Where does your help come from?

Psalm 121

12 March 2006

Arborfield Christian Mission

Morning service


When I came to speak to you a few weeks ago we talked a bit about the the Christian life being a pilgrimage, which is a theme that appears in Psalm 84. This morning I thought it would be good to unpack that a little more from this lovely Psalm, number 121.

But first, I hope there are some fans of Winnie the Pooh here. If so, perhaps you remember the episode of the very windy day.

Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet were walking in the Hundred Acre Wood. Piglet's ears streamed behind him like banners as he fought his way along. Being a rather small and anxious sort of animal, Piglet turned to Pooh and asked nervously, "Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?"

After careful thought, Pooh, being somewhat wiser and less anxious, replied "Supposing it didn't" . This is the kind of conversation my wife and I sometimes have: like Piglet, she worries about all sorts of things that might happen; like Pooh, I'm a bit more laid-back.

It seems to me that our Psalmist, the writer of Psalm 121, also has something in common with Piglet as he begins. In his case it is the hills rather than the trees he lifts his eyes to, but the effect is the same: they worry him. He is fearful of what lies ahead.

Psalm 121 is marked in the title as the second of the "Songs of Ascents". This is a sequence of 15 Psalms, from 120 through to 134, which were sung by pilgrims on their way up to Jerusalem to visit the Temple. In this Psalm we find the pilgrim still some way from Jerusalem and considering the journey ahead of him. So in verse 1 he "lifts up his eyes to the hills" .

Perhaps the hills remind him of the goal of his journey—Jerusalem sits in the Hill country of Judea— but they certainly also remind him of the dangers of his journey: the dangers of the climb; the danger of bandits; the danger of heatstroke and exhaustion in the fierce summer heat; the danger of wild animals at night.

All this prompts his question Where does my help come from?ref Where does my help come from?

The answer is immediate, and with no disrespect to Winnie-the-Pooh, the Psalmist's answer has rather more substance than "Supposing it didn't" .

The Psalmist's answer is an emphatic My help comes from the Lordref. This is not a wishful cliché, but he has detailed reasons for his confidence in God's help, which he goes on to unpack.

I want to look at his reasons under two main headings. First God is bigger than our troubles, and second God cares about our troubles

God is bigger than our troubles

Heading 1: God is bigger than our troubles. We see it in verse 2.

The Psalmist is convinced that God can help him because he is the Maker of heaven and earthref. The pilgrim lifted his eyes to the hills, and what he saw made him anxious. But now he lifts his eyes higher and looks beyond to the very one who made those hills: the one who made heaven and earth. With the Maker himself on your side there is no need to fear anything that has been made. Nothing is beyond God's reach and control.

This is so obviously true, and such a basic point that it might seem hardly worth making. But it's where the Psalmist starts. Sometimes we need reminding of obvious truths: when we face anxious times, do your thoughts turn first to our God, Maker of heaven and earth?

We need to be more like little children. Where does my two year old turn when she is anxious about something? She runs to mummy or daddy of course, who are bigger than any problem she faces. If you are a toddler there's nothing mummy and daddy can't sort out, right?

So, however big the thing that you are worried about, remember that God is bigger—much, much bigger—and if you are a Christian then he is on your side. He is your Daddy. So run to him!

God cares about our troubles

In verses 3-8 we find that the pilgrim's confidence is built not only on the fact that God is bigger than his troubles, but also on the fact that God cares about his troubles. Heading 2: God cares about our troubles.

Look how often he repeats the phrase "watches over" , "The Lord watches over you" . The Hebrew word the writer uses means "to keep"; "to guard"; "to hedge about"; "to protect", and he uses it six times in these six verses—in the NIV in verse 7 the phrase The Lord will keep you from all harmref translates exactly the same Hebrew word.

So, the Psalmist is really keen to get over the idea that God keeps watch over his people!

Another feature to notice is the Psalmist's repeated use of the word "you". He is not so much interested in teaching the abstract truth that "God takes care of people" in general; rather he is desperately keen that we know that God watches over each one of us individually.

And again, if you look in an older translation, or in a commentary, you'll find that it is not the general, plural "you" that he uses, it is the singular, intimate "you": "The Lord watches over thee" in old-fashioned language. The Psalmist addresses each of his readers as individuals to say the Lord watches over you. He addresses each of us here as an individual to say the Lord watches over you; he will not let your foot slip.

