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Songs
of
Ascents

Weekly Devotional

 

Psalm 121

January 11-15

 

Day 1

Psalm 121 (NIV)

 I lift up my eyes to the mountains

where does my help come from? 

My help comes from the LORD,

the Maker of heaven and earth. 

He will not let your foot slip

he who watches over you will not slumber; 

indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. 

The LORD watches over you

the LORD is your shade at your right hand; 

the sun will not harm you by day,

nor the moon by night. 

The LORD will keep you from all harm

he will watch over your life; the

LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.


The Songs of Ascents were most likely used in pilgrimages to Jerusalem and the temple. Psalm 121 in particular is about traveling and is often referred to as a traveling psalm. The spiritual practice this week is meant to help us pay attention to how we are traveling in our life and faith.


Spiritual Practice (If you choose to accept it)


Go for a walk. It can be to a particular destination or just a loop back to the place you started. If you are able to do so do it as a family. You can do it once this week or you can try and do it every day, it is up to you. While you walk pay attention to how the physical can be connected to the spiritual. Pretend your walk is a sermon analogy for one of the kids’ moments.


Prayer: Oh God who walked in the Garden of Eden and walked with Enoch and Moses, guide my steps as I walk, so that I may walk with you.

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Day 3

Psalm 121 (Robert Alter Translation)

I lift up my eyes to the mountains:

From where will my help come?

My help is from the LORD,

Maker of heaven and earth.

He does not let your foot stumble.

Your guard does not slumber.

Look, He does not slumber nor does He sleep,

Israel’s guard.

The LORD is your guard,

The LORD is your shade at your right hand.

By day the sun does not strike you,

Nor the moon by night.

The LORD guards you from all harm,

He guards your life.

The LORD guards your going and your coming.

Now and forevermore.


The Psalmist is in the valley and is looking up at the mountain tops where all the gods would have been displayed. He begins to wonder, how can I get out of this valley? Perhaps if I just ascend one of these mountains, then I can finally be out of the valley and have arrived.


So often in our lives we are in a hurry to get to the next stage in life. We think, “if only I can get to the next mountain top, then I will feel fulfilled, then I will have arrived in life.” It is easy for our career, family or having economic stability be the next mountain top for us. Our fulfillment in life doesn’t come from mountain tops though. It comes from the one who made us, the maker of heaven and earth. He is the one that guards and gives life, even in the valley.


Prayer: Forgive me Lord for always looking at the next mountain top instead being content in the valley with you. May I find life in the simple fact that I am your beloved child.

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Day 2

Psalm 121 (Message)

 I look up to the mountains;
    does my strength come from mountains?
No, my strength comes from God,
    who made heaven, and earth, and mountains.

He won’t let you stumble,
    your Guardian God won’t fall asleep.
Not on your life! Israel’s
    Guardian will never doze or sleep.

God’s your Guardian,
    right at your side to protect you—
Shielding you from sunstroke,
    sheltering you from moonstroke.

God guards you from every evil,
    he guards your very life.
He guards you when you leave and when you return,
    he guards you now, he guards you always.


The entirety of Psalm of 121 is really an answer to the question, “does my strength come from ascending mountains?” In ancient times as well as today, temples were always built on the highest places in a city. Temples are built on mountains.

Where does our help and strength come from? Do they come from ascending mountains, from going to temples, from doing all the right things for God? No our help and strength come from the God who is with us in the valley, who as the psalmist says, “is with us in our coming and going and with us now and forever more.”

You don’t need to ascend a mountain to get to God, but if you seek and follow Him, you will find yourself ascending and traveling over mountains.

Prayer: Lord you are the mountain and the guide who walks me through dark valleys, steep cliffs  grand vistas and green meadows. Guard me and protect me as I walk life’s journey with you.

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Day 4

In many ways the gospels are the story of Jesus’ pilgrimage to the cross. As he ascended that hill I can imagine him reciting this psalm.


Psalm 121 (ESV)

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    From where does my help come?

My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
    he who keeps you will not slumber.

Behold, he who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
    the Lord is your shade on your right hand.

The sun shall not strike you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
    he will keep your life.

The Lord will keep
    your going out and your coming in
    from this time forth and forevermore.


If Jesus did not rise from the grave this Psalm would be a farce. God deals with evil in our world not by running away from it, but by absorbing its full weight on the cross and then reversing it in his resurrection. God’s protection over you does not mean you will never stumble, but that no stumble or evil thing can separate you from His healing love. As Eugene Peterson puts it, you can flood a boat with all the water in the world, but as long as the water doesn’t get inside, it will float.


Read Romans 8:31-39

Prayer: Thank you Jesus that your love conquers all. When I grow faint and weary on the journey, strengthen me with the hope of your resurrection love.

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Day 5

Spiritual Practice Reflection

If you did the practice in day one together as a family, debrief and reflect on the practice as a family together. If you did the spiritual practice by yourself, I would encourage you to call someone else from church who has been doing the devotion and reflect and debrief together.

How did your walk go? Did you do it once, or more than once? Did you enjoy it?


Were you able to think of any sermon analogies about walking from your walk?


What do you think are some of the benefits to the practice of walking and pilgrimage?


What do you think are some of the benefits to the practice of walking with someone else?


Micah 6:8

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy and

to walk humbly with your God.


Prayer: Lord you are always on the move, you do not stand still, nor do you slumber. May I too always be on the move with you, not growing stagnant, but slowly step by step growing in you.

