Song: Highlands (Song of Ascent)
Artist: Hillsong United
Sometimes the most meaningful worship experiences happen for me in a car. No joke. I’m usually alone, I blast the music and belt as loud as I want. Over the last year and a half, there’s been one record specifically that I tend to go to Hillsong United’s “People”. It’s been one of those albums that I can put on repeat and never grow tired of it. Every listen brings me to a place of worship. It’s hard to pick a favorite song, but if I had to choose, it’d be Highlands (Song of Ascent). Let’s dive into it today.
O how high would I climb mountains if the mountains were where You hide, O how far I’d scale the valleys If You graced the other side
O how long have I chased rivers, From lowly seas to where they rise, Against the rush of grace descending, From the source of its supply.
I love how the lyrics of the verses are Psalm-like. Psalm 120-134 are often referred to as the Psalms (or songs) of Ascent. They were sung by worshippers as they made a journey to Jerusalem for the annual feast.
“I raise my eyes toward the mountains.
Where will my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
The maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2, CEB)
Just like the Psalmist, this song starts by searching for the Lord.
In the highlands and the heartache, You’re neither more or less inclined
I would search and stop at nothing, You’re just not that hard to find
No matter how difficult the circumstance is, God is so worthy of our pursuit. But, I love the turn that it takes in the last line of this pre-chorus - “You’re just not that hard to find.” God makes Himself so present in our lives. We don’t have to climb a mountain to find God, He is with us everywhere we go; full of love and grace.
So I will praise You on the mountain, And I will praise You when the mountain’s in my way, You’re the summit where my feet are, So I will praise You in the valleys all the same
No less God within the shadows, No less faithful when the night leads me astray
You’re the heaven where my heart is, In the highlands and the heartache all the same
It’s easy to give praise to God when things are going well but what about the times when things aren’t, and praise seems like the most counterintuitive thing to do? We praise anyway.
The rest of Psalm 121 reads this:
“God won’t let your foot slip.
Your protector won’t fall asleep on the job.
No! Israel's protector never sleeps or rests!
The Lord is your protector; the Lord is your shade right beside you.
The sun won’t strike you during the day; neither will the moon at night.
The Lord will protect you on your journeys - whether going or coming -
From now until forever from now” (Psalm 121: 3-8, CEB)
The psalmist presents promises that the Lord will protect you in all circumstances, so we respond by praising in all circumstances. I once heard that singing praise when you don’t feel like it isn’t a matter of inauthenticity, it’s a matter of being faithful.
O how far beneath Your glory, Does Your kindness extend the path, From where Your feet rest on the sunrise, To where You sweep the sinner’s past
O how fast would You come running, If just to shadow me through the night, Trace my steps through all my failure, And walk me out the other side
If there’s one thing I’ve learned as an adult, it’s that failure is inevitable. To this day, failing at something is my biggest fear. Thankfully, we have a grace-filled God who is with us during our failure and walks us out the other side. One of my favorite aspects of being a Methodist is the understanding of grace. We experience three kinds of grace in our lives. Prevenient grace literally means “the grace that comes before.” It calls us into a relationship with God and prepares us for justifying grace - forgiveness of our sins. Sanctifying grace enables us to become more and more like Christ. God’s grace covers every season.
For who could dare ascend that mountain, That valleyed hill called Calvary
But for the One I call Good Shepherd, Who like a lamb was slain for me
John 10:11-16 reads:
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” (NIV)
This pre-chorus brings it all together for me. Christ is our Good Shepherd who died for the forgiveness of our sins. His love knows no bounds, and He will leave the ninety-nine to find the lost. (Matthew 18:12-14)
Whatever I walk through, Wherever I am, Your Name can move mountains, Wherever I stand
And if ever I walk through, The valley of death, I’ll sing through the shadows, My song of ascent
The bridge further affirms the idea of praising God regardless of your circumstance. It alludes to one of our favorite Psalms:
“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing,
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:1-4, NIV)
From the gravest of all valleys
Come the pastures we call grace
A mighty river flowing upwards
From a deep but empty grave
In an interview with Worship Together, Ben Hastings, the co-writer of this song says that man is inclined to worship any god/idol because humans see god as something better than themselves, so meeting with a god/idol is like climbing a mountain to reach their great heights, but he says “the beautiful thing about our God is that, our God- Jesus - came down the mountain like a pilgrim in reverse and met us at the lowest point.” I love that imagery. That’s the God we praise and want everyone to come know.
Challenge: Whether you are sitting on top of a mountain, or a mountain is standing in your way, carve out space to praise God today. If you’re like me, get out of the house, go for a drive, blast this song and let its truth wash over you. God is with you! God is for you!