August 29th 2021: Phil Swann

Psalm 121

This is a ‘Song of Ascents,’ one of a group of psalms (psalms 120-134), clustered together. They are short and often extremely heart-warming. Some people say that these are an ascending series of ideas about God, which is an interesting theory. Others have suggested that the songs were written for pilgrims travelling to Jerusalem. Another idea is these psalms were part of temple worship in Jerusalem; a verse would be sung on one step, then they would go up a few more steps and sing another verse and stop, and so on. The truth is, we don’t know. What we do know is there’s truth to enable us to understand who God is, who we are and, most importantly, how we may know Him, and as a result of knowing Him, how we may live.

Psalm 121 is the most well-known psalm of ascent, often used in times of crisis. The word ‘help’ is used throughout. ‘Help’ is a word that needs no explanation; we all know what it means to ask for help. The Psalmist lifts his eyes to the hills as he thinks about the need for help in his life. There is interesting discussion as to what this means. Is it just a poetical phrase that I’m in a situation which is so overwhelming, my human resources have been so exhausted, and I’m looking to bigger things and higher places? Others have suggested that David’s thoughts are turning to Jerusalem. Mountains and Jerusalem often go together. What we certainly know is that David is not in a good place.

Where does my help come from? Maybe you have experienced times when you have asked a similar question. How am I going to get through this? Maybe there are times when you have felt overwhelmed and devastated by what is going on around us in life? This is no lightweight psalm. It is going to the heart of human experience. It is for those times when we are in need and genuinely out of our depth, during deeply unsettling times, having a devastating, horrible experience.

Even asking for help is a humbling experience. To ask for help is to acknowledge our need. There are experiences in life when God, in His providence, allows us to feel completely and totally out of our depth. They are painful experiences. David speaks words of deep testing and pain. Where does my help come from? They are words of desperation. God, in His providence and in His goodness, may allow us to experience such devastation so that we may see who He is more clearly, and experience His help and grace more deeply.

During the Pandemic, where, in the middle of it all, do you turn for help? Incidents of alcohol, smoking and Netflix subscriptions have increased during this time. It seems that these are often the ways of coping as we try to find ways of coping. Let me be bold this morning and ask you personally, ‘Where do you go to for help when you are overwhelmed?’

Wonderfully, this psalm invites us to turn to God for help. In verse 2 David’s testimony in the midst of his distress is that, “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:2). This is a wonderful statement. It is always the experience of the Christian, in that whatever difficulty they face, they are always able to turn and seek the help of their heavenly Father. Help is promised here to the Christian, and crucially it is help from the Lord. We care for one another, but here David speaks of specific help coming from the Lord.

This Psalm encourages us to explore who the Lord is. Many of the psalms do this. The very first psalm, which in a way is a template of how we should read the psalms, tells us “But whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.” (Psalm 1:2) For David, the phrase ‘The Lord,’ acts as a trigger to think and remember who the Lord is. Here, (Psalm 121:2) the Lord is described as the maker of heaven and earth. This is a recurring theme in many of these psalms of ascendance e.g., Psalm 124 and Psalm 134.

Interestingly, David could have written many things about the Lord, but why home in on this? He wants us to remember our helper is not weak, neither is His help something that we should doubt. We should have confidence in Him that He can help us. He is never threatened by the things that threaten us. He is the maker of heaven and earth. This speaks of His authority and power. The one whom we are invited to trust in is almighty.

If you are not a Christian, how do you discover who God is? When you look at scripture you are pointed to the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is both man and God. We see so much in Jesus. He is the one who has all wisdom – what a comfort that is when we are in need. We see in Jesus Christ one who has all compassion and mercy towards us as sinners. It is in Christ we see the reality of the love of God enduring forever as He is patient with us, even in our rebellion. His truth, love and power are seen ultimately in the greatest thing He did for us as sinners, in His death upon the cross and by His resurrection from the dead. We must stress His resurrection. For it is in that wonderful news that he was raised on the morning of the third day, that our confidence to seek help from God is made most clear.

This psalm points us to specific help. What is the help the Lord offers David and which David rejoices in and sings about in this psalm? There’s a word which dominated this psalm, ‘Watch.’ It is found in verses 3,4,5,7 and 8. The Lord continually watches over His people. This may seem a little intimidating; He knows everything about us. But the direction in which this psalm is going is one who is our carer and protector. Here, the news in this psalm is that God sees our lives, our distresses, and concerns, and He is watching over us, committing to us. He is Immanuel, God with us. He has come to us as one of us. He understands. Your life, with your troubles and distresses, as a child of God, matters to God.

If we try to limit God’s interest in us to the times when we mess up, we fail to do justice and we fail to be honest to the wonderful picture that scripture presents us of our Father in heaven (Luke 12, Psalm 17). God loves us and cares for us. This is not because we are special or better than others, it is because the Lord is good. He delights in us. He cares for us. He will not allow your life, as a Christian, to fall into absolute chaos. He is totally committed to you. He is the God who sees us, who will never neglect His care towards us. His commitment to you is total and enthusiastic. We may seek to support one another, but there are times when we fail and get tired. God never slumbers or sleeps. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is, where you are, the Lord is always with you. He will keep you. The things in life we think can harm us most, illustrated here by the sun and the moon, cannot. The Lord sets a limit to which disaster touches our lives. Central to that limit is the news that we will not be overwhelmed.

This psalm, which brings rich encouragement and comfort to Christians over many generations, over many centuries, is offered to us today for our comfort and encouragement. It is a wonderful thing to be a Christian, to know that the maker of heaven and earth is the one from whom our help ultimately comes. It is wonderful to know that He is always with us, He will never forget us and He will watch over our coming and our going, both now and evermore.

