There is a lot to say about our current events. There’s so much to say that it’s overwhelming. There are times when we must step back from the current of events, to climb up to a higher ground in order to gain a steadier footing and a higher perspective.
Not only are we still in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, not only are our cities burning with outrage, but we each have our personal troubles which do not take time off in seasons of broader turmoil to give us room to breathe.
I have 3 friends this weekend whose lives are being turned upside down by grief and trouble. This is a sermon for those friends. It’s a sermon for my own heart.
What’s the secret to remaining active in this fallen world while keeping a clear head and a calm heart?
In the words of Corrie Ten Boom:
Look around and be distressed.
Look inside and be depressed.
Look at Jesus and be at rest.
Does that sound a little bubbly? A little like a kindergarten teacher? What if I told you the woman who wrote this was describing her own experience as a survivor of the German concentration camp at Ravensbruck.
This morning we’re going to look at a Psalm about looking up. Read Psalm 121. Charles Spurgeon called this a Psalm of the eyes.
Psalm 121 is written to speak to the heart, the simple, poetic formula is meant to hit home in a memorable way.
Listen to this translation by Hebrew scholar Robert Alter:
I lift up my eyes to the mountains: from where will my help come?
My help is from the LORD, maker of heaven and earth.
He does not let your foot stumble. Your guard does not slumber.
Look, He does not slumber nor does He sleep, Israel’s guard.
The LORD is your guard, the LORD is your shade at your right hand.
By day the sun does not strike you, nor the moon by night.
The LORD guards you from all harm, He guards your life.
The LORD guards your going and your coming, now and forevermore.
The call to look to the mountains for help is an all encompassing call.
The imagery of this Psalm is meant to give a sense of the comprehensive care
of God for those who look to him.
Sit back and read for a moment this word from James Smith, writing in 1865.
Look up for light to guide you — and He will direct your path.
Look up for grace to sanctify you — and the grace of Jesus will be found sufficient for you.
Look up for strength to enable you to do and suffer God’s will — and His strength will be made perfect in your weakness.
Look up for comfort to cheer you — and as one whom his mother comforts, so will the Lord comfort you.
Look up for courage to embolden you — and the Lord will give courage to the faint; and to those who have no might — He will increase strength.
Look up for endurance to keep you — and the God who preserves you will enable you quietly to bear the heaviest burden, and silently to endure the most painful affliction.
Look up for providence to supply you — and the jar of flour will not be used up, and the jug of oil will not run dry; but God shall supply all your needs, according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
Look up constantly — let nothing daunt or discourage you! Rather say, “Our eyes are on the Lord our God — until He shows us mercy.”
Look up — for this will keep …
the head from swimming,
the heart from sinking,
the knees from trembling,
the feet from slipping, and
the hands from hanging down!
It is impossible to say what will happen to us, or what will be required of us this year — but “Look up!” This direction, if properly attended to, will procure for us all that we need, secure us against all that we dread, and make us more than a match for all our foes and fears!
Fellow-Christian, are you fearful? “Look up” and hear Jesus saying to you, “Do not be afraid — I Myself will help you!”
Are you discouraged? “Look up” — and your youth shall be renewed like the eagle’s, and fresh light, comfort, and courage shall be given to you!
Are you desponding? “Look up!” for Jesus never breaks the bruised reed, nor quenches the smoking flax.
Do not look too much at your sin — but look at the infinitely meritorious blood of God’s dear Son!
Do not look too much at self — but look at Jesus, who ever lives to make intercession for you in Heaven.
Are you stripped of your comforts, your props, and your goods? Then look up! He who stripped you — loves you! He will be more than all these to you!
bind up your broken heart,
calm your perturbed spirit,
cheer your drooping mind, and
fill you with His own peace and happiness.
Look up …
for all that you need;
from all that you fear;
through all that would obstruct your way.
Look up in every trial, saying “I will lift up my eyes unto the hills, from whence comes my help: my help comes from the Lord, who made Heaven and earth!”
1) I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?
