You have to give most of the credit to the Scripture- the Psalms of Ascent (120-134), especially in the translation of The Message, are powerful. If you ever feel betrayed, or lonely, or worn out in your spiritual walk- these passages are like adrenaline, vitamins, and new vigor.
So I will take some time to reflect on these great pages of soul stirring food.
Chapter 1 begins with a question, straight out of Jeremiah 12:5. "If you're worn out in this footrace with men, what makes you think you can race against horses?"
Exasperation, feeling defeated and overwhelmed, experiencing doubt and thinking about quitting is a place that I have known and experienced in very tangible ways.
For me to get there is rather surprising. If you knew me, especially in my youth, you would see me as an atomic fireball with an ability to see it and seize it. Winning was natural, overcoming obstacles a joy, and my attitude was beyond positive.
But I now know that life will wear on anyone. And left to my own strength and talent, it didn't take long to find myself in pits of my own doing, spiraling downhill in defeat and destruction.
It is in those moments where you find out what is of real substance and what is idealistic vapor fumes.
I learned a lot about winning in athletics, but I never had to deal with losing. So when I found myself laying in a mud packed ground of depression and loss, it was a rather new experience.
It feels good to lay there for a while. I mean, I have an excuse: "Look what injustice I have received, look at this crummy world system, I TRIED MY BEST!" And so I would lay there, caked in mud and blood, close my eyes and hope that it would all magically go away. But it never does.
I would play Rocky and get up for a few good swings and then dramatically throw myself down, hoping to draw someone to my attention. But no human comes in those times; or, if they do, they only enable or condemn.
So what can we do?
Conventional wisdom would say DO NOT LOOK UP TO THE DESTINATION OR YOU MAY GIVE UP BECAUSE IT IS SO FAR OUT OF REACH. But we can't help but do that. I look up at the top of the mountain and realize how far deep in the swamp I have sunk. But to say "Don't look at the ideal standard or prize" is unrealistic and promotes mediocrity.
I think we also tend to try and reason WHY we failed. But this doesn't necessarily help. There is no program or strategy to keep me getting up. If I add it up as A+B= C, I might think I can do it on my own or I will have convenient excuses as to why I am just laying in the muck.
What I have found most helpful is not worrying about a win or a loss. I am asked to do 2 things- (1) Get up and (2) Don't give up.
There is a familiar quote: It matters not if we try and fail AND try and fail again. What matters is if we try and fail and fail to try again.
And I will never do even one of those things unless I realize that I am powerless to do either on my own.
Peterson explains the problem in chapter 1. THE WORLD IS NO FRIEND TO GRACE. To live as a disciple of Jesus Christ is to understand that this is a walk that is hostile to the environment around you. You are hostile to it and it is hostile to you.
An adopted son of the King is an enemy to a culture where Isaiah writes that 'fools are called noble and scoundrels are said to be honorable'. I have quoted G.K. Beale a number of times- "Worldliness is what any culture does to make sin seem normal and righteousness seem strange."
Now, I need to make a HUGE distinction here. The winning edge is not just getting up and not giving up (my definition of discipleship). The winning edge is to get up and walk in a spirit of compassion, hope, love, humility, joy, gentleness, peace, etc.
You have to know the 'Myth of Sisyphis' written by Camus to understand why the distinction matters. The heart of existentialism was a rugged rebellion- a massive middle finger at the gods for the lot that Sisyphis found himself in as he rolled that rock up the hill over and over. In this rebel's heart he had won! Camus writes:
I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one's burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.
If we look at the general scope of the American church, we have to agree with that win. A godless tenacity to keep plodding on with no real hope in sight accomplishes more than a believer who passively has given up the charge and remains on the ground with his eyes closed.
SO how do we do this? Where does the power come from to get up and dream again?
It starts with a realization that this is a process of decades and not days.
Peterson explains: "The biggest disservice of our rapid paced society is the illusion that meaningful treasures can be attained in microwave moments."
So this book is a goal and it is a help for the journey and it is a hope for the journey- as perilous as it may seem.
I am marching uphill to the Holy Mountain of Zion with a song in my heart and joy in my spirit because I am loved by the King of the Universe. All I need to care for is this day's walk. May I be found obedient today. I start my day with a gospel help: "I am crucified with Christ" and I will end the day with a gospel hope: "There is therefore now no condemnation in Christ Jesus."
Here is how Paul said it in Phillipians 3:
7 But awhatever gain I had, bI counted as loss for the sake of Christ.8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of cthe surpassing worth of dknowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I ehave suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having fa righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but gthat which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—10 hthat I may know him and ithe power of his resurrection, and jmay share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may kattain the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not that I have already lobtained this or mam already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: nforgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for othe prize of the upward pcall of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are qmature think this way, and if in anything ryou think otherwise, sGod will reveal that also to you. 16 Only tlet us hold true to what we have attained.
17 Brothers, ujoin in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk vaccording to the example you have in us. 18 For wmany, of whom I have often told you and now tell you xeven with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 yTheir end is destruction, ztheir god is their belly, and athey glory in their shame, with bminds set on earthly things. 20 But cour citizenship is in heaven, and dfrom it we eawait a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform four lowly body gto be like his glorious body, hby the power that enables him even ito subject all things to himself.
As we go through the content of the Psalms of Ascent- may we find joy in the journey TODAY!