“Where Does My Help Come From?”             Psalm 121       February 20, 2011

 

SI:  Please open your Bibles to Psalm 121.

Psalm 121 is part of a small group of Psalms called the Songs of Ascent.

   Apparently sung by Israelites as they were going up to Jerusalem for the feasts.

I’m sure you remember there is only one story in the Bible about Jesus’ boyhood. 

   It’s in Luke 2, when Jesus and his parents went from Nazareth to Jerusalem

   for the Passover.  That was part of the rhythm of life in Israel for believers.

They would make pilgrimages to Jerusalem.  These songs were sung. 

   Psalm 121 is about the journey.

 

Because of that, it has earned a nickname. 

   It’s called the Traveler’s Psalm. 

 

Before David Livingstone set out on his first great missionary journey to Africa,

   he had one last devotion with his family, and this is the Psalm he chose to read.

 

James Montgomery Boice said that one of his memories growing up is that

   whenever he or one of his brothers or sisters was leaving home or whenever

   the family going on a trip, his mother would gather them all together

   and read Psalm 121.

 

It’s a Psalm about the help the Lord gives his people on the pilgrimage of life.

 


 

INTRO:  I know a man in Florida whose mother got Alzheimer’s disease.

She got to the point where she didn’t know anybody, she couldn’t converse.

   All she did was say three words over and over, “Jesus, help me!  Jesus, help me!”

Her son said that as sad as it was to see his mother lose her mind—

   it was a comfort to witness her true faith until the end.

She had always believed in Jesus, and in the last great struggle of her life,

   she turned to him for help.

 

When you become a Christian, you don’t step into magic circle.

   You don’t get a charmed life without problems.

The Christian life is described with various metaphors in the Bible.

   It’s compared to a battle, a race, and in this Psalm to a pilgrimage, a journey.

And on this pilgrimage, the Christian is exposed to all same sorts of troubles

   as any other human being—injuries, illnesses, accidents and distresses.

 

But—the big difference is this—as a Christian, you are not alone.

   The Lord is with you at all times—watching over you, guarding, keeping you.

   Helping you.

He watches over in such a way that nothing that happens—no matter how bad

    will upset God’s purposes for you, remove Lord’s presence,

   do lasting harm to your soul, or keep you from reaching heaven.

 

In Psalm 121, the pilgrim on his way to Jerusalem, ponders the possible troubles

   along the way—foot might slip, might fall and break bones.

Sun might harm him, a sunstroke leave weak and unable to continue.

   Other dangers—will see when look at Psalm in detail.

   Could become so worried about them he gives up and returns home.

But over and over again—six times—this refrain—Lord watches over you.

   By trusting in those promises, he found help from Lord that sustained him.

 

Listen to the way one minister put it:

“The Christian life is about going to God.  In going to God Christians travel the same ground everyone else walks on, breathe the same air, drink the same water, shop the same stores, read the same newspapers, are citizens of the same governments, pay the same prices for groceries and gasoline, face the same dangers, are subject to the same pressures, get the same distresses, are buried in the same ground.  The difference is that each step we walk, each breath we breathe, we know we are preserved by God, we know we are accompanied by God, we know we are ruled by God; and therefore no matter what doubts we endure or what accidents we experience, the Lord will guard us from every evil, for he guards our very lives.”

 

I want you to ask you one question as we study this Psalm:

Where does you help come from?

   What do you turn to and rely on for peace, security, comfort, assurance all well?

 

There are three groups of Christians here this morning.

Some who have been tested by troubles of various kinds, turned to Lord for help.

   Leaned on Him, on His promises—in middle of trouble had peace, assurance.

   All other helps that world offered were useful as far as they go,

   but your great help was in the Lord.

For you, this Psalm will be a chance to say—Amen! 

   I know these things.  I’ve lived them.

   As we study it, you will lay hold of Lord even more firmly by faith.

 

Some of you have not been tested by great trouble.

   Life relatively peaceful, have usually gotten things you wanted in life.

   Its easy for you to say:  The Lord is my help.  But you haven’t been tested.

What does your mind dwell on in quiet times?  What do you worry about losing?

   May be that those are actually the things you are leaning on for help.

   Time will tell when troubles to come into your life.

For you, this Psalm a chance to test yourself, commit to building faith while things

   are peaceful—so that when evil day comes you will not collapse.

 

Some of you are right now in midst of troubles, but not looking to Lord for help.

   Looking somewhere else—yourself, another person, some thing.