In verse 1, the Psalmist directs his eyes to the mountains. The city of Jerusalem was surrounded by 7 mountains. For the weary traveler away from home, the sight of the mountains would be a symbol of stability and security. Looking past the mountains, he saw the one who created them. Everyone needs help at times.
We need wisdom and direction and peace.
2) My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
Those who lift their eyes find infinite resources in the creator of the cosmos. The one who created the great red spot on Jupiter, a great swirling storm of 250 mile an hour winds larger than the diameter of our planet. The one who presides over ever inch of the cosmos is the helper of those who look to him.
3) He will not let your foot slip
I picture a mother with her young toddler, carefully holding on to his shoulders as he stumbles his way through his first steps.
I picture a groom with his bride, holding out his elbow as she descends the
steps in her long gown and high heels.
I picture a son with his elderly mother, carefully guiding her frail form from
the car to the front door.
God is the transcendent maker of heaven and earth and he is the immanent
keeper of your steps.
he who watches over you will not slumber;
He is always available. This not simply to say that his cell phone is never on silent. This is to say that he doesn’t need your call. He sees your needs before you do. He knows your troubles before they enter your field of vision.
4) indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
For added emphasis, the Psalmist reiterates – you’ll never encounter trouble without the knowledge and attention of your helper.
5) The Lord watches over you— the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
This is beautiful imagery of shade – a blessed refuge from the beating sun. Anyone who knows the heat of a burning summer day knows that it’s a blessed relief to find shade, it can be the difference between life and death. In the shade what you feel can be 15 degrees cooler. The air is just as hot but the heat is indirect because you are shielded from the suns radiation. God is a shade for those who turn to Him, of course he’s not a shadow for the summer sun, but sometimes the anxieties of life beat down on you like the sun. Sometimes, inwardly you are boiling, your soul sweats with strain and you pant for relief. When you position yourself under God you find a shade for your soul.
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
The location “at your right hand” speaks of closeness and ease of access. In God there is always a shade available for those who look up.
6) the sun will not harm you by day, not the moon by night
This is a pair of opposites communicating an all-encompassing protection. The sun can be deadly to the body during the day. The ancients believed that the moon could be deadly to the soul at night. The word lunatic represents this ancient view, a term for psychological disorder rooted in the Latin for moon. There is never a time when God’s help is not available.
7) The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life;
All harm? This strikes a false note for some of us who have known trouble. The Bible does not promise that those who God keeps will suffer no harm in this world. What it promises is that nothing happens to you that will only harm you. Nothing will happen to those who look to God which will ultimately end in harm. Every pain, every sorrow that comes has come under the watchful eye of the Lord. The harm you experience will not always be harm. It will turn to good. It will pass and make way for good.
“If any so called Evil comes, he may be sure that it is Good with a veil on.”
8) the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
Like the language of the sun and moon, the language of coming and going is comprehensive. When you leave the house in the morning and when you come home at the end of the day, God is there to guard you. When you go out into the world in your youth and when you come home to settle into the dust from which you came, God’s watchful eye is on your steps.
‘The Christian life is not a quiet escape to a garden where we can walk and talk uninterruptedly with our Lord; nor a fantasy trip to a heavenly city where we can compare blue ribbons and gold medals with others who have made it to the winners’ circle. … The Christian life is going to God. In going to God Christians travel the same ground that everyone else walks on, breathe the same air, drink the same water, shop in the same stores, read the same newspapers, are citizens under the same governments, pay the same prices for groceries and gasoline, fear the same dangers, are subject to the same pressures, get the same distresses, are buried in the same ground.
The difference is that each step we walk, each breath we breathe, we know we are preserved by God, we know we are accompanied by God, we know we are ruled by God; and therefore no matter what doubts we endure or what accidents we experience, the Lord will preserve us from evil, he will keep our life.’
Jesus himself was not immune to the troubles of this life. He knew the daily troubles of our existence and he knew the pointed attacks of those who wished to harm him.
This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
In Christ, the ultimate trouble, death, became the ultimate source of good to the human race.
Look up this week friends.
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown