5 May 2020

Pilgrim Songs

Dear Church Family,

Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan is one of the most famous books ever written about the Christian life. Many people have found it helpful because it shows how a life spent following God is full of challenges as well as blessings, tough times as well as periods when everything seems to go well for us. The most encouraging part of the book is the end, because despite all Pilgrim’s mistakes and wrong turns along the way, we see him arriving safely at his destination – the Celestial City (Heaven). 

John Bunyan’s book isn’t the only place where the life of God’s people is described as a difficult journey to a wonderful destination. In the Bible itself, tucked away in the book of Psalms, there is a little collection of Pilgrim Songs we can use on our own journey. Psalms 120-134 all have the title “A song of ascents.” These fifteen psalms were apparently used by men and women travelling to Jerusalem in order to worship God at the Temple there. They’re called songs of “ascent” because Jerusalem (or Zion), was a city on a hill – so wherever you were coming from, you were going “up” to Jerusalem. We come to these songs today knowing we have a much greater city ahead of us than these pilgrims did (see Revelation 21:1-4).

Here are some things to notice as you read the Pilgrim Songs in your own situation. The songs begin in Psalm 120 with the pilgrim realizing he doesn’t fit in where he is. Meshek and Kedar (verse 5) are examples of places where God and his ways are ignored or despised. As the pilgrim sets out for Jerusalem in Psalm 121, he is aware of dangers all around him, including plenty of dangers he can’t even see. But he goes on, knowing God is bigger than all the dangers, and will be with him all the way. In Psalm 122, we realize the pilgrim is not alone, he is travelling with others, and they encourage one another to look ahead to their destination. As we read on through the songs, we hear about joyful times, and also near misses, painful experiences, and even moments of defeat. But always the LORD is with the pilgrims, and they keep going, learning the lesson that in all they do, whether in work or family life (see Psalm 127 and 128), they are totally dependent on him. Psalm 132, the longest in the collection, shows that the pilgrims’ hope is based on God’s promise that a descendant of David would reign for ever and ever in God’s city. Finally, in Psalm 134, the pilgrims have arrived – they are finally able to experience the full presence of the God who had been with them all the way.

As you read these psalms for yourself you will notice lots more. I encourage you to turn them into prayer during the ups and downs of our current situation, and beyond. Remember that none of the psalms in this collection stand alone. There are some very low points described in the journey, but they are never the end. The journey goes on, and when the end does come, it will be beautiful and completely satisfying.  

With love,

Tim