What a wonderful privilege it is to bring you a message this morning which I believe gives great encouragement to those who are fearful as they journey through life and encounter physical and spiritual opposition.
Many of us can testify to God’s protection and leading and guiding as we have moved through life and undergone some pretty traumatic experiences. In times like these we would often turn to reliable sources for encouragement that may be folk around us - family and friends, but it may also be possible that we turn to scripture to lead us and guide us.
Often as we look at scripture we come and approach it with a set of ideals and ideas which while they may be correct also limit the great richness which we can draw from such passages.
As a young person living in Zimbabwe and involved Youth for Christ and youth groups in our church in Bulawayo we often had the joy of going out to camp on a ranch owned by a Christian man named Ossie Connolly. The ranch was a working farm but a good portion of the land he had turned into a campsite capable of housing about 200 people. There were cowsheds that were made into dormitories for the guys, straw and hay spread over the floor made sleeping in the sheds warm and comfortable. The girls of course had a bit more comfort with built houses and dorms. The campsite itself backed onto a very large granite outcrop, a solid rock on the top of this enormous piece of rock Ossie had constructed the most beautiful chapel out of stone and thatch, we spent many wonderful hours listening to the Word of God explained to us and singing songs, worshipping and praising God. Just outside the entrance to the chapel there was a plaque laid into a stone pillar the inscription taken from the King James Version is from the first verse of the chapter we are looking at this morning
“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.”
When reading this inscription and looking out over the vast wilderness of the area in which the farm lay the splendour of the scene below, the peaceful tranquillity of the Zimbabwean bushland, often drew a gasp of awe and wonder from the depths of my being.
But was this the right response to this text, in later years I was to question this as hardship and strife faced me and my family.
Let us read from Psalms 121 today we are using the CEV but before we do so let us ask God toopen His word to us.
1I look to the hills! Where will I find help?
2 It will come from the Lord, who created the heavens and the earth.
3 The Lord is your protector, and he won’t go to sleep or let you stumble.
4 The protector of Israel doesn’t doze or ever get drowsy.
5 The Lord is your protector, there at your right side to shade you from the sun.
6 You won’t be harmed by the sun during the day or by the moon at night.
7 The Lord will protect you and keep you safe from all dangers.
8 The Lord will protect you now and always wherever you go.
Can you see the difference, in the old King James Version the first verse is a statement?
However, in the CEV in the verse is posed as a question.
So often when we are faced with difficulties we cry to our God and we look in the wrong direction.
Today’s Psalm has been referred to as the Travellers Psalm.
It is said that the road leading to Jerusalem to where the Temple was built, was an extremely dangerous road because in the hills alongside of the road thieves and criminals hung out waiting to rob and maim unsuspecting travellers. But there was another aspect of the hills that was threatening, it represented the failures of past generations on the top of the hills and scattered down the sides were shrines, alters and Asherah poles erected to remember other gods, gods of the sun, gods of the moon, gods of fertility, gods of love foreign gods adopted by those who in the past had disobeyed the Lord and had turned to false gods and prophets to protect them.
As the traveller passed by these images, as he walked through the valley’s surrounded by all the dangers that lurked there, I am sure that just as the Psalmist wrote the question where does my help come from?
As we walk through life we too are faced with many images from our past, many false gods erected either by ourselves or by those in past generations. My attention was drawn to this fact not long ago when visiting one of the folk at Wearne one Thursday afternoon they were preparing to go away for a short period of time with their children and as I arrived in their room they lady was busy packing the last few items into her overnight bag. Sitting on her dresser was a Bible and diary and also a picture of St Christopher. Now I ought to explain not all the folk at the Bethany Homes establishment are Christians in fact some of my more interesting conversations revolve around those who ask me not to mention anything religious in our visits but this particular lady who comes from an evangelical background welcomed our talks and frequently asked for a moment of prayer before I left her, so this particular day after talking about the prospect of a few days with her children and grandchildren she asked if I would pray with her and specifically ask God to protect her and her family as the travelled to Esperance that they would enjoy a safe and uneventful journey, which of course I was happy to do. When we had finished praying and as about to take my leave of her I noticed that she picked up the picture of St Christopher kissed it and placed it gently into her hand bag along with her Bible and diary.
Now I ask you a question was her faith in the God of the Bible to protect her or was her faith in the iconic symbol of St Christopher, or perhaps she was hedging her bets both ways. Comical as this story may sound it is often the way we treat God, we ask Him to do this or that for us to provide us with protection and guidance yet rather than leave the matter in His hands we seem to take it back and control the outcome for ourselves.
Let us take a look at this wonderful chapter and as we do so let us be open to God’s Spirit moving in us to encourage and equip us for the journey ahead.
