New from Shepherd Press
(This post is extracted directly from Shepherd Press and is the Preface to the newly released book by J. Stephen Yuille.)
Life-long Nostalgia, the Psalms of Ascent, and the Journey Home
Some feelings are difficult to put into words. Occasionally, I experience a sudden sense of familiarity, which creates a deep longing that I can neither express nor fulfill. It happens in front of a roaring fire around Christmas time, or on a cool autumn evening as the sun nears the end of its descent. It occurs when I see gray skies and barren hills, or I hear certain strains of music, or I smell freshly cut grass on a warm summer evening. It begins to stir as I drive past my childhood home or recall childhood friends. In each of these instances, I sense something familiar yet missing.
On a far greater level, all of us experience what C. S. Lewis calls “life-long nostalgia.” It stems from our inexpressible longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we feel isolated—something familiar yet missing. This something is God, of course. He created us in his image, so that we might find our rest and center in him. But we broke away from him, and we have lived with the isolation ever since.
In 2012, an elderly woman in the city of Borja, Spain, realized that a familiar fresco painted on one of the church walls was looking a little faded. The fresco, Ecce Homo, was a rendition of Christ standing trial before Pontius Pilate. The woman took it upon herself to attempt a restoration of the nearly century-old piece of art. The result was disastrous. According to one report, she turned the painting into something resembling a “bloated hedgehog.” Sadly, that’s us. Sin has marred us beyond recognition. As a result of this defacing, we’ve lost the life of God and the enjoyment of God, and this isolation has led to our “life-long nostalgia.”
But the story doesn’t end here. Mercifully, the Son of God has drawn near to us in the incarnation. He who made all things was carried in the womb of a woman, and he who upholds all things was held in the arms of a woman. He clothed himself with our humanity—body and soul. He came so close as to experience life in a fallen world, bear our sin and shame, and taste death for us. He was bruised, that we might be healed; condemned, that we might be justified. At that moment of utter darkness and forsakenness upon the cross, he purchased the enjoyment of God for us—restoration and reconciliation. His forgiveness now supersedes our sinfulness, his merit eclipses our guilt, and his righteousness hides our vileness. His “abundant mercy” blots out our multitude of “transgressions” (Psalm 51:1).
By virtue of our union with Christ, we draw near to God and find in him all we could ever want: an eternal and spiritual good, suitable to our every need. Our knowledge of this God diffuses into our soul a satisfying peace in this life and a tantalizing taste of what awaits us in glory. Having returned to our center, we live in anticipation of the beatific vision—the day we will see God (Matthew 5:8). In one sense, we see him right now through the eyes of faith, but that’s nothing in comparison to what’s coming. At present, we see God’s perfections in their effects, namely his works of creation, providence, and redemption; but in the future, we will see him perfectly.
We will be like Christ and therefore able to commune with God to the fullest capacities of our souls. There will be nothing to obscure, confound, or hinder our enjoyment of him. Our knowledge of God will be full and perfect, constant and complete, resulting in hitherto unknown delight as we rest fully and finally in him. Until then, we’re on a journey fraught with joys and sorrows, pleasant valleys and perilous mountains, encouraging gains and crippling losses—a journey marked by rejoicing, grieving, searching, wondering, and longing.
And that brings us to this book, Longing for Home: A Journey Through the Psalms of Ascent. We are not exactly sure why these fifteen psalms—chapters 120-134—are called the Psalms of Ascent. One of the more plausible explanations for the description ascent (or degree) is that the Israelites sang this collection of psalms as they traveled (ascended) to the city of Jerusalem to celebrate one of their annual festivals, which we read about in Deuteronomy 16:16.
A unique feature of the psalms in general is that they express the whole range of human emotions. John Calvin refers to them as “an anatomy of all the parts of the soul, for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror.” What is true of the Book of Psalms in general is true of the Psalms of Ascent in particular. In short, they’re a catalogue of human experience. They take us on a journey through life’s many ups and downs. In so doing, they shape our perspectives, regulate our feelings, and inform our judgments. They guide us into the path of God-glorifying desires, God-magnifying emotions, and God-honoring thoughts. They equip us to pray in faith, as they beckon us to fix our eyes heavenward.
Whenever we feel besieged on our journey, we tend to turn to whatever we think can help us—another program, another seminar, another counselor. Far too often, however, we neglect the help God has given us—the Book of Psalms, and the Psalms of Ascent, in particular. In them, we connect with people who’ve traveled the very road we’re traveling. If we listen carefully, they teach us how to look to God in every circumstance of life, and they demonstrate how this shift in perspective strengthens our faith and enlarges our hope.
I trust this pastoral emphasis will become apparent as you make your way through this book, and I pray God will bless it to your spiritual comfort and his eternal glory.
Deus pro nobis
Longing for Home: A Journey Through the Psalms of Ascent is currently available from Shepherd Press.
“Stephen Yuille guides us on a journey through this collection of psalms and shows how these ancient texts express the sighs of believers in Christ who are longing for their heavenly home.”
—Donald S. Whitney, SBTS
Longing for Home is a useful expositional study of Psalms 120-134… Useful for sermon preparation, various Bible Study formats or devotionally for the feeding of one’s own soul. I am delighted to give it my enthusiastic commendation.
—Daniel L. Akin, President, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
A timeless resource for developing deeper spiritual convictions in our relationship to God. Stephen Yuille continues this heritage with a exposition of the eternal truths of the Psalms of Ascent for the twenty-first century.
—Josh Moody, Senior Pastor, College Church in Wheaton