Passage: Psalm 121
Tuesday 24th March 2020 is etched on many people’s minds and written in my diary. Why? It’s when lockdown began in the UK. It’s hard to believe that is exactly six months ago, and here we are facing a further severe curtailment of our movements. One big difference was that in March, we knew that summer was around the corner, but in September it’s a rather different picture. There was also somewhat of a novelty to lockdown in March, but that soon wore off. The latest announcements have not surprisingly been met with widespread groaning. These are very difficult times and everyone is affected by the disruption. Where do people look to for help during such challenging times? Some may look to their family for support and others to the size of their bank balance. Some may gain strength from their physical robustness and others from a good bunch of mates. Some may try to operate as if everything is normal and others find comfort in certain substances. The purpose of these Pastor Pep Talks (although I never envisaged producing them for six months) was to provide us with a source of encouragement from God’s Word. And it is to the Book of Psalms we turn this week, specifically Psalm 121. It is one of fifteen psalms referred to as the Psalms (songs) of Ascent. They are generally reckoned to have been sung by God’s historic people as they travelled up to Jerusalem for one of their many festivals.
Where to look for help?
The psalm begins with one of the places where people may have looked to for help and protection in difficult times. It’s probably not on our list but it would have been on theirs. It was the hills- “I lift my eyes to the hills- where does my help come from?” (v1) The hills would have been a place to flee for safety from your enemies, offering cover and protection. But the hills like the other places and things that we put our trust in when we face difficult times will ultimately fail us. There is only one failsafe place where we must look to for help and it is the LORD. “My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (v2) It is only the Creator who can be trusted to protect his creation, of which every one of us is a part. Man’s default position is sadly not to worship the Creator but to worship created things as Paul made clear to the Romans- “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator.” (1:25) It may take difficult times like we are currently undergoing to expose our misplaced worship in that we’ve put our trust in created things rather than the Creator.
What does God’s help look like?
Throughout the psalm we are reminded of how God watches over his people (v3,4,5,7,8). You can’t miss it. As a parent watches over their children so our heavenly Father watches over us, his children. Take time to ponder the following verses-
-“He will not let your foot slip- he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (v3-4) Of course we will make mistakes in life along the way, but God will preserve his people through them all because he is never off-duty!
-“The Lord watches over you- the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.” (v5-6) Sometimes we are very aware of his protection in difficult circumstances but at other times we simply don’t know what disasters he has kept us from.
-“The LORD will keep you from all harm he will watch over your life.” (v7) That doesn’t mean that we are guaranteed a well-cushioned life of ease and comfort, but rather that we can be sure that he will fully equip us for whatever we will face.
- “The LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and evermore.” (v8) His protection doesn’t come and go with the seasons but can be relied upon every day. It’s not just for the here and now but is forever more.
It’s a pretty comprehensive picture of God’s presence with and His power at work for his people during difficult times. It’s important that we allow these truths to sink in.
How should difficult times change us?
One of the marks of our western culture is the need to remove any and all forms of suffering and discomfort. Regrettably, there are strands within the Christian church that preach a suffering-free gospel, which is not the real gospel. We follow a crucified Saviour, whose suffering came before his glory. The same will be true for all of his followers. So in difficult times like we’re currently facing, like all trials and suffering, God has a purpose for them. It is to grow our faith in Him. This is a thread running through the New Testament; Jesus- “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33); Paul- “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4); James- “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (James 1:2-3); Peter- “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith- of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire- may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6-7) We need to be clear that we’re not praising God for the difficult times, but we are praising Him in the difficult times. There’s a big difference!
Dear Lord God. Thank you that you are Lord over the difficult times that we are currently facing and that we need not live in fear of them. Thank you that you are always watching over your people. Thank you for the gift of your Holy Spirit so that we are never alone. Please use these times to grow us all as followers of Jesus. Amen