BY DAVE STEEL
We are born homesick—longing for a land and a way of life we have never directly experienced, but which we know is somewhere, or at least ought to exist. —James Wilhoit
My family will tell you that I like to tie on the feedbag as much as the next guy. Still, I look forward to New Year’s Day, even though it can’t compete with the more flavorful holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. That’s because, as much as any holiday, New Year’s Day gets me reflecting on what God is doing in my life and where he’s taking me.
Each of us is on a spiritual journey. We’re all headed somewhere. This is just as true for those who rarely think about spiritual things as it is for those who are preoccupied with them. For me, the start of a new year is a chance to reflect on the journey.
I imagine ancient Hebrews doing this during their pilgrimages to the temple, driven by a desire to feel close to God and to pray to him. On their way up to Jerusalem, they would sing “songs of ascent.” Psalm 84 vividly portrays the longing of the pilgrim when it says, “My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God” (v. 2). These pilgrims would “go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion” (v. 7). In other words, they were strengthened by God along the way, which is why the psalmist prayed, “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage” (v. 5).
The writer of Hebrews explains that they admitted, “they were foreigners and strangers on earth. . . . they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13, 16).
Centuries later, Jesus came proclaiming a kingdom that’s “not of this world” (John 18:36). And when we answered his call to discipleship, we too became spiritual pilgrims in the best sense of the word. We may have experienced surprises and set-backs this year, but like our ancient counterparts we press on, celebrating our progress and anticipating our destination in due time.
Discipleship is a journey, one that fulfills an ancient longing to be with God. We yearn for the heavenly city prepared for us. Along the way, we sing songs of hopeful anticipation.
My prayer for you is that as you anticipate this new year our Lord would put a new song in your mouth, a hymn of praise to your God (Ps. 40:3).
Many of the psalms of the Bible were sung during these pilgrimages up to Jerusalem, fifteen of them (Psalms 120-134) being designated explicitly for this purpose with the label “A song of ascents.”
See Ps. 120-134.
See also Phil. 3:13-14.