Week of November 12

Pray for Peace

Read: Psalm 122; 1 Corinthians 9-11
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! 
‘May they be secure who love you!’” 
Psalm 122:6, ESV


An oft-heard maxim is that you cannot legislate morality. Perhaps this is so, but we can bow our hearts to the Lord and live out the mandates of His law He has written on our hearts. This humility before the Lord provides us with standards for right living that will lead to His peace in our hearts, homes, churches, and communities (see Matthew 5:9, 17-48).

The violence from Israel to Ukraine to here at home in America crisscrosses our globe and calls for a heart change. If we have ever needed peace in our cities, it is now! The psalmist writes of an extraordinary peace that blanketed the city of Jerusalem. Let’s see what we may learn today about God’s shalom.

The Meaning of the Text

The setting of the psalm
I believe it is important to place ourselves in the sandals of the psalmist and to see the world through his eyes. Looking at it from his perspective brings the psalm to life, and it gives us a clear understanding of how we may apply it to our lives. Psalm 122 belongs to a genre known as “Song of Zion” and is part of a wider collection known as “Songs of Ascent” (Psalms 120-134) (NAC; EBC).

The psalm pictures pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for one of the major festivals in the Temple, and they burst into a song of thanksgiving and praise while in route. C.S. Lewis once said, “The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express the same delight in God which made David dance.” What a wonderful way to remind us of the sheer joy that pure worship brings to the devoted worshiper. We need worship filled with delight today!
The structure of the hymn
The psalm opens with the arrival at the Temple (vv. 1-2). Their entrance follows with a song of praise to Jerusalem (vv. 3-5). It closes with a prayer for peace and prosperity of the city (vv. 6-9) (Handbook). The hymn resembles many of the Royal Psalms because it celebrates the glories that were associated with Jerusalem—the Temple and kingship. However, there is a difference between the Royal psalms and the songs of Zion (Handbook). The latter psalms focus on the glories of Zion in universal or eschatological terms. How is this so? We may notice a progression in the psalm from arrival at the physical city of Jerusalem (vv. 1-2) and a vision of Zion as the center of God’s judgment and peace (vv. 5-9). This psalm leads me to ask a question of my worship attitudes and patterns.
Why do we assemble for worship?
Celebrate God’s goodness for our salvation. The psalmist begins by stating that he rejoices whenever they say to him, “Let’s go to the house of the Lord.” Obviously, this is not a call to an annual high attendance day in church! He is standing in Jerusalem amid countless other pilgrims who have arrived at the end-goal of their pilgrimage (122:1; EBC). He made it there, and he is overwhelmed with joyful excitement!

Such pilgrimages were held three times per year during the great feasts of Passover, Firstfruits, and Booths. All three of these festivals held special redemptive significance as the people of God celebrated His goodness throughout their redemptive history. There is something significant about this setting, and it provides us with some goals for our own contemporary contexts.
Goals we should keep in mind when we worship
First, there is unity. All of Israel’s tribes came together on these special occasions for the purpose of praising “the name of the Lord.” (122:4; EBC). They laid aside their differences and demonstrated their loyalty to the Lord who had commanded them to present themselves before Him (see Exodus 23:14-17; Deuteronomy 16:16-17). This was no casual gathering that is so typical of our contemporary worship events. It was not a “come if you can,” but a “call to attend.” Keep in mind, even though the Israelites had a radically different form of political government than ours, we both can follow the psalmist’s line of thought and submit to the governance of the Lord in our lives (122:5; cf. Romans 13:1-7).
Secondly, we should pursue peace and justice. The psalmist suggests that the way to benefit is traveled along the road of peace and justice. These were characteristics of David’s rule, and Messiah’s kingdom bears the same marks (Isaiah 9:7)! Even though Israel’s great city did not always experience shalom, security, and prosperity, the psalmist leads the pilgrims to pray for such in their midst (122:6-9).
All who truly love Jerusalem and the Lord will seek this type of experience. In this prayer, the city of Jerusalem is transformed into an “eschatological expression,” meaning that that experience provided a “token” of the reality that God had planned for His people (EBC). What a beautiful prayer for a family that has gathered. Hmmm. I wonder when and where we might pray this psalm?

The Message for Our Lives

The current hostilities between Hamas and Israel have awakened many Christians to the need for focused prayer on that region of the world. Some of the motivation is geo-political, but I believe much is also eschatological (the end times).

The hilltop where the Baptist Center for Global Concerns is located is a regular destination point for local folks to come and pray. The cross on our property overlooks the valley and Lake Granbury below. I will often step out to those who drive up and spend a moment with them. I shared a few minutes of conversation with our most recent visitor. He said, as he began to depart, “Pray for Israel!” I understood what he meant. We both knew that peace in the Middle East is good for our world.
Thankfully, the psalmist has written about this type of goodness! Perhaps, we modern day pilgrims can take some time this Thanksgiving to read this psalm at our gatherings, share testimonies about God’s goodness in our homes and churches, then pray for peace in our hearts, homes, cities, and world.

For Thought and Action

1. Peace and justice do not originate in laws of the land, but reside in the hearts of people. Are you at war within over some grievance in your life? Give the passion to the Lord and ask Him to replace it with His peace.
2. Begin to plan now the ways you will invite the Savior into your home for Thanksgiving. What special observance could you plan to unite you and your family and demonstrate your loyalty to the Lord?
3. For Families: Here is a suggestion about how to help children pray for peace and celebrate God’s goodness this Thanksgiving season. You will need different colors and lengths of yarn, sharpie markers, several large, flat buttons, and some colored disposable cups.

Invite your kids to make a “Prayer for Peace Tree” in your yard. Choose a tree in your front yard that your neighbors can see. Then ask your children to come participate in an “art installation” project. Give them sharpies and ask them to write their prayers for peace and thanks to God inside the rims of the cups (“Pray for Israel,” or “Pray for Refugees,” or “Pray for Hostages,” or “Thank you God for Family,” etc.). Your kids can write as many prayers as they can think of, including prayers for safety, your family, or individual concerns or reasons for giving thanks.

Then, poke a small hole in the cup bottom with an ice pick, and drop a large button into the bottom of the cup. Thread a piece of yarn (about 24” to 30” long) through the button and cup-hole, but tie a big knot at the end of the string on the inside of the cup before it goes through the button (layer should be knot, button, and cup bottom). Now, pull the string gently so that the cup is hanging upside-down, like a bell, from the other end of the string you hold in your hand. Lay it aside until all of the cups and strings are assembled.

Now take your prayer cups outside and tie the unknotted end of each string to a smaller branch higher up on your tree. Let the strings with the upside-down cups hang down at all different lengths, so that people can see them and come to investigate. They will be able to look up inside the cups and read the prayers. If you like, invite your neighbors to add their prayers to the tree. Better yet, make it an annual community event!

Let’s teach our children to praise God for His character and goodness, to pray for peace, and to be examples of hope for our neighborhoods, cities, and country.

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock