Psalm 121 – The Divine Helper

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.

He will not let your foot be moved;
    he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

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.
The Lord will keep
    your going out and your coming in
    from this time on and forevermore. (New Revised Standard Version)

Not a one of us gets off this planet without needing help – a lot of help! Even people who are in helping professions or who identify themselves primarily as helpers need help themselves.

There is no such thing as complete, total, and irrevocable independence. We as humans are hard-wired by our Creator for community. We only find our greatest fulfillment within interdependent relationships, and only discover our highest happiness in a dependent relationship to God.

To need others, and especially God, is not a weakness. It’s a sign of sage awareness and confident strength whenever we assess that help is needed. Only the fool goes it alone, believing they can pull themselves up by their bootstraps. “God helps those who help themselves,” was originated by Ben Franklin, not Holy Scripture.

So, the real question is: To whom and to where do we go for help? Who do we consult? With whom do we collaborate?

The most important step any of us can make is to realize that our own personal resources are inadequate, and that we admit, “I need help with this.” The next most important step is to go to the right source for that help.

The psalmist insists that the Lord is our helper, our keeper. Keeping is a large part of helping. God as our Divine Keeper means that the Lord watches over us, guards our lives, and seeks to preserve us from harm, wrongdoing, injustice, and oppression.

The very identity of God is wrapped up in being a Protector, Guard, and Watchkeeper. The Lord shields and shelters us, much like a mother hen over her chicks. God watches over us, just as a watchman keeps guard over a city at night when the residents are sleeping. And since the Lord is everywhere present, there is a continual divine presence in all of our life journeys. The dangers of both the day and the night are no match for the God who is our Keeper.

The promises of safety in today’s psalm are not meant to suggest that those who walk in the shelter of God will never endure harm or that nothing ill will ever befall them. The Psalter knows all too well that the wicked are everywhere and that they thrive unjustly.

Rather, these divine promises are general promises—they are blessings God does for those who rely on the Lord, call upon God’s name, and seek divine help. We are to have a continual awareness of God’s presence in this world. Although we are not inoculated from pain, God is always with us in our hurt and bewilderment.

It can be hard to ask for help. Our pride, stubbornness, and independence might cause us to experience harm rather than seek assistance.

Be specific about the help needed. The following are some “helpful” ways of approaching God by answering some basic newsgathering type questions. The goal isn’t to convince the Lord to help us, but rather to enable us in connecting with what we truly need and being specific about God’s assistance for us or for others:

Who? 

Who needs help? Clarify if the help is for yourself, another, or a group of people.

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”

Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”

The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. (Matthew 8:5-8, NIV)

How? 

How will God’s action help? God is an expert listener. Tell the story of what you have tried already and where you fall short.

Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:21-24, NIV)

Why? 

Why are you soliciting God’s help? Explain what’s going on and the reasons why you believe the Lord is the One to help. Mention the divine attributes and actions of God, as well as your own personal connection.

Then Asa called to the Lord his God and said, “Lord, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this vast army. Lord, you are our God; do not let mere mortals prevail against you.” (2 Chronicles 14:11, NIV)

Where? 

Where is the help needed? Is it a geographical location, a specific spot in the human body, or a place such as a building or home?

Jesus left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. So, he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them. (Luke 4:37-39, NIV)

When? 

When do you need help? Immediately? Tomorrow? At a specific time?

O Lord, God of my salvation,
    when, at night, I cry out in your presence,
let my prayer come before you;
    incline your ear to my cry.

For my soul is full of troubles,
    and my life draws near to Sheol. (Psalm 88:1-3, NRSV)

What? 

What, exactly, is the need? Spell out what you want in detail, holding nothing back. Don’t be concerned about the words or saying it right. Speak in your own plain language.

Help, O Lord, for the godly are fast disappearing!
    The faithful have vanished from the earth!
Neighbors lie to each other,
    speaking with flattering lips and deceitful hearts.
May the Lord cut off their flattering lips
    and silence their boastful tongues. (Psalm 12:1-3, NLT)

May you find the help you need today and every day, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Psalm 121 – My Help

Mountain landscape

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.

He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

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.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time on and forevermore. (NRSV)

This is my favorite psalm.  I have read and mulled it over so many times that it is almost second nature for me to draw from its rich theological statement about God when times are difficult.  This is a psalm designed for worship – to be used by God’s people through song and prayer.  A community without Psalm 121 near to its heart is a group of people in danger. Yet, with it, there is a continual sense of security, confidence, and hope.

Psalms are meant to be spoken aloud and repeated. So, here is another version:

I look to the hills!
Where will I find help?
It will come from the Lord,
who created the heavens
and the earth.

The Lord is your protector,
and he won’t go to sleep
or let you stumble.
The protector of Israel
doesn’t doze
or ever get drowsy.

The Lord is your protector,
there at your right side
to shade you from the sun.
You won’t be harmed
by the sun during the day
or by the moon at night.

The Lord will protect you
and keep you safe
from all dangers.
The Lord will protect you
now and always
wherever you go. (CEV)

This beautiful majestic psalm can be used for any and every occasion.  So, I often use it within hospital visits, counseling in a wide array of situations, and for my own personal edification.  It seems to me that one cannot possibly overuse this psalm.  The psalm was originally used for ascending the hill into Jerusalem, anticipating meeting with God.  Just like a lover who looks forward to meeting his beloved and thinking about how wonderful she is, so the psalmist looks with adoring affection on the God he is about to encounter.

I Lift My Eyes to the Hills

Here is yet another version of this wonderful psalm:

I look up to the mountains—
does my help come from there?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth!

He will not let you stumble;
the one who watches over you will not slumber.
Indeed, he who watches over Israel
never slumbers or sleeps.

The Lord himself watches over you!
The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.
The sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon at night.

The Lord keeps you from all harm
and watches over your life.
The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,
both now and forever. (NLT)

The psalm is rich with a theology of grace, watch care, and loving attention.  This is a God who is powerful and merciful, a God able to help and desiring to do so.  In a world which seems so often distant and unaffected by the divine, this is a psalm to utter repeatedly in every situation of life so that the truth of the Lord is grafted deep into the soul.  In each unwanted circumstance the psalm can be spontaneously used as an immediate prayer, and with every anticipated event it can provide the words to address the most pressing of needs.  Let the words resonate within you as people created in the image of God, connecting with him on both the cerebral and visceral levels of your life in this last version:

I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.

He will not allow your foot to be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
Shall neither slumber nor sleep.

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 shall preserve you from all evil;
He shall preserve your soul.
The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in
From this time forth, and even forevermore. (NKJV)

 Amen.