You are finding these things don’t give lasting help.

   Temporary relief from troubles, maybe.

   But no lasting peace.  No comfort that all is well.

For you, this Psalm is a chance to repent and come back to the Lord.

   From this day forward, life going to rest on His promises, do things His way. 

 

Two simple points

   1.  You must not look for help from created things.

   2.  You must look for help from the Creator.

  


 

MP#1  You must not look for help from created things.

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

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

 

The Israelite who wrote this psalm was on way to Jerusalem.

   He was on a difficult journey with lots of uncertainties and dangers.

   He had lots of time to think and worry, maybe even about troubles back home.

   The road he was on wound its way through hilly country. 

As he traveled he looked up at various hilltops along the way and asked himself:

   “Where does my help come from?”

 

Why did he ask himself that question? 

Why did looking up at the hills cause him to ask himself: 

   Where does my help come from?

 

78 times in Old Testament reference made to something called the “high places.”

For example, 1 Kings 14:23 says:

   They also set up for themselves high places, sacred stones and Asherah poles

   on every high hill and under every spreading tree.

When Israelites conquered the Promised Land,

   the Lord told them to totally drive out and destroy the Canaanites. 

But they didn’t.  The Canaanites continued to live among them.

   The Canaanites worshipped on hill tops.  Built shrines and altars to their gods.

 

Two Canaanite gods worshiped on high places.

   Baal the storm god and Asherah goddess of fertility.

   In Canaanite mythology Asherah Baal’s consort, their intercourse good fortune.

People would go to these shrines when had troubles of any kind—

   trouble with money, relationships, health, any troubles future or present.

Pay for sacrifice, ritual prostitution that mimicked the god and goddess.

   Through rituals, were promised help, peace of mind, things will work out.

   These hill-top shrines were a great temptation to Israelites.

 

That’s the significance of the Psalmist’s opening question.

He is facing the troubles and struggles of life and he looks up at the hill-top high

   places and he’s drawn to them.  They are so concrete.  They offer help.

But he says:  No!  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth?

   Canaanite idolatry on the high places sounds so ancient and strange.

   But people are no different today.  We are tempted to look for help from idols.

What’s an idol?  It’s any created thing we trust to give us what God alone can give.  

Tim Keller recent book Counterfeit Gods is an outstanding analysis of idolatry.

   He says idols promise four basic blessings—control, comfort, power & approval.

Depending on your personality, your life experiences,

   you are going to be drawn to one or more of these promised blessings.

 

Idols promise control. 

   The greatest desire that some people have in life is for certainty, security,

   standards, and order.  Control and security is the key to their happiness.

The greatest nightmare for a person who worships control is uncertainty.

   Worry is the problem emotion for people who worship control.

All idols demand sacrifices

   and the sacrifice that control demands is loneliness and lack of spontaneity.

Because when you worship control, other people often feel condemned by you,

   and you are fearful of doing anything unplanned or unknown.

 

Idols also promise comfort—ease, pleasure, a life free of stress. 

   For some people that means privacy, freedom from responsibility.

Boredom and discontent are often problem emotions.

   A craving for comfort opens people to temptations and addictions.

 

Idols promise power—

   success, winning, influence, moving up the ladder, being top dog.

The greatest fear for a person who needs power is failure and humiliation

   and anger is often their problem emotion.

This idol drives you to take on burdens and responsibilities.

 

And idols promise approval—affirmation, praise, a sense of worth.

Approval worshippers dread rejection.

   They pay the price of lack of freedom around people,

   because always concerned about what people think of them.

They sometimes are overwhelmed by a sense of rejection or worthlessness.

 

The way idolatry works, is that people turn to created things to give them

   control, comfort, power, and approval. 

Idols can be anything:  Your children, money, your appearance,

   your health, your weight, a political party, a romantic relationship, religion.

Money is the clearest example of idolatry.

   People worship money for very different reasons.

Some people want money because it promises them control. 

   If I have enough money, my future can be planned and secure.

   If I have enough money, I can control my life and destiny.

 

Other people want money because it promises them approval.

Money can buy the things that make me acceptable

   in the eyes of the people who matter.

Money can be spent to make me more beautiful and attractive.

 

Other people want money because it promises comfort and pleasure.

   Other people worship money because it promises them power over people.

In other words, they lift up their eyes to the hills. 

   They lift up their eyes to the idolatry of money and say:

   That’s where my help comes from. 

 

Tim Keller tells the story of a couple in their church having conflicts over money. 

