Years ago I toured around the United States with music and improv comedy ministries (I know…random). We hit 47 states and drove 60,000 miles in 9 months. It was a special chapter in my life. (read: bare-bones, sweaty, 15-passenger van with an exclusive diet of fast food and sweet tea)
Music is a vital part of any road travel. There was a pretty short list of albums my touring buddies and I could agree on (available here and don’t you judge me for a second), and those songs have a special place in my music library and heart today. Those songs remind me of the friendships that formed along the way, national landmarks I got to see with my own eyes, and all the crazy antics on the road.
Those were in a sense, my pilgrimage songs. Many people don’t realize that some of the Psalms we have today were the pilgrimage songs God gave his people…both then and today.
I want to look at the pilgrimage Psalms through the eyes of a father and son, unpacking two perspectives. These two poems are going to give us vital information about the journey you and I are on. We begin with the son, Solomon, as he writes in Psalm 127:
Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.
Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
SOLOMON WAS A REAL GUY.
This pilgrimage psalm was written by Solomon, a real historical figure who lived and ate and slept like you and me. But the Bible says Solomon was the wisest man to live. That wisdom came from delighting in God and from God’s discipline through the catastrophic failures in his life. Whatever wisdom I have today is in part from time with Jesus and also from the failures, large and small, in my life.
My church is full of a lot of very smart people. They are up the ladder at Microsoft or Amazon or Boeing. They have degrees from renowned schools, and accolades in their industry. I’ll never forget the time I met an exhausted and disheveled Mom wearing sweat pants with an infant snotting down her shoulder, and learned later that she was one of the top biochemistry researchers in the United States.
Maybe you know people with a lot of power or influence, or you yourself have those things and those are all good things. Maybe you make good money, or have changed whole markets with your innovation and hard work. You might be really smart.
But you aren’t Solomon.
We aren’t as smart as he was (1 Kings 4) or as wealthy as he was.
His wealth adjusted for modern times lands somewhere between 2 and 3 trillion dollars. If Solomon lives in Seattle, Gates and Bezos can’t afford his neighborhood. He ran the rat-race that defines so much of our culture and actually crossed the finish line that escapes the rest of us. Can we learn from someone that actually lived the life we’d ask for if we had three wishes? All of the things you want, he owned it, tasted it, or touched it.
Solomon begins the poem with a pretty provocative statement that without the Lord’s blessing, human effort is worthless.
The examples he uses covers work-life, city-life, and home-life. Didn’t miss much did he? Solomon is warning us that if we aren’t careful, we’ll spend our whole lives working and building and not end up where we wanted. It’s possible that we work really, really hard in this life and completely waste it. Sheer effort is not a guarantee of a life well lived.
I know we all feel the tension between church stuff, family stuff, friend stuff, dating stuff, work stuff, school stuff. It’s a lot to figure out, isn’t it?
But there’s a very real danger that we spend our whole lives with a loose connection to Jesus but never putting our best energy and effort where He commands and where He leads. This is marked by a life of never listening, never waiting on Him, never obeying, never resting…but always building, always toiling. God is not opposed to you building, He’s opposed to you building where He has not led you, and toiling without Him.
How do you know what you’re building? Tune in for part three.