Having been a praise and worship leader for many years, I have been motivated to study the Bible’s exhortations about bringing praises to God. To comprehend the attitude of heart that God seeks in his worshippers, I seem to come back consistently to the imagery of pilgrimage, ascent, and bowing down in the presence of the living God.
Psalms 120-134 in the Hebrew songbook are “Psalms of Ascent.” They collectively describe a journey from a land of trial and anguish up to Mount Zion and the sanctuary of the Lord. Before the journey begins, the pilgrims lament the violence and deceit that surrounds them on every side. In desperation, they lift their eyes to the hills up ahead, sensing that their help derives from that holy place (Ps 121:2). They remember who they are and begin crying out to the God of their nation.
The throngs ascending to Jerusalem, exclaim, “I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” (122:1). It is feast time, a holy convocation to celebrate the Lord’s goodness and deliverance. He has always shielded and surrounded them “as the mountains surround Jerusalem” (125:2). How excitedly they shout and laugh together, recalling how the LORD has restored their fortunes, and done such great things for them. Those who have sown many tears are overcome with shouts of joy! (126:5).
The closer they come to the temple mount, the more thankful they become—for God’s blessing upon their homes, husbands and wives, children and grandchildren, their land, work, and nation. At times they pause to reflect on the bitterness of the past. This is part of the ascent, the remembrance of God’s mercy and faithfulness even at the lowest places in life. They are humbled in his presence.
They come through his gates with thanksgiving and praise. They calm and quiet their souls in his presence, contented children who simply wish to enjoy the beautiful fellowship of their benevolent Father. They reach the summit, surrounded by priests, worshippers, and provisions for sacrifice.
This picture shows the southern steps of the temple ruins in Jerusalem. My visit to this site in 2014 was one of the most profound moments in my trip to Israel. I was caught up in the mystery and history of this place adjacent to the Beautiful Gate where Peter and John healed the crippled man. The ruins of the mikvehs can still be seen, where worshipers bathed before ascending the steps. But the most achingly beautiful aspect was the fact that the steps are of all different heights and depths, varying from 7 to 10 inches high and 12 to 35 inches deep, forcing the ascending pilgrims to climb very slowly and carefully. This is the place of the Selah, a place to pause and reflect, a place that elicits reverence, awe, and deep prayerfulness.
That throng of visitors, tired from their journey, but cleansed and ready, prayerfully climbed the ancient steps to meet their God in his holy temple.
Ever since my visit this is the image that I associate with praise. It is our destination. It is a climb to the highest place. It is intentional. It requires effort. It involves the body, soul and spirit. It is driven by a thankful, beating heart. It is a sacrifice. It is an ascent into the realm of the holiness of Yeshua.
We do not have access to these steps every day to remind us. But may we ascend at every opportunity to praise God, with clean hands and pure hearts.
What a privilege to ascend into a daily encounter with our most worthy and lovely Lord and Savior.
Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold
from those whose walk is blameless.