Today week we look at chapter 16 in Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society, which deals with Psalm 134. The theme is Blessing.
Peterson begins this chapter by relating a scene from Charles Colson’s life in which he found himself with President Nixon and Cheif of Staff H.R. Haldeman on the night of Nixon’s presidential victory in 1972. They had reached “the power pinnacle of the world, and not a single note of joy discernable in the room.” (p. 189) Colson, reflecting on his on experience, confessed that despite having been the architect of the victory there was “a deadness inside me.”
“The way of discipleship that begins in an act of repentance concludes in a life of praise.” (p. 190) The journey of discipleship takes a rigorous, challenging, invigorating path, and ends up in blessing. Remember, the Songs of Ascents are pictured for us as being sung on the way to Jerusalem by the Hebrews, traveling spiritually as well as physically to the place of worship and celebration of God. “Each of the psalms following [Psalm 120] has described a part of what takes place along this pilgrim way among people who have turned to God and follow him in Christ.” So when we travel the path and arrive at “where we are going, what then?” Will we, like Colson and the others in 1972 (see p. 189), be disappointed? Psalm 134 says, “no.” It says we are blessed because we find that God meets us on the path and in the journey. As we experience God’s blessing in our daily lives, we bless God in return.
“Psalm 134 features the word in a form that might be called an invitational command: ‘Come, bless God.'” (p. 192) On one hand, it is an invitation: “Come, bless God.” Peterson emphasizes that whatever the challenging realities of the trip to be here, the invitation to let loose and celebrate at Temple Worship is a gift. We may lay aside our troubles and preoccupations and praise God. On the other hand, it is a command: “bless God.” This is a reminder not to get distracted by the sights and sounds of the destination (in the Hebrew’s case, Jerusalem)–“You are here because God blessed you. Now you bless God.”
“Go through the motions of blessing God and your spirit will pick up the cue and follow along.” (p. 194) Sometimes we don’t feel like blessing the Lord. Perhaps life has thrown us curve after curve, we are in a period of spiritual dryness, or maybe we’ve simply become disinterested in God. Other things have come to occupy our attention. We can “act ourselves into a new way of being” by practicing the actions and letting the feelings follow instead of depending on our feelings to lead the way.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism states: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” (p. 198) “Or, in the vocabulary of Psalm 134, ‘Bless God.'” While as a rule we would not say that the end always justifies the means, it remains true that “the end shapes the means.” (p. 197) Much is involved in Christian discipleship that has been considered in the Songs of Ascents, but it is critical to remember that “all the movements of discipleship arrive at a place where joy is experienced.” (p. 198) After all, as Peterson points out “grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth.” Taking God seriously but not ourselves is a good way to live this out. Karl Barth, probably the greatest theologian of the 20th century once said, “The theologian who has no joy in his work is not a theologian at all.” (p. 196)
Authentic enjoyment of God seems to me to go hand-in-hand with a life that glorifies God. The people I most admire in the Christian faith have a depth of commitment that truly glorifies God and genuinely takes up crosses and practices self-giving service to others as they follow Jesus and all the while a deep and wonderful enjoyment of God emanates from them in everything they do.