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Where Does My Help Come From?

God promises to help us and to keep vigilant, faithful guard over us.

Introduction

Have you ever stood looking out into the future only to see no safe and sure way forward? Graduation with no job in sight. Or at the other end of things, you get laid off. Your son or daughter who is heedless of the fire they’re playing with. The consuming depression. The divorce that seems to end more than marriage. A terrible decision to be made. A move away from all you’ve known and loved. Retirement to what? The terrible diagnosis.

What do you tell yourself in those times? A lot of times, we tell ourselves things that are useless. Our self-talk only drives us deeper into a kind of spiritual wilderness.

Satan’s lies run rampant. Fear has a megaphone. So the important question is, what do you tell yourself that’s true?

We need to be prepared for times like that. We need a song for treacherous journeys.

Psalm 121 is one of the Bible’s most beloved psalms. It begins, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?” What did the writer mean when he said, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains”? I’m inspired by looking at mountains. They feel strong, yet I know they are lifeless—all show but no help. Perhaps he saw mountains as daunting obstacles on the journey ahead, thinking like our American pioneers, How will I ever cross safely to the other side? Whatever he meant, he knew that the mountains were no answer. When he lifted his eyes to the mountains, he said, “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

Psalm 121 is a beloved psalm, and it is one of 15 psalms all clustered together known as the Psalms of Ascent. No one knows for sure why they’re all labeled that way and gathered together in Scripture. One idea is that they were a kind of ancient playlist for the Jews’ journeys to Jerusalem for holy festivals.

Preaching from the psalms is different than any other kind of sermon. The application of this psalm, for example, is not only that we would trust God in uncertain times but that we would add these lyrics to our personal worship and prayer repertoire. It’s not just that we would know about Psalm 121, but that we would know it well enough to pray it naturally when we need it. Actually, this psalm is song sung back to us. Here the choir sings to us. Since it is important that we actually use this psalm, we’re going to give a little extra time to learning it, probably not by heart, but at least so it is embedded in our memories. Think of this as a kind of choir practice or as prayer rehearsal. The psalms are God-given lyrics for the God-honoring life.

This psalm portrays a dangerous journey, made both by day and night, a journey not for the fainthearted, a journey where you’re going to need help or you’d be lost. So we pray,

‘Where Does My Help Come From?’

Then, lifting our eyes above the mountains, we answer our own question, “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Notice the name, the Lord. The all caps indicate that it is a translation of Yahweh, which is God’s covenant name given to Israel. It indicates that our help comes from the God who made promises to us, who is a husband to us, who has promised, “They will be my people and I will be their God.”

What’s more, he is “the Maker of heaven and earth,” the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. The implication is that we are seeking help from the One who can most certainly give it—who can bend nature itself to his will, who makes day in darkness and paths in the wilderness, who can bring water from dry ground and send bread from heaven. The Maker of the universe guards you and me.

New Testament writers could add yet another assurance: The Lord is also the Redeemer of our souls. “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:31–31)

So let’s rehearse (4x): Psalm 121:

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Now in this psalm, a second voice begins to sing. The words switch from my to your, you speaking to yourself and then others speaking to you. Imagine you’re facing a rugged journey and you’ve told yourself, “My help comes from the Lord.” Then you come to church and through our songs and testimonies, your brothers and sisters fortify your faith with these three assurances about God’s help. To begin with, “He will not let your foot slip.”

We’re Assured of God’s Vigilance

The journey is treacherous. One slip could be ruinous. The sense is that one slip and we might fall to our death or even fall from the grip of God. But the Lord will not let that happen. This is not a promise that we will never sin nor that our faith will never falter. The promise here is that we will not slip away from the Lord. Our souls are safe.

Do you see that your steps and mine—personally—are guarded by the Maker of heaven and earth? I’ve always loved the song that promises “his eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.”

The specific promise here is of God’s constant vigilance (read with me, 2x):

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 phrase watches over, or keeps, appears six times here. It’s the main point of God’s care. The word implies more than simply watching. It means protects, guides, and blesses. “He who protects, guides, and blesses you will not slumber.” And just as he cares personally for you and me, he cares for all his beloved people, Israel, all who have put their trust in him.

You have known some dark nights, as have I. Sometimes in our sleepless restlessness we cannot let go of our worry nor lay hold of our hope. In a time like that for me, when my nights seemed frightening and endless, a counselor told me to take a Christian mantra—a short phrase that I could repeat again and again, even when I couldn’t pull my thoughts together well enough to pray. So I did. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” This phrase here would be good: “He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber.”

