How Worship Helps Us 'Raise Our Gaze': Comfort from Psalm 121
OK. I’ll come right out and admit it: I am a history geek! I love studying it, watching documentaries, and shaping holidays around seeing ‘old stuff.’ It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, I get it. But something about understanding significant events gone by is riveting fodder for me!
As a result, I have always been an avid news follower. 6 o’clock was a sacred hour for us as the TV news came on. I grew up in a household that had the newspaper delivered every day, and as a 7-year old, I remember surfing the ‘internet of our day’ to just see what else was happening in our world.
Fast forward to today, and I predominantly find myself watching cable news broadcasts and using their respective apps. But there is one very dangerous side-effect of being immersed so fully in that realm. It can paint a picture of life and a world that’s out-of-control, and cause me to withdraw into my fears, pressing in on my psyche from all sides at all times of day and night!
In this COVID pandemic, I know we could just turn it off and pretend it wasn’t there, but that wouldn’t help with the looming fears and questions.
So, where do we turn? Escapism through Netflix binge-watching? Ceaseless reruns of old sporting events? Or to some higher wisdom?
A few weeks ago, Pastor Greg Harris reminded us, through the story of Elisha in 2 Kings 6, that in the midst of our circumstances we need to see how God is present in a situation. Let me address how our engagement in worship (whether digital or fully gathered) raises our gaze to see what God does.
Lesson 1 – Looking backward raises our gaze by showing how great and faithful God is.
As part of their religious worship, every year the people of Israel had to travel to Jerusalem three times per year to celebrate the feasts. As they journeyed, they sang songs that reminded them of God’s presence with them, as in Psalm 121:1-2:
1 I lift up my eyes to the hills— from where will my help come? 2 My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
While it is uncertain what danger was in the hills surrounding the pilgrim, they were reminded to look beyond the physical hills to the one who made them. Rather than keeping focused on the terror of the moment, this worshipful prayer reminds us of the bigger story at play – that there is a God bigger than our circumstance.
In the midst of our fear, we need to be reminded of God’s track record of intervening in human history to accomplish his purposes, most fully as Jesus. The Son of God proved by his sacrificial death and resurrection that the ultimate enemy (death) is conquered. You see? Looking backward raises our gaze to remind us that God is able.
Lesson 2 – Being reminded that God is with us in the present raises our gaze to see as God sees.
Can we be sure he is still with us? Look, if God was faithful to his word in keeping his prophetic promise to send Messiah, we know we can be sure of Psalm 121’s promise to believers today, even as it was to those on ancient pilgrimage:
3 He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
Lesson 3 – Looking to our future hope raises our gaze to a day when our suffering is no more!
Thankfully, we can trust that God’s promises have no expiration date! Understanding his power and his faithfulness means that what is yet to come… WILL come! There is coming a day in our near future when we will return to a semblance of normality in society. But it will still be a society plagued (pardon the pun) by many other ills and sorrows. Worship causes us to look beyond those “hills” to a greater day when all death and dying and sorrow are banished as Christ returns to complete the re-creation begun at his resurrection! (Rev. 21:1-5). And we have the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit in every believer as a deposit for that future glory! (Eph. 1:11)
So, let’s immerse ourselves in truly good news! When we worship, we are able to ‘lift our gaze’ beyond to a greater day, for Psalm 121:7-8 concludes to reminds us,
7 The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. 8 The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on … AND FOREVERMORE!