Lift Up Your Eyes
Scripture: Psalm 121
Psalm 121 gives us a look into the heart of why we can rely on God. We see both His ability to be near and relatable to us, while still being big enough to handle all that we might face.
Good morning, everyone. A joy to be back to worship with you again, to celebrate God and to learn a little bit from his word this morning. I did not ask my dad for permission to tell you this story, so I decided I’m going to ask for forgiveness later instead. I have a few cherished memories from my childhood. I specifically remember time spent in the shop and I remember wanting to build these big, extravagant projects, and I would just want to rush in and just start going. And my dad would slow me down and say, No, let’s stop. Let’s draw up a plan. Let’s figure out the right way to build this so we can be efficient. And I wanted to build all kinds of little projects. And I especially remember at one point in my life, when I finally was old enough to watch James Bond movies, and I was so excited. Not because of the action or because James Bond was the hero that saved the day. No, I loved the James Bond movies because of the gadgets. James Bond had some of the coolest gadgets that did the sweetest things. And so I went through this phase in the shop where I was trying forever to come up with my own little James Bond gadgets that did cool and surprising things. I don’t think I actually ever did anything that was that cool. But to a kid in the shop with my dad helping out, it was a really enjoyable, really fun time.
And as a kid, it really amazed me in the shop how strong my dad was and how much he knew about woods and about planning things and about how to figure it out so that things turned out the way you wanted them to, so that at the end of the day, the time you spent in the shop, you wound up with a project that looked like what you intended to build. And I even remember watching him design and build a lot of his own equipment for his business. And I just thought, Wow, my dad is so smart. He’s got all the answers and he knows he’s strong enough to do exactly what needs to be done. And I really remember as a younger kid, the feeling of security of, I would take a screwdriver and I would by hand begin to turn a screw into a piece of wood to attach it together. And I would almost get it all the way even with the surface. But that screw would just be sticking out like 2 or 3 turns and I just couldn’t turn it any more. And then my dad would come and he would take the screwdriver from me and he would just turn it like it was nothing. And I liked that he was strong. I liked that I could depend on him. And I liked that I could rely on my dad in the shop, that he could be the answer. And I thought at the time that he was always going to be bigger and stronger, and always have the answer, that I’ll always be able to rely on him for everything. And then there came a day. I don’t remember how old I was, probably late teens, maybe early 20s, but I remember this clearly. We were in the shop, we were working on a project together and my dad was cranking a screw in by hand and all of a sudden, he started grunting, getting to the end of the screw and he just couldn’t turn it anymore. And as I looked, I realized that screw was still a couple of turns out from being seated in the wood where it was supposed to. And without thinking, I grabbed the screwdriver and I turned it the last couple of turns. Without realizing how big of a deal that actually was, to be at a moment where I finally had begun to surpass my dad in what he was able to help me with in the shop. That’s a big deal to realize suddenly that the one person that you thought had all of the strength, all of the answers, the one you relied on for everything, was not going to be able to solve every problem for you, was not going to be the one who I could turn to for every single problem that I had. And gradually since that day, my dad and I, our positions in the shop were actually switched a little bit. I’ve worked for years in the construction industry, building cabinets and doing all kinds of projects. And now I think my dad probably calls me to ask me questions about woodshop more than I call him about the woodshop. And as much as I love my dad, as I love my mom, as all those around me that I have known and relied on from the time I was little. As much as I relied on and expected those people to be the answer, there is a limit to what they are able to do in my life. There’s a limit to the answers that they have, to how far they can help. In fact, all the forms of help, all of the things that we rely on in this life are limited in some way.