Husband complained bitterly about how his wife spend too much money

   on her clothes and appearance.  He could easily see that she was using money

   to build her sense of worth and approval.

But then someone in their church challenged this man.

   Don’t you see that the way you save money so carefully is because of an

   underlying idolatry in your life too?  You need to feel secure and in control.

By God’s grace this man got a clear view at his deep idol for the first time,

   and it lead to some real changes.

 

Israelite who wrote this psalm was on a journey to Jerusalem.

   But in a sense it was the journey of life, with all of the uncertainties and worries

   and hopes and desires of life. 

He looked up to the hills, he saw the hill-top shrines, the idols of his day.

   He knew that if he went there, they would promise to help him,

   that he might even feel better for a time if he went that way.

 

What idols catch your eye?  Where look for peace, relief, assurance all is well?

   All have idols of choice.  When troubles come, often return to them.

Part of growing in Christian life is clearly seeing your idols

   and the temptations of the hills and saying: 

That’s not where my help is found.  Not in the things of this world,

   as good as they may be in themselves, but in the Maker of Heaven and Earth.


 

MP#2  You must look for help from the Creator.

   My help is in the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.

   What does it mean to look to the Lord for help?

Simply means this—taking Him at His word.

   Believing His promises and living by them.

 

Two incredible promises that Psalmist clings to after rejects help of hills.

   Many other places in Bible that these promises repeated in different ways.

 

1.  No harm will come to you.

vs. 7  He will keep you from all harm.

This verse is a summary of all the things Lord promises to protect pilgrim from.  

 

vs. 3  “He will not let your foot slip.”

As pilgrim making his way to Jerusalem, rough paths through hills, some steep,

   could slip, break bones, never make it to Jerusalem—won’t happen.

 

vs. 6  “The sun will not harm you by day.”

   In that hot, dry climate could become faith from heatstroke, maybe die from it.

   Won’t happen, going to make it to Jerusalem.

 

vs. 6  “The moon will not harm you by night.”

   Two possibilities—Hebrew poetry, opposites used as way of saying “everything”

   As far as east from west, so far will he remove transgressions.

   Sun and moon—nothing day nor night will harm you.

Other possibility—ancient people moonlight caused mental illness (lunacy)

   Pilgrim on trip might become overwhelmed by pressures, emotionally unable.

   No—not going to happen, will keep mentally strong to get to Jerusalem.

 

Problem with this great promise is what?  Know Christians who have had accidents,

   whose bodies have become weak and faint,

   who have become troubled mentally, emotionally—many other troubles as well.

Either these people aren’t true Christians or this promise is false.

 

Of course, the answer becomes clear when look at rest of Scripture.

   See that over and over again, promises like this are made.

Love the way Jesus put it in Luke 21—speaking to disciples.

   “You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends,

   and they will put some of you to death . . . But not a hair of your head will perish.”

   No contradiction in saying those things.

 

Romans 8  “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  No.”

   No contradiction in saying Christ loves, yet allows all these things to come.

 

Promise of Psalm 121 and Luke 21 and Romans 8 and many other places is not

   that you will not suffer in any number of ways but that

   no injury, no illness, no accident, no distress will have evil power over you,

   and will separate you from God’s purposes to save you, give eternal life.

If a Christian really believes this—gives incredible help and strength.

 

Eric Barker was a missionary to Portugal.

During WWII, situation unstable, advised to send wife and 8 children to England.

   His sister and her 3 children were evacuated on same ship.

   He stayed behind to carry on the work.

On Sunday morning following their departure, stood before congregation said:

   “I’ve just received word that all my family have arrived safely home.”

   Proceeded with service.

After service, congregation discovered full meaning of his words.

   Just before walked into church had been handed a wire—

   Germans had torpedoed ship and all on board were lost at sea.

 

Eric Barker’s story does not condemn grieving at a loss—loved one, job, health

   Does not imply that any other response less than Christian.

   I’m sure Mr. Barker was numbed by news, probably on autopilot during service

   probably later that day, with friends wept.

But what his story does powerfully show and commend to us

   is a solid dependence on promises of God in time of great need.

   He turned to the Lord for help—and got help.

Lord told him through promises, your prayers are answered, they are safely home,

   not home in England, home in heaven, nothing can harm them—forevermore.

   Since he believed God’s promises, incredibly sustained.

 

Do you believe that no evil will harm you?  “Deliver us from evil.”

   Response to it?  Fall apart, turn to hill top shrines?  I know God will deliver me.

