Songs for the Road: The Psalms of Ascent: Day 4

Longing for the Nearness of God


Today's Text: Psalm 123:1-4

Scripture Reading: Psalm 123

The Christian life is a climb—a journey of constant growth, sacrifice, and trusting God for what we cannot see. As Eugene Peterson said, we are pilgrims, but we are also disciples—always moving and always learning. The Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-134) were sung by worshipers as they made the journey up to Jerusalem for the annual feasts. In this 3-week reading plan, we are digging into these traveling songs with the help of short summary essays and thoughtful, reflective questions for each psalm. Take your pack on your shoulder and walk with us as we pursue God together.


Psalm 123 (CSB)
A song of ascents.

1 I lift my eyes to you,
the one enthroned in heaven.
2 Like a servant’s eyes on his master’s hand,
like a servant girl’s eyes on her mistress’s hand,
so our eyes are on the LORD our God
until he shows us favor.

3 Show us favor, LORD, show us favor,
for we’ve had more than enough contempt.
4 We’ve had more than enough
scorn from the arrogant
and contempt from the proud.


A Song About Who We Are
The pilgrim-disciple meditates on who she is to God, and who God is to her.

Who gets to tell us who we are? Many voices will try to answer that question for us. For the pilgrim-disciple, our Maker is the only one who has that right. Our goal in life is to grow in our understanding of who God is and who we are in our relationship with Him.

1. This psalm promotes enthusiastic obedience to God’s commands. The servant watches for the master’s hand to beckon. Why does it make sense to desire the instruction of the Lord? Why should we be eager to hear His commands?

2. This psalm asks God for mercy. What are some specific things we are asking for when we ask God to show us mercy? What sorts of things must we be willing to surrender when we ask God for mercy?

3. We cannot know all there is to know about God, but God has revealed Himself in part. What has God made known to us about Himself? What has He revealed about who we are?


  • Zanita Fletcher

    Obeying the law brings freedom. The laws in the bible are not there to limit us or oppress us but are the blueprint on how to unleash our full potential. Discipline and restraint liberate our full potential when they tap into our abilities/gifts. Freedom isn’t the absence of limitations but it is finding the right ones that fit our nature and liberate us.

  • Caitie Fredrickson

    Someone from my past tore me down and constantly told me I am not enough. Lately his words have echoed in my head every day, telling me I am nothing. This Psalm reminds me that I am who the Great I am says I am. And he calls me beautiful, loved, treasured, set apart, washed clean, loveable, enough. Jesus, speak thwse words over my heart and help me to believe them. Amen.

  • Micahlee

    I am being hit with many lies at this moment. Thankful for this reminder.

  • We should be eager to hear God’s commands because it means the pressure is off of us. Like a child, who doesn’t stress over what needs to be done each day, but rather responds to one simple task at a time as mommy tells him, so it is with us when we follow our Father’s commands. Gone is the need to constantly plan, strive and stress. His commands will lead us step by gentle step, for Jesus promised His burden is light and easy to bear.

  • Jennifer Vaughn-Estrada

    Is it me, or does no one else see a conflict between the first two study questions? It makes sense for God’s people to be eagerly awaiting His loving instructions, and it also makes sense for them to beg for His mercy when they fall short of His expectations. However, I’m puzzled why both would occur in the same passage. If you’re seeking God’s mercy right now, why ask Him for more rules?

    • Brittany

      Jennifer, my understanding is that while we are always seeking the forgiveness and mercy of God–because we are sinless, imperfect people in need of His grace and forgiveness–we are also longing for His instruction, since He knows what is best for us and what the future holds. Someone with such an intimate knowledge of (and control over) the future is someone you’d look to to tell you what to do next, and what the best plans for your life are.

    • Carly Howard

      Good question, I’m there with you and often tend to see conflicts too. This passage though I took a little different, rather than the looking for more “rules” I think it illustrates where to look period. “Unto You I lift up my eyes” aka his eyes are not on his circumstances or self, but on the Lord. A commentary I read put it this way: “The servant looks to the hand of their masters for the slightest indication of need or want, to instantly meet the need. With that same intensity, devotion, and steadfastness the Psalmist looks to God.” I like how they put that—the servant seems so loving, right? As we persevere and keep our attention fixed until the Lord extends His mercy, perhaps we can look learn more about Him and become more like Him too in the process.

    • Hey Jennifer, it does seems conflicting at first, but only until we understand the nature of God’s law. If you read Kristi’s post above about Psalm 19 it might help you see how God’s law and instruction are in fact a huge part of His mercy! Praying that God reveals His love to you today!

