Psalm 122 The Message (MSG)
A Pilgrim Song of David
122 1-2 When they said, “Let’s go to the house of God,”
my heart leaped for joy.
And now we’re here, O Jerusalem,
inside Jerusalem’s walls!
3-5 Jerusalem, well-built city,
built as a place for worship!
The city to which the tribes ascend,
all God’s tribes go up to worship,
To give thanks to the name of God—
this is what it means to be Israel.
Thrones for righteous judgment
are set there, famous David-thrones.
6-9 Pray for Jerusalem’s peace!
Prosperity to all you Jerusalem-lovers!
Friendly insiders, get along!
Hostile outsiders, keep your distance!
For the sake of my family and friends,
I say it again: live in peace!
For the sake of the house of our God, God,
I’ll do my very best for you.
The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
You’d think that worship would be an obvious thing to me, as a Christian who attends church faithfully each week. Since these posts have already been fairly confessional, I’ll just go ahead and say that it isn’t. I don’t know if it’s because church issues have grown a level of cynicism in me over the years, if a decade-and-a-half of parenting kids who make church a challenge at times has worn me down, or if there’s something even more fundamental at work here, but this chapter called me back to something that should be the bedrock of my life. What’s more, it has clarified it and put it into very familiar and appreciated terms that I have been a part of my self-reflective mental landscape for decades. So far, this has been the most surprising and appreciated chapter of the book.
Peterson describes this Psalm as “an excellent instance of what happens when a person worships.” He outlines three results of worship that are the driving reason that worship is “the common background to all Christian experience”: “worship gives us a workable structure for life; worship nurtures our need to be in relationship with God; worship centers our attention on the decisions of God.”
It is the first reason for worship that gave me the biggest a-ha moment of the book so far–that worship is the thing all Christians have in common. You’d think this is a no-brainer, but it is something I just haven’t thought about it a while. It is my belief that God’s design for us is to live a fully integrated life: that what we are on the inside and the outside should match. While this isn’t the way my life is (not by a long shot!), this Psalm and Peterson’s explanation of it gives me hope that worship is a vital pathway toward this integration. As the stones of Jerusalem are “compact together,” so should our lives be. What I’m interested in here is NOT a Christianity or religion of shoulds; I’m interested in the way things, in fact, are–in reality, not in some alternate, guilt-inducing universe. I’ve had enough of that. Peterson gives me hope that this is possible.
I think getting back to a foundational, functional notion of worship not as something I must feel like doing, but something that is a fact of my life, feelings or not. This leads right into Peterson’s second reason for and result of worship: it feeds our need to be in relationship with God. I might even go so far as to say that it satisfies this need, not just feeds it. He cuts right to the chase: “When we obey the command to praise God in worship, our deep, essential need to be in relationship with God is nurtured.”
This Psalm’s last reason or result of worship is that it “centers our attention on the decisions of God.” Peterson goes on to point out that
the biblical word judgment means “the decisive word by which God straightens things out and puts things right.” Thrones of judgment are the places that word is announced. Judgment is not a word about things, describing them; it is a word that does things, putting love in motion, applying mercy, nullifying wrong, ordering goodness.A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, chapter 4
I love that Peterson explains this in positive terms, not negative ones. I’ve always viewed the word judgment as negative, punitive. Here it just seems like speaking the truth–God’s Truth–about something.
Among the last few paragraphs of this chapter is a discussion of the relationship between the two words shalom and shalvah and yerushalayim, the place of worship. Shalom is a word I am quite familiar with, but shalvah was new to me upon reading this chapter. Peterson explains it exquisitely in this way:
And shalvah, “prosperity.” It has nothing to do with insurance policies or large bank accounts or stockpiles of weapons. The root meaning is leisure–the relaxed stance of one who knows that everything is all right because God is over us, with us and for us in Jesus Christ. It is the security of being at home in a history that has a cross as its center. It is the leisure of the person who knows that every moment of our existence is at the disposal of God, lived under the mercy of God.
Worship initiates an extended, daily participation in peace and prosperity so that we share in our daily rounds what God initiates and continues in Jesus Christ.A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, chapter 4
This chapter describes how I want to live my life. It is all hedged about by worship.