I love getting an A.
I may be 32 years old, but being told that I have gotten 100% on something still makes me feel, well, proud.
Unfortunately, that is also my greatest struggle with sin–feeling as though I can do it by myself, that I can EARN a 100% with God, and forgetting life isn’t all about me.
This collection of Psalms (120-134) is a humbling reminder to me.
Named Psalms of Ascent, this collection has been the center of debate for scholars–when were they written? why were they written?–honestly, we don’t even know if they were written at the same time by different authors or collected later and assembled, but we do know that they are associated with the journey, or pilgrimage, to Jerusalem and moving up to the temple. In other words, moving closer to God. And the journey itself is clear in the written words.
While there is a lot to unpack in each individual psalm, I found a lot to work with when treating them as a group. A general progression is clear and emphasized in these poems with the use of repetition and analogy throughout.
First, we have an acknowledgment of God in Psalms 120-121; the poet(s) acknowledge the almighty power and presence of the Lord and his role in our lives. We move next into the pleas or appeals to God’s character. The plea of peace (122), followed by a plea for mercy (123), then an acknowledgment of the Lor’ds strength and favor (124), a plea for God’s goodness (125) and favor despite the hardships of life (126), and finally the joy, rest and rewards God grants to his people (127); what it ultimately boils down to is the promises of prosperity for trusting in God as his chosen people (128-129). In our next poetic phase we see repentance (130) with a recognition that we cannot achieve this, but rather it is granted through grace despite our naturally evil hearts (131). WIth a specific example of a man who sinned but still received the favor, pleasure, and promises of God (132), David’s story begins to tie all these poems together as the Psalms of Ascent end in thankfulness (1333) and praise (134) turning focus back to God and his awesome power and might.
These Psalms outline how we should approach God, but also teach how to grow closer to him. Although we are maybe not physically ascending, spiritually we can experience growth if we follow this example. Which, I’ll be the first to admit, I can always use some help with.
First, we must always acknowledge who God really is.
Beginning our prayers with the acknowledgment of God’s awesomeness and power takes the focus off us and places it where it should always be–on God. I use to think I was the protagonist in my own life. BUT I’M NOT! I am a minor character in God’s story, which is both humbling and restoring because it means I don’t always have to be in control of the outcome. Nor should I be. This life is not about me. It’s about Him. It always has been.
Next, we can appeal to God’s character for more purposeful lives.
This is a great supplication moment for peace, mercy, goodness, strength, and favor. BUT it’s not about YOU or ME; it’s supplication for ISREAL, aka God’s people. This is a time to focus on community and prayers for the local church and/or the church as a whole. The story STILL is not about me as an individual but about US as the bride of Christ. In helping others we grow closer to God, not in helping ourselves first.
After we focus our attention away from ourselves and our selfish needs then we can ask for forgiveness.
Amazingly, when we re-direct our focus, it highlights the many things we need to ask God to help us fix in our own hearts. We must then ask for forgiveness and accept the grace he offers us. In placing emphasis on God and other’s first, we abandon our pride and expose the places in our hearts that need work to be purified and made holy. Only then can we grow closer to God.
Finally, in the end we turn back to God, admitting to ourselves that the story has always been and will always be about Him, not us.
In reminding ourselves of the promises God has made and the promises he has fulfilled we are then able to humbly ask him for the desires of our hearts because then we will be less focused on what we get out of it and focused on the purpose of these supplications–how they can bring glory to God’s story, the only story that actually matters.
Acknowledging God, Appealing for others, Asking forgiveness and Admitting who the true protagonist is…
allows us to ascend toward him and grow both in faith and prosperity–being given, not earning, the only A+ that matters: God’s grace.