I have had seasons of great joy and delight in God, as well as seasons of unrelenting sorrow — times when God seemed silent and hidden in the midst of distressing circumstances and loss. We would love to think that following God is nothing but going from one degree of glory to the next (2 Cor 3:18), but this is often not the case.
For those of us with access to the Bible, God is never truly silent or hidden. Even when our hearts tell us that He is nowhere to be found, His Word tells us otherwise. When we feel distant from God, we can meditate on Pss 120–134; making it our guide. These psalms can lift us to higher ground (Psa 61:2).
These 15 chapters are called the “Psalms of Ascents” in modern translations, or “Songs of Degrees” in the King James Version. I appreciate both descriptions, because each speaks of a deliberate process of moving further up towards God and further in our relationship with Him. Rather than promising a fast fix, these psalms provide a script and context for the journey of patiently pursuing God.
For me, emerging out of a season of despair often begins with a 15-day-long contemplation of the Songs of Ascents, one chapter for each day. Beginning day one with Psa 120, I find myself relating to the writer at Ground Zero: “In my distress” (Psa 120:1 ESV). Regardless of the writer’s exact circumstances, distress is a universal human condition. We have all been there.
“I called to the Lord” (Psa 120:1 ESV). The psalmist invites us to come before God with raw honesty: “Deliver me, O Lord, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue” (Psa 120:2 ESV). I am reminded each time I read this passage that there is no point in coming to God any other way. Sometimes we just need to say to God, “Too long have I made my dwelling among those who hate peace” (Psa 120:6 ESV). Psalm 120 is an invitation to dump our burdens, grief, sorrow and distress on God.
And “He answered me” (Psa 120:1 ESV). What a beautiful assurance. When we cry out to God, He answers us. When God answers it is not like getting a phone call and immediately recognizing the caller’s voice. Sometimes discerning God’s voice requires patience and faith.
On day two, I move onto Psalm 121: “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made the heaven and the earth” (Psa 121:1–2 ESV). Meditating on the magnitude of God diminishes my problems. God created the heaven and the earth; he can handle this, whatever “this” is.
It is a simple truth, but an effective word against my propensity toward soul-sickening anxiety. “My help comes from the LORD.” Period. Sometimes I simply repeat this phrase throughout the day. It always helps.
For the two weeks that follow, my days begin with subsequent Songs of Ascents. As I read, I find one phrase to focus on. I jot it down in a journal and then brainstorm around that phrase. My faith is slowly restored as I become immersed in these passages. Perhaps there is no immediate deluge of tears, and maybe I am not thrust into spiritual revival overnight, but day-by-day and chapter-by-chapter, this collection of psalms never fails to help me inch closer to God.
Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Each issue of Bible Study Magazine provides tools and methods for Bible study as well as insights from people like John Piper, Beth Moore, Mark Driscoll, Kay Arthur, Randy Alcorn, John MacArthur, Barry Black, and more. More information is available at http://www.biblestudymagazine.com. Originally published in print: Copyright Bible Study Magazine (Sept–Oct 2009): pg. 26.
Publication date: March 14, 2012