  • Kimberly

    I have been telling myself lies for so long, like — I can’t do this, I can’t be what I should. It’s going to take deliberate effort, walking with God, listening to God to make all the lies that are second nature to stop.

  • I have considered question one extensively over the last little while. Specifically, how can I be striving for (instead of resenting) purity in my life? Why should I LOVE the law when everything in me that is human… is telling me not to?
    I will never forget the moment I finally found my answer. This great book , which sometimes seems like a list of rules and regulations if I’m being honest, was never intended to bind or imprison us. It’s the exact opposite, actually. Romans 8:2 says “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death”. What an especially beautiful truth huh?!

  • Chessie

    God has provided so much in the last few weeks alone.. I’m going on a nine month long, five country mission trip in September and I have smashed through my first fundraising goal of $5,000. Despite seeing that huge blessing, I still hear the nagging voice of Satan saying “You have gone too far from God in your past to ever deserve a blessing such as this.”.
    I’m then reminded of what mercy truly is. Not just his mercy, but his grace for us. He has restored me and blessed me beyond what I deserve – not as a reward for doing good, but as a reminder that it is he who takes away and he who gives. I’m so excited for the rest of this study and I’m amazed at the love God has shown to me just over the last week.

    • Emily B.

      Your testimony goes perfectly with the reading and questions today. Thank you for sharing!

    • Emily

      Thank you for sharing! It’s a gift to let us celebrate the victories with you.

    • Sarah

      Chessie, are you doing the Gap year through Adventures in Missions??

  • As I read question one, these verses from Psalm 19 came to mind:

    “The law of the Lord is perfect,
    refreshing the soul.
    The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
    making wise the simple.
    The precepts of the Lord are right,
    giving joy to the heart.
    The commands of the Lord are radiant,
    giving light to the eyes.
    The fear of the Lord is pure,
    enduring forever.
    The decrees of the Lord are firm,
    and all of them are righteous.
    They are more precious than gold,
    than much pure gold;
    they are sweeter than honey,
    than honey from the honeycomb.
    By them your servant is warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.”
    – Psalms 19:7-11

    In my study Bible, it says, “When we think of statutes, precepts, and commands, we often think of rules that keep us from having fun. But here we see the opposite – law that revives us, makes us wise, gives joy to the heart, gives light to the eyes, warns us, and rewards us. That’s because God’s laws are guidelines and lights for our path, rather than chains on our hands and feet. They point at ranger and warn us, and then point at success and guide us.”

    It took a long time for me to see God’s laws and instruction in that light. I always knew in my head that they were for my own good, but keeping His laws became more about obligation for me than a genuine desire to obey and please God.

    It wasn’t until I began to truly seek the Lord and humble myself before Him that I realized what a precious gift He has given us. He loves us so much that He continually guides us in the right direction and points us away from the wrong one. Praying that I would remember that truth daily so that I enthusiastically obey His commands and treat Him as the omniscient God that He is.

    • Kristi

      Oops. It is supposed to say “They point at DANGER” not “ranger”…

    • Shelly


    • Rachel

      Thank you for this Kristi! It’s so easy to fall into legalism and forget the joy of following Jesus just for the beauty of who He is and what He’s done for us. Our tendency is to think of any “restriction if freedom” is harmful and unfair; but the reality if the law of God is that all the “restrictions” are actually to the ultimate liberation of our souls into rest, peace, and joy.

    • Kelley Day

      Love this sister~

  • I’m very grateful that God,has given me this day..God has saved and gave me life cause I was so lost on this journey…

  • Rachel Duchesneau

    God has made known to us His character through His word, and His son. We should obey Him because We know that in Him, we live and move and have our being (Acts) and that He makes known to us the paths of life (Psalms).
    Hes a good good Father and desires to give us good gifts. And He saved us from sin and shame and Satans grip!

  • Kierstyn

    Why should we be eager to follow his commands? Because He loves us and knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what will nurture us and what will bring glory to Him! And I desire to glorify God in my life, therefore I follow his commands because I want that. I want to please God, because he loves me so. It’s kind of circular reasoning but it works. He made me and knows what is best, my flesh will satisfy me momentarily but the Lord will give me eternal life and will satisfy me FOREVER!

  • God has told me he wants me to spend my life taking care of his animals…and i intend to do just that!

  • Keri McCue

    “This psalm promotes enthusiastic obedience to God’s commands.” Thinking about this, I realize that most of the time I am not enthusiastic in my obedience. So many times I obey out of duty or because I want good things in my life. I think we all struggle with this. Obedience just becomes part of our routine. We should all be joyful in our obedience because we know that in Him there is true joy!