Let us look at verse 1 when looking to the hills where does his help come from it does not come from the knowledge he has gleaned from his friends and associates it does not come from the past gods and false prophets, no his help comes from Yahweh – his help comes from The Lord, not just any old god you can think of, no, the Psalmist’s help comes from the maker of heaven and earth, his help comes from the very one who in the beginning created the heavens and the earth, this was before there was anything before the false gods, the gods of the sun, and the moon, the goddess of love, this was before the prophets of false hope, this was before the god of achievement, the god money the god of greed and the god of idleness came into existence. Friends when in trouble where do we look? Do we look to the maker of heaven and earth, this same Lord in verse 8 is the one who will protect you both now and forever more. Have you noticed how this whole psalm is bracketed by the greatness of the Lord the one who started the creation is the same one who will protect (watch over) us, not just when he feels so inclined, not when he’s doing nothing else, the text says he will protect (watch over) us now and always where ever you go, that means we are never out of His protection there is never a place where we are not under his protection.
Let us look at how this is possible verse 3 says that the Lord is our protector he never sleeps or let us stumble, in the NIV it reads that the Lord watches over us, this watching is likened to a soldier on guard constantly alert, always looking out for the approach of an enemy or danger, this guard never lets his concentration fall, so it is with our Lord the one watching over us he will not let our foot slip, no matter how weak or how fragile we are He is always there alert and ready to support, to help us on the way.
Verse 4 Seems to reiterate the previous verse, but it first of all identifies that the Lord of Israel is like no other common god, the Lord of Israel is the one that the Psalmist remembers as the faithful one, the God who keeps his promises, he knows this from experience listen to his testimony
Ps. 9:9 "The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble."
Ps. 34:4 "I sought the Lord and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears."
Ps. 34:18 "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."
Ps. 40:1-2 "I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand."
Ps. 46:1 "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble."
The verse seems to compare the idols and the false gods of times gone by, it is those gods that were the ones that slumbered and slept, that went off and could not be raised.
The sun is the most powerful visible element known to man everything on this earth grows and has its life from the very existence of the sun without it plants don’t grow, without it life would be very different the universe that we know revolves around the sun but this verse says that even the strength of this formidable element cannot stand against a God who will shade us and protect us for its force.
In verse 5 & 6 we are faced with dangers that were very real in the desert country side that the traveller would pass through, the heat from the sun was a real threat, the moon it was believed sent people mad, so to the folk living in those times the god of the sun and the god of the moon were actually realities.
Today we face similar gods we face the god of materialism and the god of many addictions, we face the reality that we have become A SOCIETY IN WHICH WHAT WE OWN MARKS WHO WE ARE.
We have become a society that has become addicted to many things, how much time do you spend each day on the social media sites, what would you do without your mobile phone, your ipad or your tablet, how much of our time is spent surfing the net, watching you tube or writing emails? Do these things take us away from communion with our God, are these not the idols of the 21st century?
But our text tells us that the Lord is the one who will protect us from these things, if our trust is in Him then the material things of this world will seem insignificant, the addictive qualities of the internet, of the social media, of the many other things that are demanding our attention each day will pale into insignificance in the light of the goodness the love and the mercy of our God.
Verse 7 says the Lord will keep you from all harm – there is nothing as Paul writes in Romans 8:35-39
35 Can anything separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble, suffering, and hard times, or hunger and nakedness, or danger and death? 36 It is exactly as the Scriptures say,
“For you we face death all day long. We are like sheep on their way to be butchered.”
37 In everything we have won more than a victory because of Christ who loves us. 38 I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love—not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future, 39 and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!
The Psalmist says that the Lord will watch over our coming and our going, that is He is always watching there is nowhere we can hide, folks as longs as this promise is in ur lives as long as we hold to the promise that is here in the written Holy Scripture we should find it very difficult to be in a place that says God is not with us. Now there may be times when we feel that God has deserted us, there have been times in my own life when I have thought why has God deserted me here? Yet, if I am really honest with myself and with others in that circumstance, it us not God who has deserted me, but it is I who have made the wrong choices, it is I who has drifted away from the path, it is I who has thought that I know better than my Heavenly Father, it has been my decision to turn aside from what God knows is best for my life. When things go wrong we are too easily persuaded to ask WHY GOD, instead of confessing our sin of self-centeredness and pride, God is watching over us every action, every thought, every emotion He is there for us both now and for ever more. As we go through the journey of life as we experience physical and spiritual opposition verses 7 & 8 tells us that 7 The Lord will protect you and keep you safe from all dangers.8 The Lord will protect you now and always wherever you go.