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Spiritual Tenacity

Series Title: Going Up with the Psalms of Ascent (chapter 10)


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 are learning lessons from the Psalms of Ascent that inform and inspire our journey in the Spirit up to the new Jerusalem. (click here to read part one). Turning our attention to Psalms 123 and 124, I want to point out that they go together as a unit, with the key verse being, Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us (123:3).

The cry for mercy characterizes a pilgrim's heart. As we learned previously, God wants times of distress to drive us into rather than away from His presence.

As the journey nears its destination, the pilgrim in distress—who looked to the hills of Jerusalem in anticipation of help (Ps 121:1)—now reaches out to the very source of help.

To you I lift up my eyes,

O you who are enthroned in the heavens!

Behold, as the eyes of servants

look to the hand of their master,

as the eyes of a maidservant

to the hand of her mistress,

so our eyes look to the LORD our God,

till he has mercy upon us.

(Psalm 123:1-2)

Why lift your eyes to God? Because he is the King of the universe, enthroned in heaven. He is alone is the origin of all provision and power. We must learn to continually lift our eyes to the throne of grace, knowing that every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (James 1:17).

The imagery of crying out for mercy is reminiscent of incidents that characterized the ministry of Jesus. In Mark 10, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus heard he was passing by and cried out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" The more people tried to quiet him, the louder he cried, "Son of David, have mercy on me!".

For both Bartimaeus and Jesus, mercy is not some abstract theological idea. It is the intense and intimate cry of someone in distress. Often, Christians are not comfortable with (what could be called) this existential dimension of salvation. We are taught to think of salvation in a big theological scheme and in terms of life in the world to come.

Most often, when salvation and deliverance are talked about in the Bible, they are concrete, not abstract realities. Somebody, right here and right now, needs to be saved. They are not looking for life in the world to come; they are saying, "Get me out of this mess!" That is included in the biblical concept of salvation, and that is what is happening here.

Oh, what comfort and encouragement to know we can have such an intimate relationship with the King of the Universe that even when we go through physical and emotional despair, we can cry out for mercy because our Father cares for us.

The Hebrew word translated distress here is interesting. It denotes narrowness. It means you are being constrained, squeezed into an unnatural restriction, forced into a corner. Have you ever felt like that? The psalmist desperately needs and, therefore, cries out for salvation. Again, he is looking for something other than a place in the world to come as important as that is. He calls out for God's immediate presence and power to come into his situation and deliver him.

Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us,

for we have had more than enough of contempt.

Our soul has had more than enough

of the scorn of those who are at ease,

of the contempt of the proud.

(Psalm 123:3-4)

The source of distress is those at ease, who are arrogant and contemptuous of those with highways in their hearts. The world scorns you and me for trying to lead a pilgrim's life. Their messaging mocks our servant-hearted, cross-carrying ways while selling promises of how to enjoy a life free from divine involvement. To them, we seem silly, potentially even dangerous.

If you are at ease in the world, you need to check your spiritual temperature because friendship with the world is enmity with God (James 4:4).

The world's systems and values radically differ from those of King Jesus and his kingdom. Therefore, though we live in the world we are never quite at home; we are at peace but not at ease. What we see, hear, and read should trouble us. Because God has given us a heart to know him, we cannot be entirely comfortable in this world.

Amos gives insight into those at ease, while Jesus offers inspiration to those who are troubled:

“Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory

and stretch themselves out on their couches,

and eat lambs from the flock

and calves from the midst of the stall,

who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp

and like David invent for themselves instruments of music,

who drink wine in bowls

and anoint themselves with the finest oils,

but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!

Therefore they shall now be the first of those who go into exile,

and the revelry of those who stretch themselves out shall pass away.”

Amos 6:4-7

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:3-10

The metaphors for distress are multiplied in Ps.124, using vivid imagery like raging waters threatening to sweep us away and wild animals desiring to tear our flesh. But there is good news with God. Blessed be the LORD, who has not given us as prey [...] we have escaped! Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth (Psalm 124:6-8).

The Hebrew word for soul (nefesh) is also the word for breath. Your very life is your breath. When the cry for mercy becomes a cry of praise, both are a surge of life as we exhale dramatically. Praise is an essential part of our kingdom vocabulary (for more on this, read my series Todah Living).

And make no mistake about it, the praise is evoked by remembering and rehearsing that Yahweh is for us (Psalm 124:1)! If it were not for that, we would perish.

The corresponding New Testament thought is, Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you (1 Pet 5:6-7). Are you distressed, opposed, and squeezed into a narrow place? Cast your cares on him. How? Lift your eyes, cry out for mercy, and shout aloud with praise when the time is right.

My prayer for us all is that our faith is characterized—in times of blessing and trouble—by tenacity. Our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he has mercy upon us (Psalm 123:2).


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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.

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