  • Thank you all for this repeated wisdom- the Lord meeting us where we are. As a new believer, I appreciate these studies and groups for helping tether me to Truth. My husband and I divorced last year and I’m still struggling to find peace during the times my daughter is with him. The situation between he and I is challenging and when she’s there I feel like I have no window into her life, no view of what’s happening. While I know we’re both doing our best, the way he and I raise her feels so different, when she comes home I feel like we’ve gone backwards a little and have to work our way back to where we were. And then I miss her so much, it feels like a wound that reopens every time she’s away, and I fear the future, realizing how much of her childhood I’m going to miss. I feel guilty for feeling so strongly about this- my daughter is alive and healthy and she is home with me more than half of her time and that ought to be enough, and she needs a relationship with both of us and my sadness is self-centered. I’m learning to sit with all these feelings and I feel Him walking through it with me. But I wonder – is there more? Will there be joy again or contentment? Will I feel His peace? Or is there only tolerating this situation? It hurts to write that here. My point is – it’s Him meeting us, isn’t it? It’s not my strength, it’s His, not my good works but His mercy. I’m going to hold this today, He meets us, wherever we are. He meets us and loves us because He is our good and faithful Father. Thank you all for sharing His Word and boldly claiming it for all of us!

    • Michele

      Emily, thank you for your honesty in sharing your heart. My heart hurts for you, and I am believing with you that He will meet you right where you are. And I most certainly rejoice with you that He is our good and faithful Father. Lifting you and the many needs of all of your hearts in prayer this morning. Much love to you~

    • April

      Thank you for sharing this from a perspective I understand. It is hard finding peace in the midst of divorce and watching the effect of this on our children. But seeing it through the eyes of the Lord meeting us as the scripture above states helps you and I to hold on to the truth. His promises he never breaks.. he always keeps them. He is not man but God and his mercy will shine through this and all situations in our life. He is a faithful and Good Father. Thank you for your truth you have blessed and encouraged me.

    • Natalie

      Hi Emily! Just wanted to tell you I’m praying for you this morning. For Gods peace and comfort during this time.

    • Heather Legge

      I completely TOTALLY understand this. I am in a very similar situation. I worry constantly about my two girls when they are with him instead of me.

    • Jeanne

      Emily, I was once where you are now. It pains me to read your words because that period of life was so hard and I can identify with your feelings. And I was a new believer too! All I can say is that God is faithful. Cling to Him and He will be your guide through this rough patch. There might (and probably will be) many tears that fall yet, but He collects them all in a bottle (Ps 56:8) and loves you deeply. There are treasures ahead that you cannot even begin to imagine. He will bring you joy, contentment and peace in His time, He is faithful to His promises. Sending you ((HUGS))

    • Annette

      My daughter is in the same situation with two little girls. I hear the cry of your heart. While this is not what we have hoped for our life, God is not surprised by this and He will renew, redeem, or restore all. Take comfort in His promise in Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper and not to harm you.” He holds you and your daughter in His hands and nothing can seperate you from His love.

    • Irina

      Dear Emily, God bless you for your vulnerability that shows that you are open to receive. I’m sadden by your situation and feel that I’m going through the situation with my marriage that happened around 10 years ago. I’m not going to fill you with details but the fact that I just came to know God around the same time puts you and I in the same position, I was a new believer as well. Emily, do you believe the that God’s Word is the Truth and only the Truth and nothing besides Truth? I know that it’s a process and work to believe in the Truth, but it’s also a concious decision to make for self. I remeber that coming from lies of the world, I had an experience to fit God’s word to false views on marriage in particular and other aspects of my life. For example, God’s Word says: ” To the married I give this charge ( not I but the Lord ): The wife should not separate from her husband but if she does she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband and the husband should not divorce his wife.” 1 Corinthians 10. And you can read the rest up to verse 14. I, coming from feministic views on marriage, was trying to justify myself and telling God that my husband is different and my situation is different… and so forth… Thanks God that at the same time He surrounded me with true Christian friends that showed me the true values of marriage and God’s view on it. Ten years past and I enjoying my marriage, my three children and thankful to God that his Word stopped me from the biggest mistake that I could make due to lies of the world we live in.
      Emily, you have our God on your side if you are obedient to his Word. You just submit and He will fight for you… God bless you, my dear sister, I’ll be praying for you. ( sorry if it’s not grammatically proved, English is my second language).

    • She Reads Truth

      Praying for you in this, Emily. Asking the Father to care for your precious girl in the times she is away from you and to give you peace. Grateful for you and that you shared this with us.

