My Pilgrim Songs: A Birthday Meditation

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billbarrick1948January 5 comes around right regularly—every year—on my birthday. Yes, my parents were among the “Greatest Generation” who fought and lived during World War II. My birth took place in the first year of the “Baby Boomers.” January 5 marks the traditional twelfth day of Christmas—“twelve drummers drumming,” according to the popular Christmas song. I share my birthday with a number of friends and acquaintances (at least two others in our church family). Famous people also populate the birthday list: Diane Keaton (same day and year; actress), Elena Barrick (my grand-daughter), Robert Duvall (actor), Jim Otto (NFL; his son was one of my students at The Master’s Seminary), Mercury Morris (NFL), Juan Carlos I (king of Spain), Konrad Adenauer (German chancellor), Walter Mondale (American politician), Charlie Rose (TV anchor, host), Carrie Ann Inaba (“Dancing with the Stars”), Umberto Eco (semanticist and one of my favorite authors), Jane Wyman (actress, President Reagan’s first wife), George Reeves (actor—Superman), Kathleen Kenyon (British archaeologist who excavated in Israel), Stephen Decatur (US naval officer in the American Revolution), and many others. But, I digress. This is my birthday meditation.

Your statutes are my songs

In the house of my pilgrimage. (Psalm 119:54 NASU)

Birthdays and Songs of Praise

Birthdays, like pilgrimages, possess a starting point for a significant life journey. The Hebrew literally says “house of my sojournings.” Life for a believer in Christ consists of being a temporary resident alien on planet Earth. C. S. Lewis spoke of our lives being behind enemy lines, since Satan currently reigns as the prince of this world (John 12:31; Ephesians 2:2). Therefore, as Christians we take our pilgrimage as soldiers of Christ serving our Lord in obedience to His Word (2 Timothy 2:4). We must endure hardship on our pilgrimage (2 Timothy 2:3, 10). Without life’s challenges we cannot grow strong and cannot learn how to trust God.

The hardships of our pilgrimage, however, should not fill our mouths with blues or laments. We should sing songs of rejoicing. First of all, the rejoicing comes from obeying our Lord’s “statutes.” We rejoice in serving Him, because obedience to His statutes results in a good and long life:

So you shall keep His statutes and His commandments which I am giving you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may live long on the land which the LORD your God is giving you for all time. (Deuteronomy 4:40)

That promise matches closely the one accompanying the Fifth Commandment by which God instructs us to honor our parents (Exodus 20:12; see also Ephesians 6:2–3). What a joy to have witnessed how wonderfully my sister and brother-in-law cared for my mother in the last years of her life. What a privilege to be allowed to take a role alongside my wife in caring for my mother-in-law. My wife and I are experiencing the joys of our pilgrimage together. Such joy results from obeying the Lord’s statutes.

Second, songs of rejoicing arise out of the character and blessing of the Word itself. Those statutes are delightful (Psalm 119:16). They are my Lord’s personalized teaching (Psalm 119:12, 33). They comprise the objects of meditation (Psalm 119:23, 48) and the evidence of God’s grace (Psalm 119:135). Through His wonderful written Word the Lord provides His pilgrims a guidebook for our journey and a revelation of His deeds and His attributes.

Birthdays and Sustaining Obedience

The Hebrew letter zayin begins the first word in each of the eight verses within Psalm 119:54’s stanza. At the start of three of the stanza’s eight verses we find some form of the Hebrew word for “remember”: “Remember” (Psalm 119:49), “I have remembered” (Psalm 119:52), and “I remember” (Psalm 119:55). The first of these three consists of the psalmist’s prayer that God Himself would “remember” His word to His servant. “Remember” in the Old Testament most often refers to taking action, not to a matter of memory. Birthdays often cause the rekindling of old memories. However, they ought also rekindle our taking action to sustain our obedience to the Lord—as announced by the title of Eugene H. Peterson’s book on the Psalms of Ascents, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (IVP, 1980).

Last year’s birthday marked the fulfillment of my “three score and ten” (Psalm 90:10). This year’s birthday testifies to the Lord’s gift of strength—the first of ten steps toward eighty now lies behind me. That is cause enough to voice songs of praise to my God for my pilgrimage. And, hopefully, I am gaining “a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12) to present to my Lord when He ultimately calls me home and I “fly away” to His everlasting arms (Psalm 90:10). In the meantime, my life verse summons me to my most important task:

He [Jesus Christ] must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:30)

 

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