadosh, kadosh.
My friends, if you would set your heart to pilgrimage you have got to desperately ask God to renew the desire in your heart for his holy presence. Only He can make us dissatisfied with life on the periphery. You want to be in the Holy of Holies, to feel His presence, to know Him as He truly is. It is not easy to do; the world is very alluring, and we are naturally resistant. But don't let anything stop you from cultivating the desire for your God. Cry out and He will answer.
That is the first lesson we learn in our ascent, our going up to God. We need to rekindle first love.
The kingdom of God is sometimes tough stuff. You must choose whom you will serve. If you compromise on pilgrimage, you will get distracted, you will drift from one place to another. But together we are haverim, those who travel together. Let us stir each other up to settle for nothing less than His Holy presence!
Practically speaking, how do we do that? It begins with a decision to turn toward Him, followed by appropriate action. It is what the Bible calls repentance. A decision to disentangle ourselves a little bit more each day from the complexities and compulsions of this world. Have you ever asked yourself, Could I do with a little less and spend more time immersed in the things of God?
We all have things of which to repent. What is holding you back? What is keeping you on the outside looking in? Why dwell any longer amidst those who despise the Prince of Peace? Make a decision and begin your journey today.
In my distress I called to the LORD,
and he answered me.
Deliver me, O LORD,
from lying lips,
from a deceitful tongue.
What shall be given to you,
and what more shall be done to you,
you deceitful tongue?
A warrior's sharp arrows,
with glowing coals of the broom tree!
Woe to me, that I sojourn in Meshech,
that I dwell among the tents of Kedar!
Too long have I had my dwelling
among those who hate peace.
I am for peace,
but when I speak, they are for war!
- Psalm 120, A Song of Ascents
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This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.
Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.
Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore over fifty of his audio and video seminars.