Practising what you preach is a principle endorsed by those who hold to a religion or not. But being a Christian doesn’t always lead to doing what Christians should – and one Bible expert wants to help remedy that serious disconnect.
Biblical Studies lecturer at Adelaide’s Tabor College Melinda Cousins believes she’s struck a cure for any Christian struggling to live out their beliefs. She found it by spending a lot of time delving into ancient poetry about the way God’s people lived, thousands of years ago.
“This is something you engage with in your whole being.” – Melinda Cousins
“The idea that you could believe something and not walk it out and live it in your daily life, doesn’t even cross their minds,” reports Cousins about her investigations into the culture of ancient Israel in the Old Testament. “If you believe it, you’ll do it.”
Cousins has been exploring Psalms 120 to 134. Referred to as “The Psalms of Ascents”, these hopeful poems may have been sung while Israelites travelled to the Temple in Jerusalem, or by Levite priests ascending the Temple steps. While Cousins admits the content of these Jewish songs can seem “a little bit mundane” as they deal with everyday experiences, there is a sense of journey and anticipation that she finds inspiring.
“For ancient Israel, these psalms are literally connected with pilgrimage,” says Cousins, who has crafted a new Daily Devotions series for Bible Society Australia called “Pilgrim Theology: The Psalms of Ascents.” Starting from July 29, the 14-day Bible study aims to encourage Christians through the example of God’s people being on a communal journey to the place he has provided for them, living life as he calls them to. Believing and doing, if you will.
“This is something you engage with in your whole being,” says Cousins about choosing to go with God. “The big idea to come out of all of this for me is that a pilgrimage is something that you walk, with your feet. Literally, where you place your feet each day matters and it’s part of who God is and how he is working in your life, leading you and how you are following him.
Cousins does caution against reading yourself directly into Psalms 120 to 134, or viewing the entire Bible only through a pilgrimage lens. But she is confident that plenty of Christians have turned their faith life into an intellectual exercise, not a holistic experience of caring about how, why or where they are travelling to.
“We believe – and then think about whether we will do it.”
“Jesus seems really clear: If you believe, you obey [see John 14:15]. Whereas we have actually drawn a line and said you can believe without doing. We believe – and then think about whether we will do it.”
After the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, God’s people continued to sing these psalms and kept the pilgrim identity. Cousins finds that God’s people, as recorded in the Old Testament, had a clear picture in mind of the goal – Cousins describes it as the gathered people of God heading to being in the presence of God.
At the end of the New Testament, the book of Revelation picks up the image of a new Jerusalem – “That’s the goal of all creation, the new Jerusalem [Revelation 20-22]. A community gathered in one place in the presence of God, united in worship and experiencing the goodness of it – that’s the goal.
“That’s what we’re called towards and what the church is called to live out and be a foretaste of in the world today.”