How many are really, really, really missing physically attending church yet? I sure am and hearing from many other who are as well. The pilgrim-psalmist, designated in the superscription as David (first one with author’s name attached), recalled his delight in going up to Jerusalem, which was the nation’s spiritual and civic center. Psalm 122 follows with homesickness for Jerusalem. It is striking to me that we are studying this Psalm after just getting word that likely for another month or two minimum we will continue to not be able to gather in “God’s house.”
I would agree, as a local church pastor, with one commentator that labeled these “Psalms of Ascents” as “praises we didn’t plan.” In a world filled with physical distancing from God’s house, how do we allow this season to increase our appreciation for the opportunity to enter into it?
Psalm 122 provides three worshipful steps for us to take in the face of crisis:
Delight in the pilgrimage of your worship.
Ps 122:1-2 “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD. Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem.”
“Are we there yet” are not only frequent words I have heard from our kids while traveling in the past but a sentiment I am increasingly hearing from adult lips and hearts right now with society coming to a literal standstill. In contrast, we must learn how to worshipfully navigate that tension between ALREADY in Christ but NOT YET fully experiencing everything that means for us in the future forever.
In verse one, David got excited upon overhearing from God-fearing Jews that it was time to go to the feast in Jerusalem. He was glad. It was no burdensome duty or dreary routine. In going to the temple to worship he found fulfillment and gladness. Then in verse two, he savored what the experience of actually standing within the city’s gates would feel like! Have you thought about how the first church service you physically attend again will affect you/your church? I hope, through worship, you can maintain a sanctified anticipation.
When we mimic the psalmist, the “feet” don’t mind and can actually enjoy the journey because they know they will ultimately “STAND” in God’s presence! We should savor not only the physical destination but the journey toward the destination-a destination that involves ever-expanding worship of the one, true God, no matter how far or difficult! See, the heart that delights in worship of God will always delight in the place appointed for worship. Although the Lord God may be worshiped anywhere, the tabernacle, and later the Temple, became the focal point for the worship of God in Israel. Today the house of the Lord is a common expression for the church, the place set apart and sanctified for God’s use alone. By the way, there is also an ultimate sense to our pilgrimage as we travel toward not just a tabernacle, temple, or local church but the “New Jerusalem,” a reason to alway persist in peace and praise!
Remember the glories of our corporate assembly.
Ps 122:3-5 “Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together: Whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, unto the testimony of Israel, to give thanks unto the name of the LORD. For there are set thrones of judgment, the thrones of the house of David.”
The Psalmist celebrates several aspects of “Jerusalem”: (This is obviously a different context but parallels to the local church assembly comprised of the current “temples of God,” i.e. the bodies of believers.)
A Place of Order (3)-1 Corinthians 14:40, written to a local church admonishes us to, “Let all things be done decently and in order.” Too often we under-appreciate the ORDER and RYTHMN that gathering with God’s people provides for us.
A Place of Fellowship (4)–This was the place to which the tribes of the Lord made their pilgrimages. It was the one spot on earth where God had decreed for His people to gather and give thanks to His name. Matthew 18:20 brings this into the New Testament context, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
A Place of Justice (5)-Obviously, Jerusalem also was the political capital of Israel. It was the seat of the royal house of David, and therefore it was the appointed place for the administration of justice. 1 Peter 4:17 reminds us, “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God.” The local assembly is the place to find frequent reminders of what is right and what is wrong. Dearly beloved, be ever so careful to not lose your moral compass in times like these! It is key to note that the psalmist dreams of a peaceful Jerusalem under the “throne of David”(v. 5)…possibly WHILE DAVID WAS SEPARATED FORM JERUSALEM…maybe while being chased by Saul? What faith and focus by David to inspire and sustain us!
One of the most sanctifying and enduring benefits of this season of physical separation from the church is a growing, sanctified dissatisfaction with NOT HAVING IT! Are you allowing that appreciation of the GLORIES OF GATHERING to intensify in your heart and home right now? As on author put it, “During this unprecedented time, I encourage local churches to do as much as you can online. Preach online, sing online, insofar as it is possible. Read the Scriptures together and pray online. But never make the mistake that you are doing the same thing online as you would be doing if you were physically present with the congregation.”
Pray for the peace of God’s chosen people. (6-9)
Ps 122:6-9 “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee. Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces. For my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee. Because of the house of the LORD our God I will seek thy good.”
The “peace” referred to in the beginning of verse six carries the idea of “welfare and prosperity.” Every true Israelite was to pray for the tranquility and prosperity of Jerusalem. Ultimately, to pray for the peace of Jerusalem is to pray that the Prince of Peace will soon establish His kingdom upon this earth with Jerusalem as His Capital (Is. 62; Ze. 2). That’s when true peace will come to stay!
The end of verse 6 is both a subtle threat as well as a promise. It parallels the promise of Genesis 12:3 to Abraham “And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee.” Those who love Jerusalem and pray for her peace shall prosper; those who seek her demise shall lack her prosperity. In verses seven through nine, He himself then prayed for peace for the sake of his brothers, the righteous pilgrims (122:8), and for prosperity for the sake of the sanctuary, God’s dwelling place (v. 9).
At the risk of appearing self-serving (our local church family has been great so far), may I ask you to support your local assembly for the sake of its long-term vitality and gospel testimony to others. Here were some thoughts shared online of how you can you support your pastor during the Covid-19 Crisis:
1. Pray for him and other church leaders.
2. Continue to give money.
3. Spread unity and joy.
4. Treat online worship with similar preparation and focus as when you do worship in person.
5. On his behalf, check on sick, elderly, and needy.
While the world is often, especially in unsettled times, “hating” on not only the Jews but Christians/churches, may we seek their peace in every way possible! Not to prop up a building or program but to preserve a vital ministry of God’s peace to both believers and unbelievers!
George Mueller, who knew a thing or two about difficult times, once wrote, “God is as much in the STOPS as He is in the steps.” Why did God allow the COVID-19 virus? I don’t know all the answers, but I would surmise that one intended benefit is a heightened appreciation for the gathered worship of God’s people.
As on pastor recently post, “Maybe when the dust settles…we won’t take that hug or hand shake for granted. We will get out of our seat at fellowship time! We will come the altar at the invitation! I miss shaking hands. I miss the choir singing. I miss the babies crying during my preaching. I miss gathering together in person. Maybe when it’s over, church will be a priority. Friends and family gatherings will be sweet…Maybe He is teaching us to appreciate some things we often take for granted.”
Here is the video link to this study.
In a day of growing under-appreciation of “God’s house,” will you DELIGHT IN THE PILGRIMAGE OF YOUR WORSHIP, REMEMBER THE GLORIES OF OUR CORPORATE ASSEMBLY, and PRAY FOR THE PEACE OF GOD’S CHOSEN PEOPLE?