2.  He will watch over you.

How many times is this promise made in Psalm 121?

vs. 3  “He who watches over you.”

vs. 4  “He who watches over Israel.”

vs. 5  “The Lord watches over you.”

vs. 7  “The Lord will keep you”  (same Hebrew verb)

vs. 7  “He will watch over your life.”

vs. 8  “The Lord will watch over your coming and going.”

 

Six times told—the Lord is watching.

Why do you act like He doesn’t see you when you are in trouble?

   When trouble comes, when accident happens why do you panic, get depressed,

   react in other sinful ways?  Because don’t believe Lord is watching.

 

Do you remember when disciples on Sea of Galilee, storm came up,

   thought boat about to sink—Jesus asleep in back of boat.

   Master—don’t you care that we are going to drown?

Jesus woke up, before he calmed the storm, remember what He said to them?

   “Where is your faith?”  Get it out!  Exercise it!

   Martin Lloyd-Jones once said—do you want a definition of faith?

   “Faith is refusing to panic.”  Is that not spiritual enough for you?

   “Faith is refusing to panic, because God is in control.”

 

Two details about Lord’s watching that should notice.

1.  He doesn’t slumber or sleep.

This is a dig at Baal.  Who was known to sleep in mythology.

   Remember Elijah mocking prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel—he’s asleep.

   Other times priest—another sacrifice, more money, Baal is asleep.

 

You don’t have to wake Lord up with your efforts.

   Christian in trouble—I’m going to get serious, get up and pray, worship.

   Fine and good—but do you think that will get God’s attention?

   Do you think that your determination to get up and really pray hard,

   God is going to wake up and say—look what’s happened to Bill.

He is already watching over your life—all that has happened to you

   is part of His plan.  You come to him without that pretense.

 

2.  He is your shade at your right hand.

Just a Hebrew way of saying—He is close.  He is personal.

   Brings to mind Jesus’ promises to send the Holy Spirit,

Another Comforter—Jesus first Comforter, Holy Spirit comes into us.

   Brings to mind great promises—“With you always to end of the age.”

   “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

 

Helpful in this way—sometimes when troubles come, accidents happen,

   Christian, who is sensitized to sin, look at life, cold heart, waywardness,

   and maybe he has been terribly wayward, backslidden.

Then he thinks—God has turned His back on me.

   Gone off to someone who is more faithful, more serious about following.

   Christ has rejected me.  It is the worse error a Christian can make.

   No—He is close by.

Love the way opening hymn put it:

   He is our Guide and Friend/

   To us He’ll condescend.

 

Take heart—even if your coldness, waywardness makes you feel far from Him,

   even if you think that troubles that have come upon you are because of sin,

   or discipline from His hand—and maybe they are—

Doesn’t change this wonderful truth—He is close.  Call to Him.  He will help you.

 


CONC:  Last year in seminary, went for interview at church looking for assistant.

Elders of church didn’t call me but was a good experience,

   something happened that made a big impression on me.

 

Large church, Sunday night in senior pastor’s study—

   very unpretentious man, humble, Yankee matter of fact.

   A woman in our church tried to commit suicide—have to visit, come with me.

Got to hospital, asked if he wanted me to wait in hall.

   Said no, I could come in.

 

Walked in room.  Woman looked up and said with tremendous pain:

   “Pastor, do you know what I did?”

   “Yes, I know.”

   “Is there any hope for me?”

   “Anne, you’re in the Lord’s hands.”

   “But I tried to kill myself!”

   “You’re in the Lord’s hands.”

   I’m so ashamed, I don’t know what to think.”

   “Anne, it’s late, get some rest, listen to doctors and nurses, and remember,

   you are in the Lord’s hands.”

 

Spoke to husband briefly, prayed with them and left.”

   Realized, this was not a counseling technique.

This pastor believed that this member of the flock, this sheep, who had strayed

   so far, in such distress and trouble, much apparently her own making—

   was in the Lord’s hands.

He believed Psalm 121—that the Lord was watching over her life.

   Wanted to bring her back to that precious truth,

   so that her weak faith would have something to stand on.

 

If you are a Christian who looks to the Lord for help.

   If you believe that He is not sleeping, that He is near.

   Not only will you stand in troubling and evil times—

   you will be used by God as a channel of hope to those in need.

Where does your help come from?

   What do you turn to and rely on for peace, security, comfort, assurance all well?

   Don’t rest until can say—My help comes from Lord, Maker of heaven and earth