A sermon by Graeme Best We all face trouble. It comes to us regardless of age, occupation, status or wealth. Sometimes our troubles are relatively minor but they may also be extremely serious, including illness and the prospect of death. Every aspect of life can bring trouble, including our health, finances, employment and family life. So where do we turn when we face trouble? We might try to pretend the trouble is not there and hope it will go away. We might also turn to family and friends for assistance or we could attempt to work things out by ourselves. But there is another answer. God is always available to meet our needs and He can provide for us in ways that nobody else can. He longs to hear our cry for help and we can speak to Him in prayer whenever we choose. A man named Singer once said, “I only pray when I’m in trouble…but I’m in trouble all the time, and so I pray all the time.” Singer’s actions were wise and we would do well to follow his example. The Bible often speaks about dealing with trouble, including Psalm 121. This is one of 15 psalms that were known as ‘Songs of Ascents.’ One of the explanations for these psalms is that they were sung by the Israelites as they travelled up to Jerusalem for their feast days each year. These pilgrimages were still conducted when Jesus was on earth, and in Luke chapter 2 we read that His parents journeyed from Nazareth to Jerusalem every year to attend the Feast of the Passover – Jesus went with them when He was twelve years of age. We can imagine the crowd singing these psalms as they made the journey to the Feast and maybe Jesus also sang them later with His disciples. Psalm 121 begins with this statement: I lift my eyes toward the mountains. The psalmist looks at the mountains that surround him and he lifts his eyes as if in a gesture of prayer. We can relate to his words because we know how inspiring and majestic mountains can be. They speak to us of rugged strength and they are also places for solitude and reflection. But instead of continuing to reflect on the comfort provided by the mountains, the psalmist then asks: Where will my help come from? With this question, he reveals that he is facing trouble – it is apparent that this is not a minor matter he can dismiss, or something that he can address in his own strength. He needs help from outside of himself, and as he continues the psalm, we learn that the mountains are not the place he looks to for that help. He does not draw his strength from them, but instead, he looks above and beyond the mountains to the One who made them. He writes: My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. This is a powerful and significant statement, reminding us that there is no other like the One True God. He is the creator of the heavens above and the earth around us, including the mountains. The psalmist’s confidence indicates his experience of God’s help in the past and he knows this will continue. He knows he cannot rely upon nature, or the plans of men, but his confidence is in God alone. So the psalmist describes some of the many ways God protects His children with these words: 3 He will not allow your foot to slip; your Protector will not slumber. 4 Indeed, the Protector of Israel does not slumber or sleep. Because he is certain that his security and protection comes from God, the psalmist describes this truth in relation to travel. Roads as he knew them were uneven and hazardous and robbers were also a threat. Travel was definitely not easy. The psalmist’s picture of a person slipping over was a symbol of the dangers of life. But he also knew that God would protect His children – He was their guardian and a trustworthy protector who was always alert and never weary or asleep. And nothing has changed – God always cares for His children. In Jude verse 24 we read that God is “able to protect you from stumbling.” And in his first letter, the Apostle Peter writes: “You are being protected by God’s power.” (1 Pet 1:5a). Although our journey through life is often dangerous and difficult, God will not allow our feet to slip. The psalmist now changes his picture of God’s care, as he writes (vv 5 & 6): The Lord protects you; the Lord is a shelter right by your side. The sun will not strike you by day or the moon by night. The psalmist could write about the need of shelter from his own experience. In providing this symbol of the dangers we face during our journey through life, he reminds us that these elements will not strike God’s children because He protects and provides shelter. We can readily understand his reference to the sun, with its withering heat that can threaten a person’s life. In this, the desert areas of his homeland were like many parts of Australia. But why would he write about God’s protection from the moon that might strike him by night? In the psalmist’s day, some people feared the moon because they thought it had the power to affect their minds. That isn’t too surprising to us as people still say that unstable behaviour can occur during a full moon, and the words moonstruck and lunacy remain part of our vocabulary. In the face of these fears, the psalmist was able to promise God’s protection. Today, many people continue to trust in the stars rather than the Creator. But, the Bible calls us to walk with God and we learn that He will renew our minds, changing us from the inside – in Romans 12:2, we read: Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. Psalm 121 concludes with these words: 