Craving What We Already Have
I love this Book. I love everything in and about this Book. But I hold a corner of my heart reserved there for a special love for the book in this Book known as the book of the Psalms. I love the Psalms. So many of them are quite literally woven into the fabric of my mind and my heart. Of course, the words of the 23rd Psalm come as easily and as naturally to me as eating or breathing or sleeping. I thrill at the majestic poetry of Psalm 8. I find myself driven to my knees by the heart-rending confession of Psalm 51. I sense my spirit being buoyed by the joyous abandon of Psalm 100 and I find my whole life soaring on the wings of the great Psalm 139. And yet, while I love all the Psalms, there is one Psalm I must confess to you, that I love the best of all. And perhaps I love it best of all because it is the one I most frequently summon from the chambers of my memory. It is the Psalm we have labeled in the Bible as Psalm 121. Here is a quote which you can write on your heart and even put on your refrigerator door: “In a time of crisis, we look inward and become afraid. We look around us and become confused. We look upward and become serene.” That very accurately portrays the message delivered to us in Psalm 121, a Psalm which pictures us in time of need or difficulty or challenge in life, looking upward to the power of God, and finding there a serenity which enables us to journey on in the pilgrimage through life.
The Psalm begins with these magnificent words: “I lift up my eyes to the hills from where will my help come?” My friend, Earl Palmer, says that unfortunately many people see this Psalm in terms of the splendor of earthly mountains, and as a matter of fact, he said that sometimes this Psalm leads us to a kind of ooey-gooey worship of nature. Many times you will find the words: I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where will my help come? emblazoned across a picture of a mountain vista. But Earl Palmer says, and he’s absolutely right, “The mountains, no matter how beautiful they may be, the mountains cannot help us. When we encounter need and challenge and difficulty in life, our help comes not from the mountains but from the God who made those mountains.” I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where will my help come?
The Psalmist says: “My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.” In time of need or crisis, we long to have some experience of the presence of God. In time of challenge or difficulty, we crave some experience of the power of God at work in our lives and the message of this Psalm is that what we long for we already have. What we crave we already have. It is ours. We have this incredible God, the God who made heaven and earth. Our help in life comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth, and so the Psalmist begins: “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.” And if you then walk your way through the other verses of this Psalm, you discover a magnificent portrait of the God we have. Let me show you what I mean.
In the first place, we have a God who stays close to us.
Our God is not a God who is some remote and distant deity. God is not a “way off” or “out there somewhere” God. God is sovereign and transcendent and all-powerful, yes, but our God is not removed from the human scene or the human experience. Quite the contrary, our God has dared to come to us in the flesh and blood of His only Son, Jesus Christ. He is a God who stays close to us, who walks beside us every step of the way through our life’s journey- always ready to stretch out His great, strong, loving arm in order to steady us, in order to keep us from stumbling and falling. He is a God who stays so close to us. Do you understand that that is what sets our faith apart from the other faith systems that exist in our world? From Islam or Shintoism or Confucionism or on and on the list could go? But our faith is different. Why? Because other faith systems believe in a god who is so far removed from the earthly scene that that god cannot identify with human beings and human beings in turn cannot truly identify with that god. Our Judeo-Christian faith is the only faith system in the world where the sovereign, transcendent, all-powerful God comes so close to each of us that He knows our name. Have you ever stopped to think about the fact that in the Bible God is never referred to as the God of all the hosts of humankind? No. In the Bible, God is referred to as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Our God is the God of the individual. Our God is the God who knows your name and mine. Our God is the God who has the hairs in our heads counted. Our God is a God who loves each of us as if each of us were the only one in all the world to love. We have a God who stays so close to us, always ready to stretch out his hand to steady us in life, to keep us from falling. The Psalmist puts it this way: “He will not let your foot be moved.”
But we not only have a God who stays close to us, we have a God whose care is constant.
Our God never takes a vacation, never takes a break, never drops off to sleep, never grabs a quick nap, never goes off-duty. Our God is a God who cares for us (as we say it these days) 24-7-365; 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Our God never, but never, goes off duty. Our God watches over us at night every bit as carefully and profoundly as He watches over us in the daylight. What is it that keeps you awake at night? I know for children it’s sometimes the fear of the dark or the fear of the unknown that won’t let them fall asleep. But what is it that keeps you from sleeping? Is it the fear of putting aside the day’s responsibilities? Or is it the fear of what tomorrow might bring? What is it that keeps you awake at night? Whatever it is, I ask you to remember that we have a God who is on duty watching and caring for us 24 hours of every day.
