HOW TO GET FROM HERE TO THERE
When Burke and Wills set off on their ill-fated expedition in 1860, aiming to travel from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria, they regarded themselves as very well equipped. They started out with 19 men, 23 horses, 26 camels, 6 wagons and about 20 tonnes of equipment including a Chinese gong (no, I can’t figure out why!) and a bathtub – clearly what you need to traverse the dry inland of the driest continent! Their attempt ended with their tragic deaths, probably from vitamin deficiency. Clearly, they didn’t know as much as they thought they did about what was needed.
These days, when we need to go somewhere (when not restricted to a 5 km radius), we usually go in a car and use some form of GPS, or at the very least a map. And, even then, there can sometimes be confusion – the sort that is incredibly frustrating at the time but makes a great story later.
But what about a different sort of “journey”? What about when our “here” is exhaustion, or despondency, or boredom, or disappointment, or any of the other things that people feel during lockdown (or other times too)? What if the “there” we are aiming for is joy, the joy that comes from God? What do we need to find our way?
Psalm 100 gives us a practical map of how to get there.
A Psalm for giving thanks.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
2 Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
3 Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
5 For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
The psalmist starts by encouraging us to joyfully praise God. This is something we are called to do many, many times in the Bible, particularly in the Psalms. It is the right response to recognising who God is and what he has done. It is the awe of the saints on earth and the song of the angels in heaven. It is the hope and joy of the redeemed as they make their pilgrimage, whether the road takes them through green pastures or the valley of the shadow. But sometimes, especially when we don’t have the encouragement of joining together physically with other believers, it can all seem a bit further away.
But the psalmist lists some steps to give us a roadmap to that place:
Start by recalling and focusing on who God is (verse 3). What does it mean to say the Lord is God? We live in a world full of wannabe gods, all making their claims on us, whether they be obvious false gods, like the ones Elijah battled on Mt Carmel (1 Kings 18), and whose equivalents we see today in other religions and New Age spiritualities; or the more subtle, but very potent, gods of money and status and pleasure and popularity; or, perhaps the most powerful of all for sinful humanity, our idolatry of getting our own way. But no, it is the Lord (i.e., Yahweh, the God of the covenant) who is God, and he alone. All other powers, all the temptations of our own desires and egos, fall away into nothingness before him. He is complete and he is eternal. Turn your eyes and your heart towards him, let his reality change your perspective.
Next, remember that he is our Creator. Not only did he make the universe, in all its glory and beauty, but each human being is his special creation, fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps 139:14). He knew you before you were born. This God, great beyond anything we can imagine or understand, knows you personally. Further, you are his. He wanted you so much that he was willing to pay an unimaginable price, battling death and hell on your behalf, so that you could be his child, his friend, and his worshipper forever.
Further again, we are to focus on the wonder that we are the sheep of his pasture. He is our Good Shepherd (John 10:14), the one who laid down his life for the sheep. He is the one whose goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life, and who will guide you in paths of righteousness (Psalm 23). He is the one who says that he will search for the lost and bring back the strays, bind up the injured and strengthen the weak. (Ezekiel 34:16). He is the one who tells us that it is his good pleasure to give us the kingdom (Luke 12:32). And we are his sheep who have all gone astray, and the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). Redeemed, cared for, treasured – how can we not respond with wonder and gratitude?
And our God is good (verse 5). In fact, he is the only one who is good (Luke 18:19). Concepts like holiness and righteousness can sometimes be hard to fully come to grips with, but we all know what goodness is. Our God is never capricious, or unfair, or uncaring; he never stops doing what is right for us. Even in hard times his mercies are all around us. His steadfast love and fidelity towards his children are forever (verse 5). We are not toys that he picks up one day and discards the next. His promises stand for all eternity, and we can stake our lives on them. We are loved by the one who had every right not to love us because our sin set us against him, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). This is who God is, this is what his heart is towards us.
These things, when we focus on them, when we consider what they mean, should bring us, as they brought the psalmist, to a place of joy and gratitude, even when our circumstances pull us down. The prophet Habakkuk knew this:
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:17-18)
And, as we rediscover this joy, we “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!” (verse 4). To the psalmist, of course, this was at the literal temple in Jerusalem, but for us “do you not know that you are God’s temple and God’s spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16).
And this is a joy that no one can take away from you.