Summary: Finding our place in God’s plan (Also commenting on 9-11)
Psalm Steps> Psalm 123, “A Cure for Contempt” Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
Chaplain (COL) Bob Jenkins had just finished morning devotions in the Office of the Secretary of Defense in the Pentagon on September 11th when he heard “a very deep boom”; he immediately rushed to the crash site, put on a surgical mask and gloves, and led a rescue team into the deep scar cut out of the E-Ring. He prayed with survivors and ministered to fellow soldiers who were grieving over fallen comrades. He offered prayers over body bags, honoring the dead. When I heard what Bob did (by the way, he and I went through Officers Basic Training together in 1975), I have to admit a bit of envy—I wished I could have been there, doing what Bob did.
I can’t think of a better passage of Scripture to describe the civilized world’s reaction to the savage attack on America than Psalm 123. The first thing people asked after the initial shock was, “What can I do?” People sent money, reported to blood banks, organized rallies, put out flags, some even joined the military, and some went to NY & DC to help. Many prayed for the first time in a long time. Let’s compare the attitude of our country with Psalm 123. Here we have a cry to God that begins with a desire to serve (vss 1-2), which leads to a call for God’s mercy (vss 2-3), and concludes with a need for recovery (vss 3-4).
Service (verses 1-2)
The author of this Psalm lived in a society where it was common to have servants. As we grow in our faith we acquire this unnatural skill, the desire to serve others. It’s more natural to want to be served than to serve. God urges us to take on the role of Jesus, Who came as a lowly servant. A servant’s attitude begins by looking up. When we pray, do we ask God to use us? Do we report for duty? Or do we simply give God a list of things we want Him to do for us? A friend of mine, an Army Major, was attending a military ball at a fancy hotel and made the mistake of standing by the entrance in his formal dress mess uniform. An arriving guest thought this officer was the doorman and handed him his bags! We sometimes order God around, forgetting that He’s the Master, and we live for Him.
The Psalmist begins with an upward look: “I lift up my eyes to You, to You whose throne is in heaven” (vs 1). This has been called “a Psalm for weary eyes” (Boice). The occasion for this prayer was opposition; enemy forces were attacking. The writer had no place left to look but up. We look up to God, not geographically, but figuratively. We know God’s not in the sky, sitting on a cloud, but we look beyond the confines of this planet by looking up. God is transcendent, greater than us, above us…but not distant. Who is closest to God? Anyone who is praying; prayer is as close as we can get. And we can pray anywhere—these 15 Psalms of Ascent were prayed on the road, while journeying to Jerusalem. God isn’t confined to a physical locale. There are two realms—the material, and the spiritual. God is spirit, immaterial. We can’t fully define, comprehend, or package Him; but we can trust Him. To look up is a posture of servitude. We look up to those who are over us.
Verse 2 makes a comparison: “As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God.” Servants had to be watchful, awaiting a command. They were expected to be alert, observant, so they could respond quickly to a look or a subtle hand gesture, ready to anticipate the master’s every need. In the same way, we should always be tuned into God, sensitive to His leading in our lives. He leads by circumstance, the counsel of others, His word, and the impressions the Holy Spirit makes upon our hearts.
In Romans, Paul urges believers: “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (12:1); this offering of self to God could also be translated “reasonable service”. When we serve God, our efforts are an act of worship. Our service is the natural outgrowth of a spiritual change within. Faith produces service. God isn’t looking for our ability but our availability. He will equip us to serve Him and show us what He wants us to do. Our job is submission, to surrender ourselves—our plans and priorities—to God and His purpose.