That's a wonderful reassurance, isn't it.

I just want to unpack verses 3-8 a little more as we seek to understand the depth of God's care for us. I'm not going to go into every last detail, as there is a lot that could be said, but I want to draw out the three main themes as they struck me.

The Lord's care is constant

First, in verses 3 and 4 we find that the Lord's care is constant.

A few months ago when our daughter, Rebekah, was just learning to walk her mum asked me to keep an eye on her while she played in the garden. At that time we were having some building work done which was a bit of a hazard for a little tot.

I honestly started out with good intentions, but you know how it is. There were some weeds to pull up, some pots to tidy, some flowers to sniff and I soon got distracted. But only until I heard a shriek from the kitchen and saw my wife emerge from the back door in a blur of speed to scoop Rebekah up from the edge of the four-foot deep foundation trench she was about to topple into.

A mum is never off duty! And so it is with God, only even more so.

Verse 3, He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber.ref

God's watch is constant; he is never asleep, never day-dreaming, never distracted, never inattentive. "We can sleep safely because our God is ever awake" .

In verse 4 we see the reason that he is constantly concerned for us. It is because he is constantly concerned for his people, Israel, and, if we are believers, we are a vital part of his people. God's people is not complete without you!

A few weeks ago I had a day off sick from work. Since I was feeling pretty feeble, I did something I haven't done for years: a very big jigsaw. It was really hard, but eventually I finished piecing it together, only to find that there was one bit missing. It was only one piece, but it spoilt the whole thing. Every member of God's family matters. I was unhappy about a jigsaw with a missing piece; how much more would God be unhappy if his family missed a person. He cares constantly for you because he cares constantly for his whole family.

The Lord's care is close

Second, in verses 5 and 6 we find that the Lord's care is close.

We often talk about God as if he were a long way away. For example, compare and contrast the following song lyrics.

First, Cliff Richard, "God is watching us, God is watching us, God is watching us, from a distance."

Second, Psalm 121 verse 5, The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand.ref

Sorry, Sir Cliff, but God is closer than you think! In Bible language the one at your right hand is your closest ally.

One of the greatest perils for the traveller was the fierce heat of the middle eastern sun, but the promise is that God cares for the pilgrim even through this. God is close enough to take the heat for the traveller. Is your God close enough to take the heat out of the situations you face?

In verse 6 we see the full spectrum of God's care. I'm not sure that the Psalmist really believed that exposure to the moon is harmful, but what he has done is to choose two opposites—the sun by day and the moon by night—to encompass everything in between. The Lord guards the pilgrim through the perils of the day and the perils of the night, and everything in between. There are no circumstances in which he will abandon the pilgrim to look after himself.

Whatever it is that you are worried about, God is close enough to help you, and there is nothing he will abandon you to face alone.

So, The Lord's care is close.

The Lord's care is continuing

Third, In verses 7 and 8 we find that the Lord's care is continuing.

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 for evermore.ref

God's concern for the pilgrim of the Psalm doesn't end when he completes his journey; God's commitment to his people is for ever, for the greater journey we each undertake, our journey through life itself.

What are we to make of this promise the Lord will keep you from all harm?

I receive the magazine of Open Doors, which is an organisation working amongst persecuted Christians across the world. It's often a harrowing read. Recently there were reports of three women imprisoned in Indonesia for teaching children Christian songs. Nine Christians seriously injured by attackers at a prayer meeting in India. 129 jailed in Eritrea for attending a Protestant Christian wedding. Pastors tortured. Churches destroyed.

In what sense is the Lord keeping these people from harm?

And we know, don't we, that you and I are just as subject to the perils of this world as any non-Christian. On average, in my experience, I'd say that Christians suffer sickness, bereavement, redundancy, crime and unfairness just as much as the unbelievers. In what sense is God keeping us from all harm? Are we deluded?

If we had a narrow, worldly perspective the promises would look bogus, wouldn't they? But the Psalmist just won't allow us that narrow perspective. Just as earlier he lifted his eyes above the troublesome hills to see their creator, here he looks beyond his present anxieties to eternal truths. God is concerned with our whole lives, not just now, but for evermore.

Often our first concern is that we have a comfortable life; God's first concern is that we have an eternal life.