A Christian always has somewhere to turn. There is always an ear that is open. There is always a heart that is inclined towards them. There is always help. It’s a wonderful thing to be a Christian, to be found today in Jesus Christ, with access to the help of the maker of heaven and earth.

Are you a Christian? Is this help really your help? This is the help of the Christian. It is the comfort of the Christian. But are you a Christian today? You may be very little, very young, a lot older and a lot bigger, but it makes no difference. The invitation goes out repeatedly from scripture to us all. It is for us to come and put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, to become a disciple of Christ, a follower of Christ, and in coming to Him, to receive grace and mercy and love from God. Understand, that the one who sees your life, in all of its chaos, in all of its hypocrisy, in all of its needs and its fears and confusion, is the same one who invites you today to forgiveness, to life, to joy and to freedom in Jesus.

Where does your help come from in this uncertain and dangerous world? Do you feel yourself to be overwhelmed by life? Well, there is a God in heaven who is, indeed, the maker of heaven and earth, who cares profoundly and deeply for each one of us. In His Son, Jesus Christ, by His death and resurrection, offers us new life. He invites you and He invites me to come to Him today and to receive His help.

July 4th 2021: James Sibley


Psalm 61

Have you ever had to cry out for help? May be as a child calling out for a parent, or calling for the emergency services? In Psalm 61 we see King David doing exactly that – crying for help. He wants more than help, he wants God to help him. What is David facing? He calling to God because his heart is faint. He is experiencing distance and disconnection with God. He is separated from God’s living presence. We are not told the context of this psalm. The previous Psalm 60 tells us exactly when this psalm took place, but not for this one. Context can be really helpful, but we can’t leave the psalms in that context; they have been taken and made into a hymn book for all nations. We should be able to pray them and sing them in our own lives. The Psalms are to be echoed and owned by ourselves.

Are we feeling like David in verses 1 and 2? Or have we felt that way before?

1Hear my cry, O God,
    listen to my prayer;
from the end of the earth I call to you
    when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
    that is higher than I.

May be, you have felt this way when prayers seem to go unanswered, and God seems far away.
May be, you sin has left you distanced and disconnected? May be, you have drifted from God in lockdown – not a conscious rejection but drifted away? May be, you are worn out and fed up with life? Possibly you are approaching old age or experiencing grief or loss? You may be full of joy. But be prepared to hold on to Psalm 61 when the times get tough. We have hope for our hearts.

In the second half of verse 2 David expresses his sense of hopelessness, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” What David is saying is, ‘I can’t do this on my own. I’ve reached the end of my tether.’ When we see David’s sense of helplessness, it is ultimately the right way to feel in those situations. The solution is beyond our control. We need to reach out for help. David is crying out for, ‘the rock that is higher than I.’ He is saying, ‘Take me up, out of reach.’ This metaphorical imagery is a place of safety which only God can take him. If you are feeling desperate and helpless, it is freeing to realise and know it is time to stop struggling and cry out to the One who can help and will help. We need to recognise we are in trouble and look to the one who can help and will help. That is ultimately what repentance is, when we cry out, “God, I need you. Hear my cry. I need you.”

How does David expect God to meet his needs? What is he praying for? He looks for a rock (verse 2) and for refuge, a strong tower,“3 for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.” A rock is a solid foundation, a place of security. In sin, struggles, affliction or loss, we need something to hold onto. We need a place of protection, a refuge from sin and suffering and the attacks of Satan. We all need to be rescued from our sins. God is our rescuer. In the Old Testament a rock is also an image of refreshment, (Israelites in the wilderness). When we think of a rock, think of God’s provision. David needs God to come to Him and sustain him.

David is also looking for God’s presence, “Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! Selah” In the tabernacle, in the Holy of Holies. On the Ark of the Covenant were two cherubim on the Mercy Seat. David could be thinking of God’s presence on Earth. The wings are also imagery of God’s care – to provide shelter under His wings. David is thinking of a place he wanted to go, but couldn’t – the Holy of Holies.

What gets in the way of things as we walk through life? Sin. Sin separates us from God’s presence, His protection and His provision. In Jesus we find the One who brings God’s presence to us, who takes our sin away.

Verse 4 is the key to the psalm, “Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! Selah.” David cries out for the presence of God, from saving from sin. This verse goes so well with John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John says God has come, the Word has become flesh. He is among us – a man, in Jesus Christ, dwelling among us. David cries out from the ends of the earth and now we see Jesus has come from the ends of the earth to meet us. Jesus knows our pain, our temptations. When we experience all the emotions of Psalm 61:1-2, we can see a Saviour who has come down to meet us in our place of need.

Verses 1-5 are a personal prayer of David which we can adopt.

1Hear my cry, O God,
    listen to my prayer;
from the end of the earth I call to you
    when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
    that is higher than I,
for you have been my refuge,
    a strong tower against the enemy.

Let me dwell in your tent forever!
    Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! Selah
For you, O God, have heard my vows;
    you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.

There is a change from verses 6-8. Verse 6 switches to David, the king, 6 “Prolong the life of the king; may his years endure to all generations!” This may be praying for King David, but ultimately David is echoing what was said in 2 Samuel 7. When David and the people are praying, they are looking beyond David to the King who will come to walk our path that would take Him to the cross, where He would be made sin for us, but then three days later would rise again in power and glory. He appeared to all those witnesses and then ascended to heaven, where the psalm is now fulfilled, May he be enthroned forever before God; appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him!” We have someone who is there for us so we might know the protection and provision of God. We have the very presence of God in us, in the Holy Spirit.

Can we expect, because we have God’s presence, to have only good times? No. But we do have a sure foundation on which to build our lives. We see this Psalm play out in Romans 8:31-39,

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us] 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Here is a promise, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.Christ Jesus has brought us His presence, His protection and His provision.