Road trips are fun, right?
Well, sometimes. We love arriving at our destination—maybe a theme park, a grandparent’s home, or a vacation cabin. But the journey itself can be a mixed bag. At some points, we can be laughing and enjoying conversation with our traveling companions. At other times, we can find ourselves bored out of our minds. You can only ask, “How much longer?” and receive the ever-classic “Five more minutes” before you begin to shut down and give up.
Life can be that way. Life is a journey: it has a beginning, an end, and a long “road trip” in between. And that journey is definitely a mixed bag filled with ups and downs, good times and bad.
This Sunday, we will begin a new sermon series in the Psalms: specifically, Psalms 120-134, called the Songs of Ascent. Scholars debate their specific purpose. One of the more plausible options is that they were sung by the people of God as they journeyed from their distant homes to Jerusalem for any of the three annual religious feasts. They served as road trip music, so to speak, on the long journey. Just as you might turn on Simon and Garfunkel, Coldplay, or one of your personal playlists, these pilgrims dialed up Psalms 120-134.
These 15 psalms cover a gamut of emotions and expressions. There is lament, thanksgiving, celebration, praise, and petition. These psalms give the people of God permission to have and express a wide variety of thoughts and emotions together in corporate worship. Further, these “road trip psalms” also speak to the greater road trip of our lives. As we go through the ups and downs of our personal journeys, these psalms can help us express the wide variety of emotions and thoughts in our hearts.
What does it look like to “worship on the journey”? Here are four themes from the Songs of Ascent that will serve as guideposts, or mile-markers, on our journey:
- A Call to Personal Transparency. We like to wear masks. When we interact with God or each other, we often cover up what is really going on inside. But these psalms model for us how to express whatever is going on in our hearts, raw and unfiltered, without holding back. For example, Psalm 120, the very first in the line-up, expresses some very raw frustration with deceitful people in the psalmist’s life. While we tend to approach God with carefully-chosen words, this psalm reads more like a vent session. I believe we can express our hearts to God in the same way. God is not intimidated by what we say, no matter what it is.
- A Call to Confidence in God. Psalm 121 focuses on the help that God gives his people. The question is asked: From where does my help come? The answer is quickly given: From Yahweh. He is our Protector, our Keeper. There is much hardship in this life, but these psalms remind us to keep our confidence in God, because he is trustworthy.
- A Call to Worship in Community. Even when the journey gets hard, our confidence in God moves us into celebration. I love Psalm 126 as the people of God celebrate that God has done great things for them. We, too, can celebrate the great things God has done for us. Further, don’t miss the fact that these are corporate worship songs: the people of God sang these together in worship and celebration.
- A Call to Faith in Jesus: Though Jesus is never named in these psalms, his fingerprints are all over them. Psalm 130 paints a beautiful portrait of the gospel, the good news of the redemption and forgiveness God has provided in Jesus. The Songs of Ascent point to the Savior, Christ Jesus.
In short, these psalms will draw us into worship on the journey: bringing who we are (transparency) to who God is (confidence) together with God’s people (community) because of Jesus. As we continue in this journey we are on as a church family, I look forward to how these Songs of Ascent will shape our perspective and our responses to what we encounter along the way. The journey we are on is a mixed bag for sure, but it’s a journey with an awesome destination because as we move forward, we do so with him.