      – Stormye

    • Emily

      Thank you all so much for these prayers. There’s so much empathy and tenderness in this community. These things are hard to say and I’m so grateful to have this place to share.

  • Is to wish for my own perfection, not to wish that I don’t need God or His mercy? If I were ABLE to stand alone, wouldn’t I be filled with SELF-sufficiency? I truly do despise my own selfishness and self-importance. But those sins – AND MORE – propel me to my Father who loves the world enough to ALLOW me to sin (I’ve often struggled with the presence of the garden’s serpent. Was not he created by and therefore also subject to God’s power?), that others might see HIM through my flaws and imperfections… I think the answer to ALL the questions is LOVE… God’s perfect, beyond human comprehension LOVE. Thank you, Father, for ALL that drives me to the cross, help me to be faithful to who you’ve made me to be and to NOT be ashamed of or hide my imperfections OR MY TESTIMONY. THESE are the catalyst that lead to you, and CONTINUE to drive me into your loving arms… that others may see YOU and Your loving mercy through who I am… AND who I am not. This is my prayer. Help me to drop the masks, to be real, and to walk in TRUTH… for the sake of Your glory.

    • Kelly

      I think the fact that God did not prevent the serpent from being in the garden shows His desire to have a relationship with us that is true and not just puppets on a string. He created us in His image, which means we have free will and ultimately can reject Him if we reject His gift of salvation and life through Christ.

  • Christina

    When my eyes are on the Master, they are not wandering the mundane frustrations of this life. When I’m looking to the Father, when I have my sight set on Him, the injustices of man are not my motivation. He is. I burn myself out, knowing there are so many wrongs that need righted here, wanting to do something about them, not always knowing where to start, and feeling like maybe I don’t even know Christ because I can’t seem to “do” everything I think I need to be doing to prove I love Him. I burn myself out, allowing the actions and failures of others toward me to change my attitude and to encourage me to live contrary to what I say I believe. Mercy cannot always mean a removal or change in circumstance. Mercy requires surrender of the circumstances with the realization that we may very well not be removed from them. The cry for mercy, while desiring the situations we seek mercy from to change, may be more of a cry for rest in the arms of the Father in the midst of the pain. Or maybe I need mercy because I have lived my life as the pain of others. I deserve pain for the pain I’ve inflicted. Have mercy, Lord! Do not give me what I deserve!

    • Gabbie

      Your comments really spoke to me this morning. I love that you mentioned we may need mercy because we have lived our lives as the pain of others. This is such a humbling thought, and I loved that you shared that perspective.

      • Stacie

        Very well said. Sometimes it’s so hard to keep the blinders on, but I too find that when I focus on Him … the stress, hurt and anxiety caused by this world leaves me. We need to let part of us die (the pressures of schedules or being perfect) to allow more of Jesus to live in us. I feel in my life, sometimes the pain is His way of saying … “focus on Me.”

        • Blessed

          Love love love! So true and convicting. Stacie, I especially love “we need to let part of us die in order to let Jesus live in us.” YES!

    • wendy

      “the injustices of man are not my motivation. He is.” that really hits to my inner core, thanks my friend.

    • IAB

      Beautiful ! Your words are so helpful to make mercy more tangible and real to me !

    • Emily B.

      I love the different things you described as being mercy. God’s ways are not ours, and I have no doubt that His mercy can look different for everyone and in every situation. I’m sure I’ve received mercy that didn’t look like what I expected, but I still received it because God is good. Thanks for these thought-provoking words this morning!

    • Annette

      Thank you for your words. They spoke to my heart.

    • valerie

      well said christina!

      “mercy cannot always mean a removal or change in circumstance. mercy requires SURRENDER of the circumstances with the realization that we may very well not be removed from them”

      surrendering not only our circumstances but our expectations of the outcomes is on point!

      thank you for sharing!

      • Krista

        and sometimes Mercy does mean a removal or change in circumstances. this study was such a timely one for me and I have seen God speak loudly through it to me.. I am in a work situation that is very frustrating and I have been holding on so tightly that God has shown me that my Mercy will come by letting go and taking a different job. my current job is where I always wanted to work and thought I would work there until I retired. I left once before and then came back thinking things were going to be better there again but that was not the case. three years later things are worse. I feel that I am frustrated there so much because I don’t want to let go of my dream that this job will be good again like it was when I first started there. I always thought this was where I would work and it was like my mission field but I realized through this study that God is using this turmoil to loosen my grip and consider working somewhere else where the staff has been trying to get me to come to for the past 3 years. I was so intrenched in this job that I think God had to frustrate me enough to get me to look up to him and trust him to go where he’s calling me. the first lesson talked about deliverance from something and I realized that I needed deliverance from the constant turmoil and unrest that I was experiencing in my workplace and that might mean leaving that job and trust God in taking a new job. the second lesson talked about removing our fear and anxiety and I was very anxious over this decision so I gave it to God and peace did follow. I have been in contact with this new job and because of the study and God’s word I have been able to let go of my dream of my current job being the only place I should work and I have embraced the new job opportunity and I’m actually very excited about it now. and the real bonus here is that all of this has brought me closer to God!