What a priceless, precious gift sleep is for us as human beings! I mean, if you doubt that, then all you have to do is visit with someone who is an insomniac, and whose condition has quite literally robbed him or her of the appetite for life. Or all you have to do is to study the cases of people who have endured brain-washing and you begin to understand that sleeplessness is a very important part of that fiendish torture. What a priceless gift is the gift of sleep, and yet so many people, it seems to me, have difficulty sleeping these days. What is it that keeps you awake? How many times I encounter individuals who indicate to me that they do have trouble sleeping and what I suggest to them is always the same thing. It’s what I use in my own life. I tell them, “Don’t bother with counting sheep. That never works for me anyway. What I suggest that you do is memorize the verses of Psalm 121.” By the way, every single one of you, no matter what your age or circumstance in life, you can memorize the verses of Psalm 121. It’s a very short Psalm. It’s very easy to remember, and once you have ingrained it into your memory, it will never leave you. And so some night, as the shadows fall over you and you find yourself tossing and turning in the bed, all you have to do is to call up from your memory the words of Psalm 121, and as you move through the verses, suddenly you come to this incredible affirmation where the Psalmist writes: “He who keeps you will not slumber. He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” There is all the assurance you need in order to surrender your body and your soul to the gift of sleep- the assurance of knowing that our God is a God who never goes “off duty”. He is a God whose care is constant. “He who keeps you will not slumber. He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”
But our God is not only a God who stays close to us, a God whose care for us is constant, we have a God who shields us from danger.
What an incredible affirmation!
Way back in 1915, Ernest Shakleton and his crew tried to sail their vessel through the Antarctic. In the process, the ship became lodged, wedged, trapped in the horrifying ice of the Antarctic. No way to get out. It was in desperation, then, that Ernest Shakelton and several of his men set off walking across miles of terrifying ice in order to try to find help. It was one of the most incredible adventures in this century. And after that long, harrowing, frightening journey was over, one of Shakelton’s men said to him: “Boss, I had a strange feeling that someone was with us.” That is not a fantasy. That is not make believe. That is one man’s experience with the God who shields us from danger. My guess is that you in your life at some point along the way have had an experience like that, a sense of some unseen presence at your side, shielding you or protecting you at some time of danger. Maybe it was when you were a child and you suddenly found your way home after being lost. Or maybe it was when you were young and you almost drowned. Or maybe it was the time when you made an astonishing recovery from some serious illness or narrowly missed colliding with an automobile, or miraculously escaped a bombing raid. At the time you rather lightly and casually referred to your guardian angel. But way down deep inside you gave thanks for the God who shields you from danger. Our God is a God who shields us from danger. Listen to the way the Psalmist puts it: “The Lord is your keeper. The Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil. He will keep your life.” We have a God who shields us from danger.
Yes, we have a God who shields us from danger, a God who stays close to us, a God whose care is constant, a God who shields us from danger. But maybe best of all, certainly most powerful of all, we have a God who sees us through death.
We as Christians believe that Jesus Christ, God’s only Son was raised from the dead by the power of God and therefore, the gift and the power of resurrection is available to us all. That means that you and I have no need to fear death. Oh, we may not be looking forward to how we die- we may not be anticipating having to be away from loved ones. Those things are certainly true. But fear of death, no. We do not need to be afraid of death. Why? Because for the Christian, death is nothing more than just a going out and a coming in- a going out of this life and a coming in to the life that never ends- the life with Jesus Christ.
Back during the Civil War, on one occasion, President Abraham Lincoln was visiting the field hospital. He came to the bedside of a young soldier boy. The young man was grievously wounded and in intense pain, writhing in agony. His pain was so intense that his vision was clouded and he did not recognize the President of the United States. At that point Lincoln leaned over the bed and said: “Son, is there anything that I can do for you?” The young man, out of his pain said: “Would it be asking too much, Sir, would you help me to write a letter to my mother?” And so the President took a pen and paper, and as the young soldier dictated the words to his mother, the President wrote them down. The young man, still not recognizing the visitor then said: “Sir, I would ask you, if you would, would you please just sign your name at the bottom of the letter so that my mother will know that you were so kind to me?” The President signed his name. When the boy saw the signature he began to cry. President Lincoln then said to him: “Son, is there anything else I can do for you?” The young man said: “Sir, it won’t be long now. I know it is asking so much, but it would be helpful if you would stay and see me through.” And with that the President pulled up his chair, sat down by the bed and he reached out his hand and he took the young soldier boy’s hand in his own and held it tight. Night came. One, two, three o’clock in the morning. And then, just as the first faint streaks of the dawn appeared in the sky, that young soldier’s spirit took its silent flight. The President stood up, closed the now sightless eyes, whispered a prayer and then left the room. But he had stayed at the boy’s side. He had seen him through death. Do you understand that that is the picture of our God? That when the darkness of death begins to settle over us, our God will be there and our God will reach out and He will take our hand in His very own. And He will hold us tight. And He will be with us as we move out of the darkness of this life and He will be there when we step into the incredible light of the Kingdom of Heaven. Our God will see us through; through death to the light of life eternal. Do you understand that that’s what the Psalmist is talking about when the Psalmist writes: “The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.” Forevermore.
May God bless this simple witness which I offer to you and to Him.