Now, we don’t know who wrote Psalm 121, but the psalmist asks and then answers this question, from where does my help come? And that’s a question that we all need to ask ourselves What is the source of our help? Who do we rely on? And we need to ask that not just when things are tough, not just when things are hard, but at all times in our lives. Who do we seek when things are just going good and we still need someone to walk beside us? Who do we seek when they are hard? Who is it that has the answers to life? No matter what’s going on in our lives, who or what is it that can help us get to the end of our journey? Who is it or what is it that we can fully trust in and rely on? Do we depend on ourselves? Do we have the strength? Do we depend on our parents or on other people? On money? Job security? What about our marriages? Do we depend on those for the answers? Do we turn to coping methods like entertainment or food or drugs and alcohol to get us through this life? No matter who you are, no matter where you are in your life, there is no way to make it through this life without help. There’s no way to make it through in our own strength. And no matter how smart we might be, no matter how hard we try, we cannot make it through on our own.
So where do we turn? My point for us today is this: There is no other place that you and I can turn for real dependable help than to our God. Pastor Tim last week brought us a message on needing to rely on God, because even when we want to do what is right, even when we make that resolution, that, God, I’m going to live for you, I’m going to do it your way, we can’t do it on our own. In our own strength, we’re going to fail. Why is God the one on whom we should rely? Why can we trust him? And today, as we examine Psalm 121, we’re going to see why we can trust God as our helper. The psalmist breaks this psalm down into four sections of two verses, each section describing a bit about the nature of our God and gives us the reasons why we can trust Him to be the best help for us.
So we’re going to start in verses one and two. The psalmist says, “I lift up my eyes to the hills, From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” There’s a lot contained in these two verses. First, we see the psalmist describing his or her thought and the action that goes along with it. The action comes from the fact that they recognize that their help is not found around them. The answer is not where they are. They need to look somewhere else. And so the psalmist looks up to the hills. The solution is beyond where they are. Yet there is hope because while it is beyond them, beyond where they are, it’s still within reach. They look up and they see the hills and they know that in the hills is the answer. They’re going to find what they seek there in the hills. And we know this because the psalmist looks there, asks the question, and then answers it while still looking at the hills. The answer to the question is there. The question is, where does my help come from? We see someone here who has come to recognize they have a need for help in their life. They know they’re not going to do it on their own. They’re not going to succeed in their own strength. And they’re seeking help. And they ask the question, where can I turn? Where can I get my help? And the answer to their need is in the hills. They’re in the hills of Jerusalem, especially with the temple. And the temple on Earth was the place where God dwelt among his people in Israel, a house for the Lord. And it was a constant reminder for all the Israelites. Any time they looked up into the hills, they could think about the fact that their God was reachable. He was approachable, He was near them. He was just in the hills. And if they were going through a particularly hard point in their lives, or if there was a reason to celebrate and travel, they could go to the hills, to the temple and find their lord there.
In fact, this psalm, along with 14 others, has a subheading called A Song of Ascents. And we don’t really know 100% what that means, but we do have some pretty good speculation, even based on some early Jewish temple writing, that suggests that the songs of ascent are about rising up and reaching God, reaching that temple. And so some speculate that this was what pilgrims would sing on their journey as they would travel for the feasts to Jerusalem or to the to the time when they would go and sacrifice for their sin at the end of the year. There’s other speculation and/or recordings that suggest that there are 15 steps that led from the outer court to the inner court, and that the Levites in the temple would sing one of these psalms for each step as they took their journey, their path, their steps to approach the Lord in his inner temple. A third speculation is that the Israelites, when they were released from Babylon, sang these songs as they journeyed home from captivity and as they reached the point where they could look up and they could see and celebrate the fact that they were returning to the hills where their help came from. Honestly, we don’t know for sure which or all of these might be the answer, but it’s a little less important than seeing what the psalmist is sharing with us – that we have a need for help on our journey to approaching the Lord. We need a helper, and it needs to be someone greater than us, greater than ourselves. And yet it has to be someone who is available, someone who is near to us, someone who is reachable, approachable. For the Israelites, any time someone was tempted to be distracted from God, to be distracted from their journey and from their purpose, from the help that was available, they could simply lift their eyes to the hills and they would see their God being near to them.