7 The Lord will protect you from all harm; He will protect your life. 8 The Lord will protect your coming and going both now and forever. The psalmist knew that God would protect him from harm or evil – and we see that God can protect from all harm – it isn’t as if He can look after us some of the time but for other things we are on our own. No. There is nothing outside His ability to care for us. The psalmist knew that God would protect Him in every aspect of his life all the time – this isn’t a promise for a day or a few days; it is not even for a few months; this is for now and forever. So God’s care extends to all problems and threats. He is sovereign over every affair of life – whatever it is and wherever we meet it. So, confident of this reality, the psalmist passes this promise on to his readers. As we think about these truths, we should also be aware that we have a role to play – we have to be careful in how we live. We should not deliberately place ourselves in spiritual danger. And when we find ourselves in difficult situations that we cannot avoid, we need to ask God for help, remembering that He is never too busy for His children. One commentator wrote this excellent reflection on the final verses of our psalm: “The Christian life isn’t a quiet escape to a garden where we can walk and talk with our Lord; it’s finding strength in the midst of trying circumstances in a difficult world. Phillips Brooks, renowned pastor of Boston’s Trinity Church, stated: ‘Do not pray for easy lives; pray to be stronger people. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks.’” As we think about our need of protection and help to overcome the difficulties of life, we must remember that Jesus assures us that He is all we need. He said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28) And when He gave His disciples His final instructions, He declared, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) He is with us to help us fulfil His commands as well as to meet the challenges of life. An Irishman named Joseph Scriven certainly understood and experienced these great truths. He was born in 1819 and graduated from Trinity College, Dublin. Amongst his other activities, he was a poet. At 25 years of age, life promised so much. He was in love and engaged to be married. But tragedy struck and just before their wedding day, his fiancé was drowned in a tragic accident. Heartbroken, in 1846, Joseph left his mother behind in Ireland and sailed for Canada to make a fresh start. This was also the time of the great potato famine in Ireland that led to many people emigrating to places like Canada, the USA and Australia. On his arrival in Canada, Joseph taught in the Ontario area and worked as a private family tutor. Eventually, he fell in love again. His fiance’s name was Eliza Roche and she was related to the students he tutored. But once again, Joseph’s dreams were shattered. Tragedy struck when Eliza fell ill and died of pneumonia before they could be married. We cannot begin to imagine the anguish and heartbreak endured by Joseph Scriven during this time, but the rest of his story tells us that he trusted in God, and God sustained him through his grief. Shortly after this second tragedy, Joseph joined the Plymouth Brethren and helped the elderly members of the community. He also began preaching for a Baptist Church. Joseph Scriven never married and he died in Canada in 1866. He spent the rest of his life helping those less fortunate than himself. He gave generously of his time, money and possessions to demonstrate and speak of the love and compassion of Jesus. After his death, the citizens of Port Hope, Ontario, erected a monument to honour his life of selfless giving to others. At about the time Eliza died, Joseph learned that his mother was ill in Ireland, but he was unable to travel back to be with her. So he wrote to her, and for her comfort, he enclosed one of his poems, titled “Pray Without Ceasing.” About 30 years later, Joseph’s poems were published as “Hymns and Other Verses” and a well-known church composer named Charles Converse set this poem to music under a new title which is taken from its opening line. Countless people have been strengthened and encouraged by these wonderful words, just as Joseph’s mother was so many years ago. You may recognise the opening stanzas of this much-loved hymn: What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer! O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer! Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer. Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer. Maybe some of us are facing trouble at the moment. It could be that life is pressing in relentlessly and we feel abandoned. The burning question is: ‘where will we turn for help?’ Will we look to ourselves or others, or will we look to God? Will we bring our needs to Him in prayer? I trust that we will be able to say with the psalmist: My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. Friends, as we conclude, I want to leave you with Joseph Scriven’s third stanza and urge you to respond in faith to the truth of these words: Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care? Precious Saviour, still our refuge – take it to the Lord in prayer. Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? Take it to the Lord in prayer! In His arms He’ll take and shield thee; Thou wilt find a solace there. Thank you for listening.
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