I don’t particularly enjoy planning trips. Its not why I went into ministry. But its important, and I’ve gotten better at it. Last week, before a significant trip, at a time when I needed a reminder of God’s protective, attentive care, I read Psalm 121 and found it so helpful. Its a beautiful Psalm about God’s protective care for believers as they journey through life. My ESV Study Bible notes that it may describe a believer’s pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but also concerns the course of their entire life.
I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth (vv. 1-2).
One of our sessions at our trip was on God’s work of creation. We talked about Canis Majoris, a star roughly 1800 times the size of the sun. If the earth were the size of a golf ball, Canis Majoris would be the height of Mount Everest. I challenged our students to imagine God making and watching over this star, like when Aslan sings the stars into existence in The Magician’s Nephew. Imagine the power and noise and wonder of it! Then we talked about the Redwood trees (which we also visited), and how many of them were alive before Christ was born and are taller than Big Ben in London. I told them the oldest known tree, a Spruce Tree in Norway, is estimated to be almost 10,000 years old! It was amazing to think that this tree was fully grown and well-aged before Abraham walked the earth. Then we talked about animals, and how God has created tens of millions just of different insect species! It was awesome to consider God’s creativity and imagination in making more and more different kinds of bugs – apparently just because He wanted to!
With all these things on my mind, I kept returning throughout the week to these opening verses of this Psalm. My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. The power that made Canis Majoris, the patience that made Old Tjikko, the creativity that was not content with the first 10 million bugs – that is the One who is my “help.” And this help has come into the smallest details of my life! Its keeping my foot from sleeping, and standing at my right hand:
He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night (vv. 3-7).
The image that comes to my mind with this middle section of the Psalm (note the switch to 2nd person) is a believer going on a journey through a long valley. They have a staff in their hand, a backpack on their back. Day and night, they keep plowing forward through the ups and downs and curves in the road. Sometimes they pass robbers, hiding in the hills above, without even knowing it. Sometimes they walk along steep declines, where one false step could mean they stumble to their death. Sometimes they keep moving up and up, pushing through the exhaustion. There are different dangers at different times, whether it be the sun by day or the moon by night. But the entire time, like a camera looking down on them from 20 feet directly above, is the attentive, watchful, protective gaze of God. In every changing scenery, He is constant and unwavering. His protection (according to my ESV study notes, the word “keep” can also mean “guard, watch over, attend to carefully”) is unbroken. He never sleeps.
And this care will go on for all eternity. Ultimately, it will protect us from any and all harm. This last part of the Psalm helps me because it reminds me the pilgrimage will one day end. God’s “help” and “keeping” are bringing me somewhere beyond mere survival. This valley leads out into the clearing.
The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore (vv. 7-8).
When I think about my life from this perspective, it helps me greatly. I think about my schedule – sleeping, eating, driving, sitting in meetings, listening to students, planning events and sermons, walking my dogs. In it all, God never sleeps. He is “keeping” and “helping.” On reflective Monday mornings. On hectic Tuesday afternoons. On weekend walks with my wife. On sleepless nights and even in my sleep – He is watching. Even when I’m not thinking about Him, He is at my right hand. Even when I’m clumsy, He prevents me from tumbling off the edge. He is protecting from dangers I don’t even know exist!
He’s God. He made Canis Majoris. He doesn’t have to pay me one millisecond of attention. And yet He gives me this kind of attentive care? Amazing. If you’re in a valley, looking up at the hills or down at the ravines – reflect on God’s attentive care over you and presence at your right hand. When we have a sense of what God is to us, we can be cheerful travelers – even in the valley.