Happy New Year!

Psalm 120 – A Song of Ascents

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.

Dear Friends,

Every year the Oxford Dictionaries pick a ‘Word of the Year’. For 2016 they nominated the word post-truth. Apparently, its popular usage soared during the Brexit and US Presidential campaigns in which it was generally noticed that there was no need to let facts get in the way of a good argument (on both sides of both debates, let it be said!). In a similar vein, I guess an early contender for a ‘Phrase of 2017’ would be fake news.

There is nothing new under the sun. Psalm 120 begins with the prayer ‘Save me, LORD, from lying lips and from deceitful tongues’. It’s the first of the fifteen Psalms known as the Songs of Ascents – Psalms for pilgrims to sing as they make their journey up to Jerusalem to worship the LORD.

And I find it quite striking that this is the Psalm that gets the pilgrims going. There is an unsettled feel to it; a weariness in the words – ‘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.’ Meshek and Kedar are nowhere near Jerusalem – Meshek was up near the Black Sea somewhere and Kedar down by the Arabian desert. No one could dwell in Meshek and Kedar at the same time, so his point is not that he actually lives in these far-from-home places but just that it feels as though he does; he is physically at home but home feels like a foreign land. He no longer feels like he belongs there.

And that it why this is a Psalm to get a pilgrim going. The old spiritual says it this way:

This world is not my home I’m just a passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue

It’s no bad thing to begin to grow a little bit weary of the way the world is – especially weary of the lies it tells us. Eugene Peterson puts it like this:

Rescue me from the lies of advertisers who claim to know what I need and what I desire, from the lies of entertainers who promise a cheap way to joy, from the lies of politicians who presume to instruct me in power and morality, from the lies of psychologists who offer to shape my behaviour and my morals so that I will live long, happily and successfully, from the lies of religionists who “heal the wounds of this people lightly,” from the lies of moralists who pretend to promote me to the office of captain of my fate, from the lies of pastors who ‘get rid of God’s command so you won’t be inconvenienced in following the religious fashions’ (Mark 7:8). Rescue me from the person who tells me of life and omits Christ, who is wise in the ways of the world and ignores the movement of the Spirit.

It is good for us to get weary of these kinds of things if it gets us going. We are Christians! We are disciples of Christ! We are not supposed to feel like this is the place where we belong. We are supposed to be following Jesus where He leads us – ultimately to live with Him forever. So here’s my prayer for you for the coming year – I don’t know if you’re going to like it! – my prayer is not that your 2017 will be entirely happy and prosperous and easy and carefree (it never is, is it?). My prayer for you – for me too – is that there will be just enough in 2017 to keep us from thinking that this is the kind of world that can truly make us happy; just enough to unsettle us, to get us going and keep us going with Jesus – pilgrims who long to be at home with Him. Left, right, left, right…

With love in Christ,

Joe Dent