So let’s review: Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes 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.

Will your Maker let your foot slip?

No, “He will not let your foot slip”

Will he doze off when you’re in trouble?

No, “he who watches over you will not slumber.”

In verses 3–4 we’re assured of the Lord’s vigilance. In verses 5–6 …

We’re Assured of God’s Watchcare

Watchcare is a word the church invented, so far as I can tell. It was made for this passage.

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.

On this journey, both day and night are threatening. Imagine the blistering heat, leaving travelers parched and thirsty, sunburnt with no shade nor oasis in sight. But for God’s people—for you and me—“the Lord is your shade at your right hand.” (Repeat: “The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand.”) The word shade could also be translated shadow. David wrote in Psalm 91, “I will sing in the shadow of your wings.” So close is the Lord, unseen though he may be, that his very shadow is your sunscreen.

When God led Israel out of Egypt, one of his ongoing miracles was that they were guarded by day by the cloud of God’s presence and by night by the pillar of fire. Who would dare attack? Who could ever ambush them? We no longer see the cloud or fire, but God is still there guarding us.

Do you see the word harm in verses 6–7? It means evil. There is a kind of evil—a danger to the soul—in the relentless heat of the journey but also in the moonlit night. The author may have been thinking of the weird things that seem to accompany the moon. We get our word lunacy from lunar, after all; the spiritual creepiness akin to a walk in a graveyard under a full moon.

He’s not literally talking just about the sun and moon, of course, but about the evil that lurks night and day, the dangers to our souls, 24/7, along our journey. The danger of wearing out, of exhaustion, of night terrors. Paul wrote in Philippians 4:5–7, “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

So remember, our help comes from the Maker of heaven and earth. And what does he do for us in these wearisome times? “The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand” (Repeat). “The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night” (Repeat.) We’re assured that the neither the blistering, exhausting heat of the day nor the sinister lunacy of the night will endanger us.

Verses 3–4 assured us of the Lord’s vigilance. Verses 5–6 assured us of his watchcare. Now verses 7–8:

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.

We’re Assured of God’s Faithfulness

We are never promised freedom from trouble but God does promise to keep us from the evil that could destroy our souls. When verse 7 says, “he will watch over your life,” the word could be translated soul. That’s why we love the hymn that says, “Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well with my soul.’” The troubles you and I have faced could have easily torn loose our faith if God had not prevented it. And what good would life be if you gained the whole world but lost your own soul?

I was moved by a statement I saw this week from one of the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. She said, “I felt that God had forsaken me. There were times when I was so angry with him. … Still, I could not get myself to renounce him. I found myself remembering his promise to never leave me or forsake me.” The reason she could not get herself to renounce him is because the Lord “will watch over your life … watch over your coming and going.”

Don’t you love that last line? “Both now and forevermore.” Now, and when time is no more. I thought of the picture in Revelation 7:15–17 when those “who have come out of the great tribulation,” who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,”

they are before the throne of God

and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. ‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst.

The sun will not beat down on them,’ nor any scorching heat.

For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd;

“he will lead them to springs of living water.”

“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Let’s review those last verses (repeating):

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.

Now the whole thing: Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes 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.

Conclusion

I hope that psalm is now in your repertoire. Perhaps you can write in the margin, “God’s promises for my hard journey.”

This week Eugene Peterson died at age 85. No writer has influenced me more than he did. He was the author of books about pastoring, about Scripture, and he authored the paraphrase of the Bible called The Message. According to Christianity Today, his family released a statement on his final, joyful days earthside.

“During the previous days, it was apparent that he was navigating the thin and sacred space between earth and heaven,” they stated. “We overheard him speaking to people we can only presume were welcoming him into paradise. There may have even been a time or two when he accessed his Pentecostal roots and spoke in tongues as well. Among his final words were, ‘Let’s go.’ And his joy: my, oh my; the man remained joyful right up to his blessed end, smiling frequently. In such moments it’s best for all mortal flesh to keep silence. But if you have to say something say this: ‘Holy, Holy, Holy.’”

The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

Lee Eclov is pastor of Village Church of Lincolnshire in Lake Forest, Illinois and author of Pastoral Graces: Reflections on the Care of Souls (Moody Publishers). Eclov also leads a gathering of pastors for mutual support and learning called Pastors' Gatherings. To find out more about these Gatherings visit his site www.leeeclov.com.

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