Series Title: Going Up with the Psalms of Ascent (episode 9)
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.
I was glad when they said to me,
"Let us go to the house of the LORD!"
Our feet have been standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem! - Psalm 122:1-2
Our spiritual journey of ascent—of growth and maturity in the things of God—is meant to be a collective enterprise. That is a crucial lesson for pilgrims from Psalm 122. You and I are called to be part of a community of the faithful who are making their way up to God.
Though that may seem self-evident, I believe it is a profound spiritual truth that has not saturated us. Deep down, we pride ourselves on rugged Western individualism; we want to do things our way. Biblically speaking, our faith journey is not to be primarily an interior or individualistic experience. We are meant to walk hand-in-hand, arm-in-arm together, as we make our way up to the City of our God.
Trust me, this is not natural. It is supernatural. No doubt you've had difficult, perhaps even painful, church-life experiences. Me too. But we must realize this, God has a redemptive mission for his redeemed people, and he needs all hands on deck. The stakes are higher than our own spiritual preferences.
We don't work together because we like each other or because we agree on everything. We walk and work together because we have in common a King, and the King has an urgent mission and is asking us to set aside all of our personal priorities in order for his will to be done.
One cannot do our Father's will solely on an individual level. It is your will and my will—our collective will—submitted to him and committed to his leadership.
The highest aspect of spiritual calling is not to seclusion. Rather, it is to the deepest levels of self-sacrificing service. Look to any of our faith examples like Moses and Paul, David and Peter, Sarah and Mary. They are not noted for their great mystical experiences. (Even when they had them, such as Paul, they refused to speak about it other than to glorify the God of the mission.) What they are all characterized by is pouring out their lives in service of others, just as their rabbi Jesus did.
Here is the principle. If you want to be near where the shepherd is, find the flock. The beloved in the Song of Solomon asks where her lover is and is told to follow the tracks of the sheep to find the shepherd (Song 1:7-8). We will find Jesus with his sheep. And for those with ears to hear the Master says, And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd (John 10:16).
The Kingdom of God is a community characterized in Acts 2 by two things: the giving and receiving of 1) the Word of God and 2) Fellowship.
Fellowship speaks of a common ideal that we mutually submit ourselves in support of. It takes two people to be friends, but it takes two people plus a common ideal to have fellowship. This sense of commonality, of support, of purpose, is what characterized the early church–one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Eph 4:5-6).
Jerusalem—built as a city that is bound firmly together,
to which the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD,
as was decreed for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the LORD.
There thrones for judgment were set,
the thrones of the house of David. - Psalm 122:3-5
By way of analogy, Jerusalem as a city has to be built with effort and intentionality. It is bound firmly together, which indicates planning, design, and purpose. Jerusalem is a corporate entity with a collective identity. Sociologists describe cities as a service delivery mechanism. Jerusalem represents the place in which the needs of the people can be met and in which God's priorities are put into effect.
Paul uses the metaphor of the church as a building, which is helpful but quite different from confusing the people (church) for the building they meet in. Instead, he speaks of kingdom people together as a building built by God whose foundation is the apostles and prophets, with Jesus as the cornerstone. Peter says we are all living stones being built up together. And what is the purpose? That the Holy Spirit may come to dwell in our midst.
The church has to be built like a city has to be built. We could say that just as Eve was taken from the side of Adam so the church was taken from the side of Jesus, the second Adam. King Jesus is building his church as a stronghold against the enslaving powers and principalities and, as a missional outpost from which to seek and save the lost, bringing them from darkness to light.
Nowhere in the New Testament do we read about going to church, but it is filled with references to going forward as the church.
When Paul asks, Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? he is using plural language. We are God's temple. Later, he individualizes it by asking, do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?
Think about the profound truth he is underscoring. Think about your accompanying responsibility. You and I are the temple of the living God—both personally and corporately. Now, live like it!
As I explore the city analogy, keep in mind the spiritual pilgrimage metaphor we are applying from the Psalms of Ascent. The Kingdom is a process at work in you. And it is at work in faith communities literally all around the world. Living stones are being quickened and assembled together on every continent, in each country. God is building a holy habitation in which he can dwell. You are that temple; you are that city.
How blessed are those who focus their lives on his objectives!
Here is the deeper reality of all this. Our spiritual pilgrimage is ultimately not up to a city. Ours is a journey in which we become the city of the living God.
I say to you again, as I have said many times before, heaven is not your goal in life. It is your inheritance. You are being saved right here and right now in order to be equipped for good works. You are being empowered in order to serve effectively. That is why I believe that studying God's Word—in order to know what you are supposed to be doing and to do it—is the highest form of worship.
Our challenge is to live up to Ezekiel's great vision captured in the last sentence that summarizes the previous forty-eight chapters: And the name of the city from that time on shall be, "The LORD Is There." When people searching for God look to you and to me, and to our communities—will they find him?
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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.