We pray for peace. We rarely pray for war or bloodshed. Some topics surface in prayers more frequently. We pray for the sick, the dying, and their families. We pray for wisdom and maturity to mark the actions and thinking of national leaders and legislators. We pray when grieving, angry, and depressed. We pray when worshipping.
Psalm 122 is a psalm of ascent, one of fifteen psalms that seem to have been sung or prayed by worshipers on their way to feasts in Jerusalem. Although major English translations employ different tenses for a verb about when the worshipers stand in Jerusalem, if they are not there already, they anticipate their arrival eagerly. To use an American idiom, the psalmist can “taste” the joy of being in Jerusalem, the home city of the temple of God:
1 I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the LORD!”
2 Our feet have been standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem!
The worship in Jerusalem testified to the unity of Israel’s tribal confederacy. Despite their differences, they unite within the walls of the city to worship the God who deliver, protects, and prospers. God has protected them and has enriched their people. They gather together to give thanks, as the law had decreed they should. They pray and they praise God as they thank him. Worship celebrates thankfulness, security, and joy. For these reasons, the psalmist exhorts:
6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!
“May they be secure who love you!
7 Peace be within your walls
and security within your towers!”
8 For my brothers and companions’ sake
I will say, “Peace be within you!”
9 For the sake of the house of the LORD our God,
I will seek your good.
People still pray for the peace of Jerusalem today. Controversy surrounds its political and religious control. Israel and the Palestinian authority each claim it as capitol, but Israel controls it. A Muslim shrine stands on the site of the biblical Jewish temple. But, while we can and should pray for the peace of the city of Jerusalem, Israel, this psalm calls more for us to pray for peace among and of the people of God, to pray for the unity of the Messiah’s church. The author of the book of Hebrews wrote in chapter 12:
22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Like the worshipers in Psalm 122, we come to worship and pray for the peace and unity of God’s people. We rejoice in our salvation. We seek to obey the direction of our Lord. Israel was divided by tribal ancestry. We divide and create our own tribes over disagreements concerning doctrine and tradition. Personality differences and stubborn refusal to forgive also play key parts in our separating what Christ died to unite. We need to repent, to reawaken to the joy produced by God’s grace in Christ, and pray for the peace of “the city of the living God…the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven.” We too must pray with thankfulness and joy. Again the writer of Hebrews encourages us,
“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29).
- Biblical quotations are from the English Standard Version.
O God of peace, we pray for the unity and the flourishing of your people. We pray that we may treasure our salvation and celebrate with joy our liberation each time we gather together with other believers to praise your name and thank you for your love. We grieve because we realize the threats to the peace of your church abound. Too often we augment them with our own selfishness and pride. Ignite within us once again the sense of wonder at your presence in the midst of your people. Help us to recall what a privilege it is to be called by God to be a royal priesthood of believers. We pray for the peace of the land where Jesus walked on earth as well, that Jerusalem may once more be a haven of peace, prosperity, and security for those who call upon your name. In Jesus’ name, amen.