Months of struggle, of strategy, of sacrifice all paid off in a landslide victory for President Richard Nixon in 1972. On election night his aide Charles Colson was in the place he had always wanted to be. The picture Colson draws of that night contains three figures: chief of staff H. R. Haldeman, arrogant and sullen; Nixon, restlessly gulping scotch; and Colson, feeling let down, deflated, “a deadness inside me.” Three men at the power pinnacle of the world, and not a single note of joy discernible in the room. “If someone had peered in on us that night from some imaginary peephole in the ceiling of the President’s office, what a curious sight it would have been: a victorious President, grumbling over words he would grudgingly say to his fallen foe; his chief of staff angry, surly, and snarling; and the architect of his political strategy sitting in numbed stupor.”[1]

The experience is not uncommon. We work hard for something, get it and then find we don’t want it. We struggle for years to get to the top and find life there thoroughly boring. Colson writes, “Being part of electing a President was the fondest ambition of my life. For three long years I had committed everything I had, every ounce of energy to Richard Nixon’s cause. Nothing else mattered. We had had no time together as a family, no social life, no vacations.”[2] And then, having in his hands what he had set out to gain, he found he couldn’t enjoy it.

For some the goal is an academic degree; for some a career position; for some a certain standard of living; for some acquiring a possession, getting married, having a child, landing a job, visiting a country, meeting a celebrity. But having gotten what we had always wanted, we find we have not gotten what we wanted at all. We are less fulfilled than ever, and are conscious only of “a deadness inside me.”

Stand, Stoop, Stay

In Psalm 120, the first of the Songs of Ascents, we saw the theme of repentance developed. The word in Hebrew is tĕshubah, a turning away from the world and a turning toward God—the initial move in a life-goal set on God. It was addressed to the person at the crossroads, inviting each of us to make the decision to set out on the way of faith. Each of the psalms following has described a part of what takes place along this pilgrim way among people who have turned to God and follow him in Christ. We have discovered in these psalms beautiful lines, piercing insights, dazzling truths, stimulating words. We have found that the world in which these psalms are sung is a world of adventure and challenge, of ardor and meaning. We have realized that while there are certainly difficulties in the way of faith, it cannot by any stretch of the imagination be called dull. It requires everything that is in us; it enlists all our desires and abilities; it gathers our total existence into its songs. But when we get to where we are going, what then? What happens at the end of faith? What takes place when we finally arrive? Will we be disappointed?

Psalm 134, the final Song of Ascents, provides the evidence. The way of discipleship that begins in an act of repentance (tĕshubah) concludes in a life of praise (bĕrakah). It doesn’t take long to find the key word and controlling thought in the psalm: bless God, bless God, God bless you.

Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2012).

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