When I was a kid, William Shatner hosted a program called Rescue 911. The show reenacted actual calls to 911. What made the reenactments frightening was the depiction of the family’s life before tragedy struck. They were always going about their normal day–they were on the way to school, traveling to work, dropping by the grocery store on the way home, etc. Then, disaster came calling.
Those reenactments scared me because they depicted what like is like in reality. We do not get a warning before our lives are about to fall apart. We never get a memo that reads, “Get ready. Today will be the worst day of your life.” In a fallen world, we don’t know that the shoe is about to drop until it does.
When we run into unexpected hardship, we tend to wonder if God may have taken the day off or if he is punishing us. Suffering tempts us to forget that the Lord walks beside us in our difficulty and pain, working all things together for our good according to his good and loving plan. We push this reality out of our minds because all suffering feels like God abandoning us, when nothing could be further from the truth.
How do we know this, though? How do we know that God is going to help us when we walk through trouble? Thankfully, God’s word is replete with reminders that God is near to his people when they are walking through a valley. Psalm 121 stands as a clear reminder of this important truth. It is the first of the “Psalms of Ascent.” Pilgrims sang these songs on their arduous and sometimes dangerous journey to the feasts and festivals in Jerusalem. 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. 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. The LORD is your keeper;
the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
nor the moon by night. 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 forevermore. (ESV)
In Psalm 121, the writer provides us with three powerful reminders that the Lord comes near to help us in times of trouble.
God is more powerful than my idols.
When the Psalmist lifted his eyes to the hills, he saw two things. First, he saw danger. The road to Jerusalem was teeming with possible dangers on every side. Also, he saw the “high places” when he looked up to the hills. In the Old Testament, these were the places where the people build their idols and sacrificed to them.
The Psalmist’s description of the Lord makes an important point–“the maker of heaven and earth.” The prophets often contrasted the idols made with human hands with God who made everything, including the “stuff” the idols were made of. The Psalmist was saying that these idols offered him no help in the face of danger, but the maker of heaven and earth was able to come to his aid.
Isn’t it tempting in a time of great struggle to turn to our idols–like money, sex, power, or security–to save us? They can’t. They are incapable of providing us with the assurance or the deliverance we need. Only the Lord is our helper. The one who made the heavens and the earth is powerful enough to come to our aid and he loves us enough to help us when we need it. Why would we rely on our idols when we are in the hands of a sovereign and loving God who is more than capable of saving us?
God works even when I don’t.
Travelers on the journey to Jerusalem were most vulnerable when they had to stop and sleep. They were incapable of defending or watching out for themselves. Therefore, the Psalmist’s reminder that “he who keeps Israel neither slumbers not sleeps is really good news. He watches over us and protects us when we do nothing but lie there.
What is one of the first things that happens when you are walking through pain, difficulty, or anxiety? You start losing sleep. You lie awake at night thinking about your problems and going through all of the worst-case scenarios. Then, you start planning all of your methods for an escape from your trouble, knowing that almost all of them are out of your control.
Think about the foolishness of this. God is already at work, causing all things to work together for our good. We are up scheming and planning, robbing ourselves of the rest that we need when the one who doesn’t slumber or sleep has all of our troubles in his capable hands.
The New Testament uses “rest” to picture our salvation through Christ alone. We aren’t ready to be saved until we lay down our trying to please God through our good works and rest solely and completely on the work of Christ on the cross.
God watches over every step of my journey.
The Psalmist uses several contrasting pairs to show how the Lord watches over us. The said, “The sun shall not strike you by day nor the moon by night.” Then he went on to say that “The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.” Think about this for a second. It is always day or night. You are usually either going out or coming in. This is his poetic way of saying that the Lord always watches over you.
We tend to live by faith in visible things. Like with our idols, we want to trust in a salvation that we can see. However, the promise that God is always watching over us is invisible. I cannot see the Lord’s protection and help, but that does not mean that it is not there.
This is an important time to remind ourselves that God sent the Holy Spirit to indwell us. While Jesus was on earth, he promised that he would send “the Helper” after he went away. Now, every person who trusts in the Lord Jesus has the Spirit living in them as a reminder of the presence of God and as a pledge to remind us that God will give us the inheritance he promised.
It is tempting when we are struggling to doubt God’s goodness or his power. However, the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives reminds us that God is powerful enough to save us and that he loves us enough to deliver us when we need it. So, we must learn to trust him. Even when the “help” coming down from the hills looks like salvation, we must remember that our help comes from the Lord and him alone.
“What Do We Do When the Sadness is Unbearable?”
For Further Reading:
Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller
Trusting God by Jerry Bridges