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Psalm 120

January 3-9

 

Day 1

Psalm 120 (NIV)

I call on the Lord in my distress,
    and he answers me.
Save me, Lord,
    from lying lips
    and from deceitful tongues.

What will he do to you,
    and what more besides,
    you deceitful tongue?
He will punish you with a warrior’s sharp arrows,
    with burning coals of the broom bush.Woe to me that I dwell in Meshek,
    that I live among the tents of Kedar!
Too long have I lived
    among those who hate peace.
 I am for peace;
    but when I speak, they are for war.


When the Psalmist cries out “save me, Lord, from lying lips,” it could be interpreted as either, “save me from other peoples lying lips” or “save me from my own lying lips.” It is unclear, probably because both are applicable. As James 3:9-10 says:

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father,

and with it we curse human beings,

who have been made in God’s likeness. 

Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.

My brothers and sisters, this should not be.


The solution, as the psalmist suggests, is to call out to the Lord in our sin and distress.


Prayer: Father, when you created the world you spoke it into being, but so often my words tear down and curse instead of build up and heal. Forgive me Lord for my untamed tongue. May my tongue, that used to curse, be used for your glory, praising you and proclaiming your coming kingdom of peace.

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Day 2

Psalm 120 (Message)

 I’m in trouble. I cry to God,

desperate for an answer:

“Deliver me from the liars, God!

They smile so sweetly but lie through their teeth.”

Do you know what’s next, can you see what’s coming,
    all you barefaced liars?
Pointed arrows and burning coals
    will be your reward.

 I’m doomed to live in Meshech,
    cursed with a home in Kedar,
My whole life lived camping
    among quarrelling neighbours.

I’m all for peace, but the minute
    I tell them so, they go to war!


Meshek was located in the far North West of Israel, near the Black sea and Kedar in the far south east in the Arabian peninsula. Most likely this Psalm was also written when much of Israel was displaced and in exile. The Psalmist mentioning both Meshek and Kedar as his dwelling place gives the reader a sense of being displaced and a foreigner in his own land. When Jesus came into this world, in many ways he came as a foreigner to the world he created. As we follow Jesus and become more like him we begin to experience the world like he did. Feeling displaced is not always a bad feeling, sometimes feeling displaced is a sign that our hearts are yearning for more than what our sinful self and world have to offer.

Prayer: Creator God, through my decisions and deceitful tongue I have sometimes made you look like a foreigner in the very world you created. But the truth is that I have only alienated myself from you, forgive me for my sins, so I can walk as you in this world, offering peace not war.

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Day 3

Psalm 120 (Robert Alter Translation)

To the LORD when I was in straits
I called out and He answered me.
LORD, save my life from lying lips,
from a tongue of deceit.
What can it give you, what can it add,
a tongue of deceit?
A warrior's honed arrows
with broom-wood coals.
Woe to me for I have sojourned in Meshech,
dwelled among the tents of Kedar.
Long has my whole being dwelled

among those who hate peace.

I am for peace, but when I speak,

they are for war.


The nails of the cross were like honed arrows that pierced Jesus hands, the thorns on his brow like burning embers. Though Jesus spoke no deceitful word, he took on the result of our sins and our deceitful hearts. Jesus took our penalty so that wars may cease and peace may reign.

Sometimes we find that the world’s wars and conflicts have found their way into our hearts, words and agendas. As Christians we are not to neglect the wars and conflicts of our world, but we are also not to join them either. We like Jesus are called to walk into their midst, even though it may cost us our life and offer a way of peace through Jesus. For it is only through Jesus and the cross that our world will find peace in the midst of war.


Prayer: Lord, sometimes my heart, thoughts and words have been for war, not peace. Forgive me for being lured into the world’s conflicts and wars, may I neither be a soldier nor a bystander in our world’s troubles, but Christ in the midst of conflict.

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Day 4

Psalm 120 (Amplified Bible)

In my trouble I cried to the Lord,
And He answered me.

Rescue my soul, O Lord, from lying lips,
And from a deceitful tongue.

What shall be given to you, and what more shall be done to you,
You deceitful tongue?—

Sharp arrows of the warrior,
With the burning coals of the broom tree.

Woe to me, for I sojourn in Meshech,
and I live among the tents of Kedar!

Too long my soul has had its dwelling
With those who hate peace.

I am for peace, but when I speak,
They are for war.


If Psalm 120 suggests that we are being bombarded with voices that cause war not peace, it would be helpful to have a practice that helps us identify and silence the many voices that are constantly vying for our attention.

Spiritual Practice (If you choose to accept it)


Fast from media for 24hrs. That means no TV, news, or social media. Turn your smart phone into a dumb phone, let there be silence in your life so you can hear the still voice of God's peace. If possible do it as a family exercise. Day 5’s devotion will be about debriefing and reflecting on this practice.

Prayer: Lord, grant me the wisdom and insight to notice the words and voices that are shaping my life.

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Day 5

Spiritual Practice Reflection

If you practiced day 4 together as a family, debrief and reflect on the practice as a family together . If you did day 4 by yourself, I would encourage you to call someone else from church who has been doing the devotion and reflect and debrief together.


How was fasting from media? Was it easy or hard?


What did fasting from media reveal to you about the voices that are in your life?



Was it difficult to stop listening to one particular form of media? Why?



Going forward, is there any adjustments you want to make in your media consumption?



Prayer: God of peace, be the voice that guides my thoughts, life and actions.

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