Today’s reading: Psalms 80-85.
Sometimes when backpacking through dry country, you must store water at a strategic point so that it’s waiting for you. You’re very dependent on the water that’s been put there ahead of you. What if, instead, as you traveled along, you left supplies of water behind you for others? That’s what seems to be happening in Psalm 84.
Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion. Psalm 84:5-7
The pilgrims are on the way to Jerusalem for one of the feasts. Their trek takes them through the Valley of Baca, which may have been a literal place or may have stood for any of the struggles they faced on their journey. It is, perhaps, a dry and desert valley, or it may be a sorrowful place of weeping. What’s clear is the condition of the pilgrims as they travel through this dry land.
- They travel in God’s strength and not their own.
- Their desire is for God above all other things.
- Wells of blessing spring up around them as they move along, even in the desert.
- God works through nature or circumstances to multiply the effect of these blessings.
- They build upon each success, not falling back into old ways or staying at the same level, but advancing further because of their accomplishments.
Many people interpret this pilgrimage through the Valley of Baca as a metaphor for our journey through life. It has its share of dry spells and tears, but the believer who is intent on journeying Godward takes those tears and turns them into springs of blessing. The blessings aren’t just for them but for everyone who comes their way. They are helping turn the desert into a garden. Of course it’s God who is doing it, but the believer is the tool God uses to dig these wells in the desert.
The most compelling part of this process is the journey from strength to strength. It’s not a difficult idea to grasp. We do it every time we climb a ladder or a mountain. We keep climbing higher instead of falling back down. It’s much harder to carry out in life, however. Think of a few areas where we fail to go from strength to strength:
- We resist a temptation once, but then give in to it the next time.
- We develop a good habit of Bible study then abandon it.
- We learn to pray and then don’t practice praying.
- We trust God in one area of life, perhaps finances, but don’t trust him in another area, such as witnessing.
- We express the fruit of the spirit in one area of our life, such as kindness, but never develop the fruit of self-control.
How do we succeed in advancing from one strength to the next? Start by realizing you haven’t arrived. Your journey is underway but you aren’t at your destination and you won’t get there unless you keep advancing (I’m thinking in terms of sanctification here, not salvation). Keep your eye on the destination and that will help motivate you and direct you. Don’t go down or back; keep going up. Build on what you accomplish instead of accepting it as the goal. Also, don’t try to make this trip by yourself. The pilgrims traveled in companies, and surely one of the greatest joys of the journey was the fellowship they shared. If there is any secret to finding water in the desert, it is that we find it with other believers.
Image by Beyond the Trail on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0