discovering the beauty of zion

I still remember the chill of the morning air, my fleece zipped up tightly as I walked through campus toward Old Main Lawn. I prayed as I walked, pretending that Jesus was walking alongside me and I was in conversation with him. When I arrived at the bench that faced my favorite climbing tree, I set down my backpack and pulled out my Bible, my breaths deep due to cold air in my lungs and in wonder of the low fog that settled over the lawn.

I loved having a “date” with the Lord before the hustle of the day began. Campus was silent at 7 a.m., and in the stillness my heart was able to rest in his presence.

I experienced a similar feeling on my weekends “off” while I worked at summer camp in high school and college. Sunday afternoons were a time most of my friends would nap, resting before the next week of swimming and fishing and dancing and aggie-mo softball. I’ve never been very good at napping unless I am sick, so I would use that time to find shade at the Big Lake boat dock or on the Vespers benches overlooking the ranch. An enchanting quiet settled over the camp on the weekends, and my journal pages turned as I processed all that the Lord was teaching me through my ministry with these kids. While sitting on the dock, hands resting behind me on the well-worn wood, toes in the water, crickets humming in the tall grass, I met with God.

Some of my favorite afternoons during the week were when ranch activity was forced to a stop by summer rain. The coziest place was in my cabin perching on my bed, tarps rolled up to let in sounds through screen windows. There was nothing quite like extended rest time due to rain delays, my campers all napping or quietly reading in their bunks, and my heart basking in the presence of God that met me right on that squeaky spring bed frame.

For Israel, the place that stirred to mind their covenant relationship with God was Zion. This word is used frequently in Scripture to denote Jerusalem broadly, but specifically the “city of David,” a stronghold David first captured from the Jebusites at the start of his reign. It’s also where David brought the Ark of the Covenant until his son Solomon built the temple. It can refer to “the place, the forms, and the assemblies of Israelite worship” (Nave’s Topical Bible Concordance). Then, in the New Testament, Zion refers to the heavenly Jerusalem we as believers are anticipating.

Psalm 48 is a praise psalm which is prompted by a reflection on Zion. Willem A. VanGemeren comments, “The godly had a special feeling about Jerusalem that is beautifully and sensitively expressed in this psalm. They looked on the city, mountain, and temple as symbols of God’s presence with his people.” From describing the beauty of this place to its fearful effect on enemies, Zion produces praise from God’s people. Verse 8 states, “Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love.”

I love VanGemeren’s thoughts on this verse:

The godly “meditate” on God’s mighty acts (v.9). Their meditation was more than a devotional reading. They took comfort in, rejoiced in, and made offerings in gratitude to the revelation of God’s perfections. It was a God-given visual aid, encouraging them to imagine and to reflect on the long history of God’s involvement with Israel and of the evidences of his “unfailing love” (hesed).

However, we don’t always remember this or feel in awe of it. We feel alone or lacking in God’s touch. We don’t necessarily have the temple as a “visual aid” to direct our thoughts to God. How do we cultivate that praise daily, in our own lives? The Israelites lived with a constant visible reminder of God’s presence, but how can we remember his presence dwelling with us?

Psalm 48:12-14 commands the people, “Walk about Zion, go around her, count her towers, consider well her ramparts, view her citadels, that you may tell of them to the next generation. For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end.” I have been considering what I can do to actively remind myself of God’s glory in the way that the Israelites could walk around the city and the temple.

Dr. Thomas Constable notes that “[a]ncient peoples connected the glory of a god with the place where he dwelt.” How incredible, then, to know that God’s presence is with us always! As believers on this side of the cross, his Holy Spirit dwells with us, empowering us and changing us (Romans 8:9-11).

You may not find me on the Big Lake dock these days (though I would love to return!), but I have new places in my grown up life, simple spots like my back porch, that help me focus on meeting God and meditating on his beauty. Sometimes that desire is triggered by a cup of coffee in my favorite mug or a new journal instead of a specific place. Sometimes it’s the worship song I have had on repeat because it so perfectly describes the state of my heart. I am learning to fill my days with little things that remind me of God’s presence dwelling with me and my surrender to his guidance and his rule, my version of walking around the citadels and admiring the ramparts.

The glory of Zion is nothing less than the adoration of God-with-us (Immanuel). The wonder of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ is anticipated in the wonder of God’s presence among his people in the OT. The Incarnation is a mystery, but the revelation of God in human form should never take away from the mystery of God’s presence and beneficent rule (48:1-3) in the OT. –VanGemeren

Psalm 48 prompts us to meditate on God’s praise and glory even as tangible things of this world remind us of his presence dwelling with us. Walk around a local park, listen to worship music while running errands, find a place that draws your heart to rest in him. “As your name, O God, so your praise reaches to the ends of the earth. Your right hand is filled with righteousness” (Psalm 48:10).

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