Friday, May 17, 2013

"Let Us Go to the House of the Lord!" -The Inner Life of Prayer

Today is the final day of week nineteen, reading the Bible through together in a year.  Our scriptures today are:   2 Samuel 3-5; 1 Chronicles 12; Acts 22; Psalm 122.

Clearly, the designers of our Bible reading schedule chose Psalm 122 to go along with 2 Samuel 3-5 because in the historical passage we read about David taking Jebus (Jerusalem) for his capital.  Now that Jerusalem has been taken, we pray for her peace.  

Psalm 122 is a Song of Ascents.  This means that it was a song that David wrote, to be sung by the Jewish pilgrims who would come up to Jerusalem for worship.  The "house of the Lord" would not be established as a constructed temple until Solomon's day, so this phrase must have referred to tabernacle worship.  Psalm 122 (ESV) says:
I was glad when they said to me,
    “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
Our feet have been standing

    within your gates, O Jerusalem!
Jerusalem—built as a city
    that is bound firmly together,
to which the tribes go up,
    the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel,
    to give thanks to the name of the Lord.

There thrones for judgment were set,
    the thrones of the house of David.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!
    “May they be secure who love you!
Peace be within your walls
    and security within your towers!”
For my brothers and companions' sake
    I will say, “Peace be within you!”

For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
    I will seek your good.
I was glad when the said to me, "Let us to go the house of the Lord!"
 Asbury Bible Commentary has this to say:

Christian readers recognize passages of the Songs of Zion from music of the church, classical and modern, appropriating this ancient city as something of the capital of the universal people of God. Their faith can no longer be confined to the chief city of any political state. The final Son of David foresaw the day when persons would worship neither in Jerusalem nor in Samaria (Jn 4:21-24). Worship in the Spirit and according to the truth would not be tied to one place. Further, the people of God themselves, Messiah's people, would be in reality the temple of God, individually (1Co 6:19) and collectively (1Co 3:16Eph 2:19-221Pe 2:4-5). The vision of history's climax exalts this truth. There the New Jerusalem is no place at all, but the redeemed people of God of all ages and cultures become in reality the eternal dwelling of God and the Lamb (Rev 21). These ancient Songs of Zion seem still capable of expressing much of the truth of that reality, as they are sung now to a theologically different key.

So, with this in mind, let me share with you an entry from my personal prayer journal, from October 2012.  In it, I interpret Psalm 122 not just as a call to ascend a literal hill to physical Jerusalem, but as a call to enter the Holy City that is within our hearts--a call to prayer.

If we take seriously the Bible's reminder that "you are God’s sanctuary and that the Spirit of God lives in you (1 Cor 3:16)," then we need to read this and other scriptures that talk about the peace of Jerusalem and its temple in an allegorical light.  Certainly the psalmist intended his words quite literally in his day, but these words have an even deeper spiritual significance when we understand them in the context of our own spiritual journey.  A song of ascents was intended to be sung as pilgrims ascended Mount Zion on their way to worship at the Temple.  Similarly, this psalm is good preparation for our own inner pilgrimage as we ascend into the temple of our hearts to worship the living God.

Verses 1 and 2 say, "I rejoiced with those who said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the Lord.'  Our feet are standing within your gates, Jerusalem."  When understood from a spiritual perspective, these verses invite the reader into an inner place of God's presence.  But just as the high priest would know a mixture of joy and fear as he entered the Holy of Holies, so the believer must experience the same giddy trepidation at the prospect of an inner journey to the courts of the Lord.  Thus verse 2 speaks of standing within the gates of Jerusalem.  It is as if the traveller has ascended as far as the gates but upon reaching his destination, pauses in breathless awe of the city's splendor and fearful magnitude.  So the inward pilgrim cannot enter the spiritual Jerusalem lightly, but with sober prayer pauses at the gates before entering.

Verses 3 and four refer to Jerusalem as a city that is solidly joined together, and a place where the tribes to up to experience God.  These two ideas are linked together, if we understand Jerusalem as representing the interior self.  Since the believer is the City of God, the Lord wants each of us to be solidly joined together.  In other words, God wants us spiritually healthy.  This is because the Lord knows that people will come up to us as His representatives, in order to experience God.  Only by making regular visits to the Inner Sanctuary can I develop the kind of spiritual wholeness that can help people who come up to me for guidance.

Verse 5 talks about thrones of judgment that are paced in Jerusalem.  Just as the king would pronounce judgment from his throne, so the King of Kings speaks words of judgment, correction, and truth from His throne within my heart.  Hebrews 10:31 (ESV) says, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."  Certainly this is true for me, when I experience God in the throne room of prayer.  But His judgments always come with a way of restoration.  Unless I allow my heart to be judged by Him, I can't become the man He wants me to be.  

Verses 6-8 reminds me to pray for the peace of Jerusalem--the peace of my own heart.  When I'm at peace, those who love me will also prosper.  This is because being at peace, I will be in a better condition to help them.  The corollary of this is that when I'm not at peace, those who love me will not prosper.  I have to seek my own peace, not just for my own sake, but for the sake of those around me.  For my brothers and my companions' sake, I go to prayer in order to find God's peace within my own heart.  By seeking my own peace, I can extend it to them.

Verse 9 again reminds me that seeking well-being, wholeness, rest, and peace through prayer is not just for my own good.  It's for the sake of the house of the Lord our God that I regularly go to "Jerusalem" (the inner chamber of my heart) in prayer.  This is not just because I'm a pastor--every believer affects the church by their own spiritual health or unhealth.  

By sharing this with you, I hope that you'll discover how we can read the Psalms in a way that the relates to your spiritual life today.  These are not just recordings of how poets felt thousands of years ago--they are expressions of our own joys and fears, sorrows and spiritual ecstasy.  We simply have to understand them from a spiritual perspective, and not limit our experience of the Psalms to a historical or literary study.

I also hope that you'll take seriously the call to the inner life of prayer given to us by God's Word.  When in the spirit you ascend to Jerusalem, endure the judgments at the throne room of God, enter the Holy of Holies, and experience God's presence, then God will do the repair work that the walls, gates, and ramparts of your soul so desperately needs.  Pray for the peace of "Jerusalem," and your soul will be at peace.  Then that peace will not only remain in you, but will extend to your friends, your family, and to the house of God.

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