“I lift my eyes up to the mountains – where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
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.
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.
The Lord will keep you from all harm – he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”
~ Psalm 121, a song of ascents (NIV)
Shortly after graduating from college I spent a couple of months working for Family Christian Stores as I was fundraising to go on staff with InterVarsity. That summer Joel Osteen’s book Your Best Life Now had just been released and covered our bestseller and newest releases shelves. It was my first introduction to the health-and-wealth gospel and I was bothered by what I read. But what was more disturbing than this was how many books on our shelves also peddled this same kind of feel-good Christianity. The message coming from each of these books was essentially this: trust in Jesus and all of your financial and material dreams will come true. The problems with this message are too numerous to count, but among them is this idea that a life of faith in Jesus is all comfort and candy canes.
That is why Psalm 121 is so important. It hits on a vital truth about the Christian life. Along the journey of faith there will be many moments when the road will become difficult. Jesus never promised us comfort or wealth, and there will be times when God will call us to go places or do things that, if we’re totally honest, we would rather avoid.
In these times it is tempting to look for safety and security in other things. The writer of this Psalm highlights this when he says, “I life my eyes up to the mountains – where does my help come from?” The mountains, or “high places”, were the locations upon which people would have built altars to their gods. It was on these places that people would offer sacrifices to their deities in order to receive security and blessings. The mountains were the places for idol worship. And so the psalmist’s eyes look to those places as he wonders, “Where does my help come from?” There is an inner plea, a desire for safety and security, as he walks this pilgrim road.
And yet, as if having an internal debate with himself, he is reminded of the truth: “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” The psalmist knows that, ultimately, his security and support can only be found in God. While the world looks to the idols that it has made (wealth, fame, careers, relationships, success, etc) for comfort, help, and strength, the psalmist sees that such things will ultimately let us down. Our security comes not from the “high places” of the world, but from the one who made the world itself. It comes from God, who alone holds all of creation together.
Furthermore, the psalm writer reminds us that God not only holds the universe in the palm of his hands, but that he also cares fro and watches over each and every one of us. Though he rules over the whole created order, he is not a disconnected despot, but is a loving sovereign who cares for and watches over his children.
This message is a vital one for the disciple of Jesus Christ. There will be many moments when we are tried and tested by the difficulties and storms of life, for we are not immune to such struggles. Like anyone else, the Christian is tempted to look to man-made answers and solutions in order to find a sense of assurance. That is why we must be reminded that we are following the one who is able to meet every need. We follow the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth, and he will provide for us.
On a personal note, this is a comforting and reassuring word for me. Jenny and I have been tempted, many times, to find our security in worldly things. We followed God into ministry: first with InterVarsity and now in pastoral work. We knew that, in doing so, our incomes would be limited, but we were happy to do it because we were excited about the calling that he has given us. And yet, we presently struggle with the reality that, even after several years of trying to build up a down payment on a home, we still cannot afford to live in the very community in which we minister. I know…first world problems, right? Still, as a single-income family we often feel the pressure of paying off college loans and building a home for our children, and it’s has been very easy to get frustrated and discouraged.
But then, we look back over the years and we see the hand of God, our provider. We are reminded of the generosity of our parents, who have shared their homes with us so that we could continue to save and pay down debt. We are reminded of the blessing that we have in our church family, which has cared for and supported us in more ways than we can count, not least of which involves bringing me on staff. We are reminded of how these blessings have allowed one of us to stay home and personally raise our children during these crucial early years. The truth is, God has been very good to us. While we have had to adjust our timelines and expectations, God has shown us that life is about the relationships around us, not the house and the picket fences.
Whatever difficulties we face, whether small or large, it is important to remember that the Lord walks with us as we continue to pursue his calling upon our lives. Where does our help come from? It comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.
“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 diseases, 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 guard us from every evil, he guards our very life.”
~Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, pgs. 44-45