For us, God is even closer. God is available to us at all times, in all places, available to speak to us through His spirit and through His Word. We can approach him at any time without a trip to the temple, without sacrifices, that he is just available to us. But a problem occurs. If God is so close and so available, is that God also big enough to handle my problems if he’s right there? Is he big enough to understand what I’m facing, to understand what I’m going through and to know how to help me through it? Well, the psalmist also recognizes this potential problem, and he says while God is seen here as close by in the hills, he is also recognized as the one who makes both heaven and earth. God might be near, he might be approachable, but he’s also above and beyond all created things, being the only uncreated thing. He’s available within time and space for us, but as their creator is not limited by those things, he’s not bound by those simple concepts. There is nothing in the created order that God does not understand, and that God cannot overcome. He made them. He made all of it. And yet he has come down into that creation to be a helper for each of us, for those who have need and who seek him in their need.
So reason one of why we can rely on God is that he is near enough to be found and big enough to handle anything in creation that we face. Now from here, the psalm shifts in perspective. We started with the psalmist searching and personally asking this question Where does my help come from? And he sees his help in the Lord. And now the perspective shifts to someone describing to that psalmist and to us why we can rely on this creator God. Who is this God and what makes him able to be someone that we can rely on? And it reads like someone responding to the psalmist’s questions as if they are saying Now that you have found God as your helper, as this Creator God, here is what He is capable of doing. Here’s what he is like and what he will do for you as your helper. Here’s why you should want to rely on him.
Verse three: “He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. Now, if this song really is a psalm sung while taking steps toward Jerusalem, toward the temple or up the steps of the inner court, then this could be considered a promise for the walk of the psalmist or of the singer, or even for any of us as we approach God. God will not allow us to be turned aside on the journey to approaching Him, on the journey of our path as we try to reach God and what He has for us. But he will keep our foot firmly planted on that path. He will not allow us to be turned aside, to fail to reach our destination. He will provide a firm foundation for the foot of this one who has sought him and who is looking for him in the hills. This isn’t a one-time firm footing either. It isn’t a God who finds you once and gives you a onetime help and then says, okay, now you figure it out from here. No, the word here is we see a God who keeps not kept but keeps us. This is a present continuing action that once God has begun to give us a firm foundation for our feet, that he will continue that into the future, that he will continue to keep us on our path toward him so that the individual who accepts this is kept on the right path.
And this is something that no human can fully do for us. That’s not to say that we cannot help one another, that we cannot encourage one another, but we cannot ultimately fulfill what God is able to do in this because we are weak. As human helpers, we turn to the side. We are distracted by our needs and by our wants. And unfortunately, we have to waste a good eight hours of every day for our whole life to rest, to just become comatose and do absolutely nothing of any good for anyone. But not our God. He doesn’t need to sleep. He doesn’t need to rest. He doesn’t need a break from caring for us. We can focus for a time and then we must turn aside. But God doesn’t turn aside. He never grows bored or weary caring for us. Caring for our journey, our walk. He won’t fail to see the trouble in our lives or in front of us because he never stops looking out for our feet. And once again, we’re also presented here with this idea of capacity. God can be experienced by you and I on this small individual scale that you and I can approach God and be near to God and have our own personal walk cared for by God. And God can watch the steps of that one individual, but not be limited. He can do that one-on-one journey with all his people all at the same time. No limitation in his ability to care for his people. We see here that the Psalmist recognizes God’s consistent continuing help not only for them, but also for his whole people, the nation of Israel. And they are kept not once in a while, but each individual all at the same time, all without ceasing, without sleeping.
Reason two of why we can rely on God is that he is able to care for all of his people at the same time, yet still personal enough to care for each of us individually, all without needing rest. So what if God is close enough and able to help and capable to help us? Why do I personally, why do I want his help? Why do I want to keeper at all? The Psalm now takes us to where and how we will feel about God’s caring for us. “The Lord is your keeper. The Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.” Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been up on a roof of one of my rental properties doing some shingling. I was up there because I got a quote to get it shingled and they said it was going to be 11 grand. And I said, okay, I can do it. Up on the roof in the heat of the day at 90 degrees, 11 grand didn’t sound so bad. There is something about feeling that sun baking down on you when it’s 90 degrees outside and there’s no moisture in the air and there’s no breeze and you’re on this roof and that sunlight is just reflecting back at you off of these shingles. And the most amazing thing happens. At 90 degrees in the sun, as you stand on the shingles, they actually begin to melt underneath your feet as you stand on them. And so here I am up on an angle of a steep roof at 90 degrees, the energy being baked out of me – slipping. I don’t recommend it. The sun is palpable in that, as it bakes you and so I decided occasionally I needed to get down and take a break. I needed to find something that was beyond my control. I needed to find shade. And so I got down and I stepped into the shade. And you know what? The temperature outside in the shade and outside of the shade is identical. There’s no difference in the temperature, but it feels like instant relief. It feels like it’s ten degrees cooler in the shade than it is in the sun. In the sun, I feel like my energy is being sapped and I don’t know how long I can go on, but the instant I step into the shade, there is just this overwhelming relief, peace, comfort and a renewed vigor that says, Hey, take a break and you can get back to it. You can do this. You can make it through. And you know what I did? I did make it through. I was able to finish that roof. Now, to be honest, the psalmist was probably not thinking about roofing here when he was talking. He was probably thinking about living in an arid place where, out in the desert with the sand and no real water available and that sun baking down on you, there is nothing that feels better than finding an oasis, finding a place of shade, a place of protection. And even at night in these arid places, it can be very dangerous because it goes from being extremely hot to suddenly being very cold. And all of the dangerous animals that are hiding from the heat of the day suddenly come out. And it’s just as dangerous in the night as it is in the day. And living in this fear, this is the feeling that the psalmist is trying to get us to feel, to understand. It’s hard to be there. It’s hard to live and journey in danger, in the struggle. And yet he also wants us to feel that peace, that instant relief that can come from a moment of shade. And that’s what our God is to us, a shade in the midst of a striking sun.
The Lord’s heart here is a desire to protect us day and night. A desire to be relief for us to be a moment of respite from all that we face and all that we struggle with. The Lord is our keeper. He stands beside us, caring for us, watching out for us. And we should desire this both because we cannot handle all of the things that we will face in this life alone. But because there is great relief in stepping into the protection of our God. If you know that someone cares for you is big enough to handle any problem that comes your way and is right beside you at your right hand, as you complete your whole journey, suddenly you can face that journey with relief, not fear, with hope and joy, not constant stress and doubt that you will make it to your destination.
Reason three of why we can rely on God is that He stands beside us as our protector both day and night. So what does the Lord protect us from? What is this strike of the sun that the shade prevents? “The Lord will keep you from all evil. He will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever more.” The thing that separates us from God and from life is evil. Everything that Satan and His demons do to tempt us and to try to get us to turn away from God is evil. This is in us and all around us at all times, and on our own we’re powerless against it. As Tim suggested last week, we can make the best resolutions that we want to to be good people in this world, to do the best we can in this world and on our own. We’re powerless to make it through. In our own strength. You and I will never succeed in getting where we need to go, where we want to go. We can have the best of intentions. And we’re not going to get there on our own. However, if we belong to God, if we are kept by him, if he is the one who is guiding our feet to firm footing as we are going out, as we are coming in, then evil doesn’t have a chance to rule over our lives. Evil doesn’t have a chance to separate us from our God. Now I notice the psalmist does not say that evil will just disappear from our lives, that there will be no more evil. We’re still going to face temptation and trial in this life. We’ll still face hardships. Evil people will still do evil things. It just no longer has the power to destroy us when God is our keeper. We will be kept from it, especially focused on our lives. God’s protection will keep our lives in His grasp no matter what is going on around us. And he’s capable of doing this not just once on a cross or in a particularly tough moment, but as we live our lives, as we go out and as we come in, we don’t stop living just because we start believing in God. We still have jobs and families and hobbies, and we still go hang out with our friends and watch movies and listen to music. The news doesn’t suddenly amazingly turn chipper when we believe in God, but the change for us is still massive because of who we see the Lord to be in this Psalm. We see a God who is personal and yet capable. A God who is strong and a protector.
And now we see the last reason why we can rely and should rely on him. God cares for our lives so that we live not just for now, but forever more. And this is the will of God that we should be protected for future glory shared with Him. This is God’s purpose in this life, His purpose in sending His son. We can trust Jesus keeping our life not just now, but forever. Sure, we look at today and we can see the blessing of God in today and we can see the struggle in today. But we can know that God is not a temporary fix. Not just a momentary fix for what’s happening now. The psalmist expected God to keep their life forevermore. And this is ultimately the level of protection that they sought when they lifted their eyes up to the hills. And it’s the level of protection you and I seek when we lift our eyes up to God. But we don’t lift our eyes up to the hills. “This is the will of him who sent me that I should lose nothing of all he has given me”, Jesus says, “but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my father that everyone who looks on the son and believes in him should have eternal life. And I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:39-40).
We don’t lift up our eyes to hills anymore, but we do lift up our eyes. We seek the same hope as the Psalmist, not in the hills, but in the sun. Where does our help come from? Our help comes from Jesus, who will be our protector from now and forever more. So what do we do with this? How does this change our lives? How does knowing these four reasons that we can rely on God change our lives, starting today? First, if you have been searching within yourself or in the earthly things around you for something to rely on for help in this life, the answers you find there are only going to be temporary. The high of working hard and getting a promotion at work that wears off. The alcohol can be fun at night, but it leaves you only with a hurting head and an aching stomach in the morning. Relationships can bring us great joy, but they’re made up of people who will fail us from time to time, who will say the wrong things, who will do the wrong things. Money loses its value today. It feels like it’s losing it faster than I can spend it as we look at the inflation rate. No peace, no joy or anything that you and I find in this life will last long enough or be big enough to solve the real problems that we face. The answer is found in relying on Jesus, however, are forever. There is no other way to eternal life, no other way to hope for this life and the next than lifting up our eyes and looking at Jesus. And everyone, the promise is who lifts up their eyes and looks on the Son and believes in him will have life, will be protected by Jesus and raised up on the last day.
So whether you’re a longtime church attender or whether this is one of your first visits to a church, you’re here today for a reason. Don’t leave today without seeking the answer to that reason, without talking to somebody, to myself, to one of the other elders or pastors here, or even just to the person sitting next to you about why you’re here, about who Jesus can be for you. Now, if you have made that decision, if you do desire to rely on Jesus, I have a few thoughts from the Psalm for us to consider. Even if we have made the decision to follow Jesus, sometimes in the midst of daily life both good times and bad, we get distracted, we get busy, we get complacent, and we forget to rely on God. We start taking back some of the things that we surrendered, and we try to solve them again in our own strength. The psalmist knew this could be a problem, but he had a reminder in front of him. Any time he started to get distracted, he could lift up his eyes and there would be the hills to remind him that God was near. We don’t have the hills of Jerusalem in our sights, so we need to find something else. My hope is that each of you have something that you use in your life that reminds you to turn back to God. And whether that’s a daily devotion or a prayer journal or a sign that you keep on the wall, I have one in my office that appropriately is from the Book of Joshua. And it says, As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. And I look at that sign while I’m working on messages and while I’m doing paperwork in my office, while I’m doing things that are specifically for the church and things that are about my worldly walk, my worldly job and life. And I see that sign and it reminds me of my purpose and of my helper. What works for you and how that works can be different for each one. But I think it is very important that we have those things in our lives. Those hills in our lives that we can look to, to remind us what God means to us and how we should rely on Him. And finally, I think we need to remember that our reliance on God is not just for a moment of salvation or for temporary protection, but lifelong. That means that while we continue to live our lives, we live now, then for Jesus and with Jesus, not for ourselves or for our own strength. Reliance means leaning on something else, and we want to lean on Jesus for his wisdom, for his strength, for his protection, for all that we do, not just for this life, but all the way through this life and into the life that comes. Where does your help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Creator of heaven and earth. The worship team is going to join us on stage again. And I’m going to pray for us. So if you would join me in prayer.