  • The pilgrim psalmist knew their history of disobedience…their ancestral disobedience perhaps there was even some disobedience that was occurring as they took their pilgrimage. Either way, they knew God was merciful and they knew if they drew near to them and surrendered their agenda and called out Mercy! Mercy! They knew he would draw near to them and meet them right where they were. And so He does for you and for me. The Lord meeting me where I am at has been a recurring theme for me this week. Thanking Him for what He is showing me daily as I meet with Him.

  • I wish I were always so eager to wait on the Lord and do what he asks. Time and time again, he proves that his way is ultimately the best. While I hate that I don’t enthusiastically do as he asks all the time, I’m thankful for the mercy he shows and that he is helping me get there one step at a time. Praying that we would have our eyes solely on the Lord!

  • Tochi Heredia

    What has He revealed about Himself?

    “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” —Lamentations 3:22-23

    He’s merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love.
    How different from us! We’re always ready to hold a grudge against someone, we’re so self-centered, we betray people.
    But He forgives us and loves us without condition. That’s just who He is.

    Yesterday I spoke to my supervisor about having to quit my job due to my health issues. He told me he had realized I wasn’t doing well and he offered to divide my hours between my home and the office.
    If that’s not a mercy, I don’t know what is.
    Praise be to God that, even though we’re sinful, broken creatures, He’s the steady Rock we can hold on to.

  • churchmouse

    How often I’ve been in that season of being just so done with a situation or a person. I have indeed had more than enough contempt and scorn. I’ve had more than enough of being misunderstood or judged unfairly. Enough already! It’s enough to make me so soul weary I just want to run away to a far away island and live alone the rest of my days. This Psalm… Oh I can relate. But God reminds me that He is the One Who alone defines me. In that difficult circumstance, dealing with that difficult person, I keep my eyes on Him – He will act on my account. I wait vigilantly, expectantly, and patiently. I persevere until I see His favor, His mercy. His intervention is always for my good and His glory. Oh I cry out, that’s for sure. But He is there, asking me to surrender my pride and my will and my “Enough already!” to His plans and His purpose. My “Enough already” then becomes “it is well with my soul.”

  • JeniaMarie

    I’m thankful that God did not give us what we deserve. He is a merciful, loving God. When I think about the punishment that I could be enduring… in reminded of the scripture “what is man that you are mindful of him?” I’m eternally grateful

  • Stephanie

    I am six weeks into a migraine that will just not. let. go. Question #3. . . What has God made known to us about Himself? He is FAITHFUL. He is TRUE. He is ENOUGH. What has He revealed about who we are? Though I am needy, faithless, and weak. . . through Him I am LOVED, I am HELD, and most importantly, I am ENOUGH.

    • Daryell

      Praying for you and your migraine

    • Caitie

      Praying for you to be healed of your migraine!

    • Tochi Heredia

      Stephanie, I feel your pain (literally).
      Through my migraines, God has taught me to depend on Him for EVERY SINGLE THING and be grateful that this pain is nothing compared to what I deserve and insignificant compared to the Glory that is to come.
      Praying for you, sister!!!

    • Sherri

      Praying for relief and healing for you. God is a healer.

    • April Heather

      Oh Stephanie-praying for you to have relief. I suffered from daily chronic migraine for 8 torturous years and my heart goes out to you. I agree-the experience you are having –that so many others have had — strips away all the unessential unimportant things of life and focuses our attention on God and His healing mercy and love.

    • Corrie

      Your words are such a sweet reminder of how great our God is. Praying for strength and healing for you, Stephanie!

    • She Reads Truth

      Praying for you and asking the Lord to relieve you of this! Grateful for you, Stephanie.

      – Stormye

  • What an encouragement that we are reminded of our merciful God. Praying for a more Servant heart eager to do Gods work …..thanks for this lesson!

  • Isabelle Gonzales

    I am really enjoying this devotional! I definitely feel like it’s helping me throughout my day!

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