Nestled on top of a hill sits the city of Jerusalem. While walking up the hill of Mount Zion, Jews would sing a collection of psalms as they ascended toward the annual Jewish festivals and temple in Jerusalem. Thus, this tradition of the past has lent the name of the Songs of Ascent to the collection of psalms sung, Psalms 120-134.
What relevance does a group of psalms sung hundreds of years ago have to offer to present-day believers? While I believe all of the psalms are a great reminder of God’s character and relatable words for the present-day believer to pray, the Songs of Ascent are the most marked up and prayed psalms in my Bible. To me, the Songs of Ascent are a great reminder of the importance of worship and reliance on the Lord as we journey across the mountains and valleys during our walks of faith.
Pilgrimage of Faith
The Songs of Ascent are also known as the Pilgrim Songs because they were used for worship during the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, reminding me of The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan.
This hill, though high, I covet to ascend;
The difficulty will not me offend.
For I perceive the way to life lies here.
Come, pluck up, heart; let’s neither faint nor fear.
Better, though difficult, the right way to go,
Than wrong, though easy, where the end is woe.
– John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress
The walk of faith is not an easy excursion. The struggles and hardships woven into our journeys often make us believers feel as if we are descending and stumbling. In the past, Jews on their way to Jerusalem had to leave their homes and trek through difficult terrain, and often unwelcoming places. But their pilgrimage was worth it because at the end of their journey, they reached the temple of Jerusalem, experiencing God’s presence, and celebrated God’s goodness and faithfulness during their festivals. Our present-day walks of faith are no different. In order to walk in and for Christ, we must abandon what we used to know and what is familiar and comfortable. It requires trekking up steep mountains of hardships and feeling as if many are pitted against us, but the reward at the end of the pilgrimage is greater than the hardships we experience. Being in the presence of Christ for eternity is worth the walk.
Songs of Steps
The Songs of Ascent are also called the Songs of Steps. The Songs of Ascent are a great reminder to worship and rely on God every step of the way, no matter the current circumstance.
I often find that when I struggle with the words to say, looking at and praying Scripture is a good way to find words for my prayers. The words of David and Solomon were not just relevant to them, but echo the feelings and thoughts of believers for generations. The beauty of the psalms is the relatability the words written, and the constant praise and assurance of God’s character. The Songs of Ascent offer a variety of words and perspectives to pray when you need guidance or when you are wanting to praise God.
Psalm 120: A cry for truth and peace
In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. – Psalm 120:1
Psalm 121: The Lord our protector
The Lord protects you; the Lord is a shelter right by your side. – Psalm 121:5
Psalm 122: A prayer for Jerusalem
Because of the house of the Lord our God, I will pursue your prosperity. – Psalm 122:9
Psalm 123: Looking for God’s favor
Like a servant’s eyes on his master’s hand, like a servant girl’s eyes on her mistress’s hand, so our eyes are on the Lord our God until he shows us favor. – Psalm 123:2
Psalm 124: The Lord is on our side
Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. – Psalm 124:8
Psalm 125: Israel’s stability
Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion. It cannot be shaken, it remains forever. – Psalm 125:1
Psalm 126: Zion’s restoration
Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy. – Psalm 126:5
Psalm 127: The blessing of the Lord
Unless the Lord builds a house, its builders labor over it in vain; unless the Lord watches over a city, the watchman stays alert in vain. – Psalm 127:1
Psalm 128: Blessings for those who fear God
How happy is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways. – Psalm 128:1
Psalm 129: Protection of the oppressed
Since my youth they have often attacked me, but they have not prevailed against me. – Psalm 129:2
Psalm 130: Awaiting redemption
Israel put your hope in the Lord. For there is faithful love with the Lord and with him is redemption in abundance. – Psalm 130:7
Psalm 131: A childlike spirit
I have calmed and quieted my soul. – Psalm 131:2
Psalm 132: David and Zion chosen
For the Lord has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his home. – Psalm 132:13
Psalm 133: Living in harmony
How good and pleasant is it when brothers live together in harmony. – Psalm 133:1
Psalm 134: Call to evening worship
Lift up your hands in the holy place and bless the Lord. – Psalm 134:2
Not only are the Songs of Ascent a guide for prayer and worship, but reminders of God’s goodness and faithfulness. When we feel uncertain or need reassurance of God’s character during trials, answers abound in Scripture.
While us present-day believers may not be walking a pilgrimage to a physical location, we are still walking towards Christ. Looking at the practices of believers of the past gives us present-day believers examples on how to walk our walks of faith. May we utilize the blessing of Scripture to praise and strengthen our relationship with the Lord.