“Every journey changes you in some way.” - Anon
“Blessed is the man whose strength is in You. Whose heart is set on pilgrimage...” (Psalm 84:5).
We began this journey as a search for peace. Along the way, we have scaled some towering peaks. We’ve cried out for God’s mercy, celebrated our deliverance and committed our lives to labor for the freedom of others. We’ve been reminded of the need to live out our faith in the context of family relationships. We have admitted that we don’t know it all; that some things are still too profound for us.
Now at last, we are at the summit. Our journey is complete.
The difficult mountains, the “ascents” are behind us. Yet this is less a finish line and more of a starting point, a jumping off, jumping in point, because this place is less a “place” and simply the presence of Him whom we seek. We were never on a quest to find a building. We did not lace up our boots, climbing peak after peak, trudge through sweltering deserts and fight battle after battle only to snap a selfie in front of a magnificent piece of architecture. The point and purpose of our pilgrimage was to step into the full, unfiltered presence of God, with other pilgrims coming from every other point on the compass. We didn’t dream of being a religious audience. We came to meet with and stand in awe of God Himself.
I love to wander, meander, explore and browse. I don’t mind ignoring Siri’s gentle commands, “return to the route,” while enjoying a journey with no stated destination. But that’s not what this journey is about. From the outset, we fixed our heart’s GPS to be with God. David’s lyric in Psalm 122 reminded us we are being beckoned home, to the “house of the Lord.” Now that we are here, what’s next? Our question is answered in the simplest of terms.
“Behold, bless the Lord all you servants of the Lord” (Psalm 134:1)
This last song is not directed to God, but to those gathered before Him. This is an invitation to sing our own personal love song to Yahweh; a call to go beyond rituals and ceremony.
How do we bless the Lord?
We choose to allow praise and gratitude to escape our lips, bursting from our hearts, directed to our Savior, Lord, King, Protector and Friend. The writer of Hebrews (Hebrews 13:15) said, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God the sacrifice of praise; the fruit of lips that openly profess His name.”
There’s more to our relationship with God than just singing songs to Him, but it’s also true that at the core of any good relationship is a conversation. This conversation begins with spoken gratitude. It’s appropriate to step into the presence of the Lord with voices raised in praise, hands lifted and hearts engaged as we stand together before Him. This writer is saying, “This is why we’ve come, why we embarked on this sometimes discouraging, overwhelming, frightening pilgrimage. We wanted God. We wanted to see His face, longed to just be in His presence, knowing we were at last home. So now that we are here, let’s bless Him. Let’s sing praises as His face shines upon us.”
Far more than ritual or ceremony, this is family celebration, the exuberant response as a whole tribe. This is not a call for a gifted soloist to do a concert. We are all invited to sing out … “ALL you servants of the Lord.”
This is how “church” should look, yet sadly, this is not always the reality when we enter our weekly gatherings.
When Israel gathered for their yearly festivals, especially Pentecost and Tabernacles, they were instructed to rejoice. (Deuteronomy 16:11, 14). Apparently, God wants His house to be a “happy house.” If our gatherings for worship, prayer, Bible study and the building of strong, supportive friendships don’t ring with joy, something’s wrong, and the solution is not to register a complaint at the main office.
The answer is for ME to make the “choice to rejoice” in Jesus, inviting those around me to join in. If we each determine to “enter His courts with praise,” our joy meter will begin to rise, creating a vibrant culture in our churches.
These last two Psalms (133 & 134) remind us to love God as well as one another, but we also discover we’re not alone in the “blessing business.” The songwriter ends this brief chorus by saying: “May the Lord, who made heaven and earth, bless you from Zion” (Psalm 134:3).
In other words, God will continue to do as He has always done.
God out-gives every giver. God loves to bless people. Consider the universe He created. Wherever we look there’s evidence of God’s generous heart. He blesses us with breathtaking beauty. He blesses us with nourishing food and refreshing drink. He blesses us with night and day, work and play. He also blesses us with wonderful friendships, families and partnerships. In Psalm 16:11, David sang about the fact that God’s blessings toward us are endless. “In Your presence is fullness of joy and at Your right hand are pleasures evermore."
Yes, as the Haitian proverb says, “Beyond mountains, there are mountains,” but one day we will climb our last mountain here and arrive at that summit. Not a “false summit,” but a heaven beautifully prepared for all who trust and love Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Once there, we will most certainly raise our hands, hearts and voices to bless the Lamb of God who died, arose and lives to save us. Until then, as we gather, let’s perfect the art of praise, lifting up our hands and our voices to bless the Lord who made heaven and earth.
For now, with our hearts set on this pilgrimage, let’s keep pressing forward with great hope, faith and love, until we see Jesus face to face.