Summary: We are called to look beyond this world to the Lord--he is always our help.
All Problems Solved?
Last week we looked at our first song for the road, the first of the Psalms of Ascent – and it was one that got us going on the road of faith by reminding us of the need to repent. It wasn’t the happiest psalm. But it was an important one. It set things in perspective. It reminded us that living as followers of Jesus begins with saying “no” to the lies of the world and “yes” to the truth of God.
Now, thankfully for us, once we’ve begun this trip and are on our way, we can count on the fact that “all of our problems are solved, all our questions answered, all our troubles over.” As Christians, we are members of that privileged group of people who no longer have to worry about accidents, arguments, misunderstandings, rebellious children, and illness. And, in fact, if any of those things do befall us—whether a disease, a car accident, a fight with a husband or wife, kids who won’t listen like they should—it is likely a sign that “something is wrong with our relationship with God.” Somehow we’ve gotten off track. We’ve taken a detour off the road of faith and taken back the “yes” we said to the truth of God. And God, tired of our wavering and fickle faith, has gone off to look after someone more deserving of His attention. Our circumstances are the result of our faithlessness. I’m going through difficult times because there is something wrong with my relationship with God; and God, simply put, just got tired of me.
Does any of that sound right to you? Is this what it means when we go through difficult times? Better yet, is this what you believe? Or have you ever felt this way? Let me just say three words if you have: you are wrong.
But we are sometimes still surprised as Christians when bad things happen to us. Despite what Jesus says in Matthew 5: 45—“For he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous”—there’s always this little part of us that thinks, “If I were really a Christian and God really loved me, then none of this would happen to me.” Deep down we’re unable to reconcile our belief in God’s love and care for us with all the bad stuff life throws our way.
Eugene Peterson says that “no sooner have we plunged . . . into the river of Christian faith than we get our noses full of water and come up coughing and choking. No sooner do we confidently stride out on to the road of faith than we trip on an obstruction and fall to the hard surface, bruising our knees and elbows. For many, the first great surprise of the Christian life is in the form of troubles we meet. Somehow it is not what we had supposed.” Something bad happens and we look around for whatever help we can find. After we stumble to the ground in confusion and pain, we ask the same question as our psalm: “I lift my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come?” We want help. We need help. And sometimes, before we find ourselves saying the next verse of the psalm, we find ourselves looking in a lot of other directions for this help first. Now, let’s take a closer look at Psalm 121 and see what it says to us about the circumstances we can often face and where we should seek help.
Well, to start, our psalm today is perfect for travellers. In fact, Psalm 121 is just the right song for someone travelling by foot. First of all, in verse 3—“He will not let your foot be moved”—we see a reference to stumbling feet. If you were journeying by foot, it would have been easy to step on a loose stone, fall, and sprain your ankle. Verse 6 refers to the fact that someone travelling exposed to the hot sun for a long time would risk sunstroke. And the same verse warns of the danger of moonstroke, or the possibility that “a person traveling for a long distance on foot, under the pressures of fatigue and anxiety, can become emotionally ill.” Ancient writers described this condition as moonstroke. We call it lunacy, which comes from the Latin word for moon. It is from these travelling dangers that the Lord protects us according to Psalm 121.
And we can add to these dangers things anything that intrudes into our lives and causes difficulties, struggles, trials, and troubles. And sometimes it seems that no matter what precautions we take—with our seatbelts fastened and our doors securely locked—we can’t ever guarantee our own security and safety. We all know Christians who fall and sprain their ankles. We all know Christians who struggle with anxiety, even depression. But doesn’t this psalm say that the Lord will not let the sun strike us here? Doesn’t it say that He will not let us stumble? What’s right: the psalm or our experience? Is it any wonder there are Christians who end up thinking their struggles are a sign that something is wrong with their relationship with God and He has left them alone? If God hasn’t left them alone, would they still be stumbling and getting moonstroke?