So God's promise is to do what it takes to keep you safe for eternal life with him. That may mean facing situations you'd rather not face. It may mean that some of the troubles you find yourself in you can't understand. But crucially, God is committed to being with you. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.ref

The Lord's care is continuing; he is committed to making sure we finish the journey, until we finally enter into life with him. In the end we will look back and know that we were kept safe; God did shield us from all harm.

The Lord's care is constant, the Lord's care is close and the Lord's care is continuing.


Before we finish, I think it would be fruitful to spend some time reflecting our own worries in the light of this Psalm: what causes them; what can we do about them?

It seems to me that there are basically three reasons why our lives are often blighted by worry. And each of them is addressed by this Psalm.

The first is that deep down we might really believe that God is unable to take care of us.

We may never have the nerve to say it out loud, but underlying our fears is the lack of belief that God is capable of saving us. But as we saw he is the Maker of heaven and earth. If God is God, there is nothing in our lives that He can't deal with. He can help with your problems at work! He can help with your family relationships! He can help with your debt! He is the Lord of your future. Do you believe it?

The second reason that we worry is that we really believe that God is unwilling to take care of us.

Do you secretly believe that God has got it in for you? Are you concerned that you are not good enough for him? Do you see God as reluctant or grudging with his help? As we've seen, that's not the God of the Bible. Our God cares for his people.

But the third reason we are such victims of worry is perhaps the most common, and perhaps the most dangerous. We would simply rather cope on our own.

So to get through life we rely on our intelligence, our job, our charm, our savings, our family. We'd rather be self-sufficient; we prefer to do things our own way.

But at its heart, self-sufficiency is pride, and pride is a rejection of God. Spiritually speaking, the person who relies on himself rather than trusting God is like a child running away from home. It is a rejection of one's parents, a declaration of independence.

Once we've decided to go our own way, it is no wonder we end up bearing the worries that come with that choice. Once we have left behind the One who watches over us, we leave behind any source of comfort.

Which of these best describes the reasons things make you anxious? Don't you believe that God is able to help you? He is the Maker of heaven and earth: of course he can help you! Don't you believe that God is willing to help you? Well, meditate on this Psalm. Six times he says it: verse 3, he cares; verse 4, he cares; verse 5, he cares; verse 7a, he cares; verse 7b, he cares; verse 8, he cares.

Or is it that you would simply rather go your own way, and tackle life on your own terms?

For a worry-free life, like the Psalmist we need to be prepared to admit our need. Where does my help come from?ref he cries.

It might never have occurred to you to put your trust in God like this. It is said that everyone will pray in a real crisis, but you might never have really trusted God for yourself, in which case there is no time like the present.

On the other hand, you might have started the Christian life with every good intention to trust God in everything, but the daily reality is that you end up relying on yourself, and anxious as a result.

Where does your help come from? A good way to find out is simply to see what you pray for. Do you pray about the things that worry you? I frequently worry about being made redundant at work, but I find that I almost never pray about it. How mad is that? I'm trusting in myself and my abilities rather than in God. In fact, it's looking increasingly likely that I will soon be out of a job, but with God on my side, so what? What is it that you are not praying about? That's where you are relying on yourself; that's the source of your anxiety.


I just want to finish by bringing all this into the New Testament a little more.

When the Psalmist lifted his eyes to the hills they became the source of his worries. But if only he'd had a pair of binoculars that could see about a thousand years into the future he might have been able to make out the solution to his worries in the midst of those very same hills.

If he'd looked closely he might have just been able to make out a cross. A cross set between two others, on the top of one of those hills. And on that cross, a man; a man suffering unimaginably as he takes upon himself the sins of the world.

It is that cross which is the absolute guarantee that God is willing to care for you: he sent his own son to die there for you, what else would he with-hold from you?

And the guarantee that God is able to care for you happened on the third day after that: God raised his son to life again. We have a God who brings life from death; whatever you face, he can bring his resurrection power to bear on it if only you will ask him.

As you lift your eyes to the troubles that lie ahead—or like Piglet, you survey the trees before you creaking in the wind—what are you going to do about it?

In the New Testament, the writer of Hebrews says to a group of fearful Christians Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.ref Don't lift your eyes to the hills and be fearful; lift your eyes to the cross and be faithful.

Where does your help come from?