Roller coaster Psalms…

I’m reading the Psalms at the moment and this can lead to some quite strong mood swings from one day to the next.  One day I read Psalm 136 which is an exciting hymn of praise to God for his mighty acts of creation and salvation for Israel, with the re-occuring theme “his love endures forever”.  I think the best way to read this Psalm is in a group, with a leader the first part of each verse, and then the congregation responding with “his love endures forever”, and this should definitely get louder each time, until the refrain is being shouted out with abandonment (rather like the crowds on Palm Sunday)

The next day I read Psalm 137 – which forms something of a contrast – beginning with the Jewish exiles weeping by the rivers of Babylon, whilst being taunted by their captors.  The haunting question comes “How can we sing the LORD’s song in a strange land?”  How can Psalm 136 be their song  anymore?  At this point the Psalm takes on a darker tone, as the Psalmist remembers how Judah was betrayed by Edom.  Suddenly blessing is invoked for the one who takes vengence on them; blessing for the one who dashes their infants against the rocks.

There is cursing language in many of the Psalms, but this has to be one of the most brutal passages amongs them.  What can be said about such prayers?

I think the first thing to remember is the raw emotion this represents.  This is sung by people hundreds of miles from home, cut off from all they love, taunted to sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land.  Part of me wonders if this was part of their quiet revenge – singing songs cursing their captors in a language their captors would not know – a kind of bittersweet irony.  That is pure speculation, but what I do know is that I do not have much chance of fully appreciating how this Psalmist feels from a (reasonably) comfortable sofa, in a pleasant house in a leafy English village (small town).  I do not know what it is to be a captive of war, and I do not know how I would pray in that situation.  As part of this it may be that “infants” or “babies” here is simply used to denote the city or people in general, or indeed those who follow its ways – which makes it marginally less bloodthirsty, although still fairly violent language.

The second thing to remember is that this is not what the Jewish exiles actually go and do.  They do not go and dash anyone’s babies against the rocks.  They get on with life in Babylon, they marry, build homes, and pray for their city (see Jeremiah 29).  I think this is similar to the Psalms of David regarding his life on the run from Saul.  He prays for his enemy to be destroyed, but he does not lift a hand against the LORD’s annointed.  Sometimes we have very raw, very messy emotions, and the safest place to take this raw mess is to God.  He can handle it.  We come broken. We are broken people. Sometimes we want nasty things to happen to other people, and the safest place to deal with this is before God.  To let him hear the anger.  He can deal with it.

And this is because of the third thing.  Psalm 137 is followed by Psalm 138 (that’s the kind of thing you spot when you’re studying for a PhD…).  Psalm 138 praises God for answering the Psalmist’s cry for help.  Psalm 138 speaks of how God sees those who are bowed low, who are not haughty and self-confident.  It speaks of how God preserves the Psalmist in the midst of trouble.  The psalm has the flavour of being one of praise in the midst of a difficult life, but one in which God is at work.  It doesn’t have Psalm 136’s exhuberance, but neither does it have the raw violence of Psalm 137 – but you sense that just maybe Psalm 137 isn’t far off the memory of the Psalmist.  On the other hand there is one link back to Psalm 136 – the phrase “your love endures forever” – the same phrase as the refrain of Psalm 136 is echoed in Psalm 138’s song of praise for God’s work in the midst of trouble.

The 3 psalms together actually form a great example of a 3 stage pattern or movement within many psalms that OT theologian Walter Brueggemann identifies as Orientation, Dis-orientation and Re-orientation.  Psalm 136 is a song of orientation – praising God for his work of creation and salvation as it should be praised – this is the song of the faith of the believing people – this is what we know and believe to be true, and in our best moments live from.  Psalm 137 is the song of disorentation – all this has gone wrong.  We do not live with any evidence that Psalm 136 is actually true for us.  This is where many of the psalms of lament fit, in that they express the mess of life as it is.  Then Psalm 138 expresses the reorientation stage where we move back to knowing God’s work – but with a deeper sense of gratitude, and an awareness that even while life is not all as it should be God is at work.  There is a joy that is somehow deeper, and a gratitude that is somehow larger because we have seen God at work in the midst of pain.

Here is Psalm 138 – a great Psalm of praise to God for his work – and especially for his name – his character of steadfast love and faithfulness in all of life, a great Psalm to pray through and into our lives.

“I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise;
I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name
for your steadfast love and your faithfulness,
for you have exalted above all things your name and your word.
On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased.

All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks,
O LORD, for they have heard the words of your mouth,
and they shall sing of the ways of the LORD, for great is the glory of the LORD.
For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly,
but the haughty he knows from afar.

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life;
you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies,
and your right hand delivers me.

The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me;
your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever.
Do not forsake the work of your hands.”

(Psalms 138:1–8 ESV)


reflections on our home learning 26

After last week’s uphill battle, a dear friend back in Vancouver who also homeschools took the time to write and encourage me. Her words spurred me on and so last weekend I took some time to rejig some lessons and this week life has looked very different. It has been a bitty week as Zog has had ENT and speech therapy appointments but all to good avail as his tonsils are coming out in May. And so long as Kanga does not develop continual bouts of tonsillitis next winter I look forward to a healthy winter than the past five.

Our biggest area of frustration with Bob and lessons has been his reaction to having to write anything down. So with the words of my friend fresh in my mind, (she scribes still for her 8 year old whose mind also works faster than her hands can, while younger son loves to write.) I changed up how we did maths and history and lo and behold pages of maths have been requested as Bob works them out either in his head or with manipulatives while I fill in the workbook with the answers he gives me. We also added in some living maths with the introduction of money. With him turning 6 this month we have begun to give him pocket money but there is little value in that if he cannot identify coins and understand how coins work. So with a variety of games and manipulatives we began our living maths chapter on money. This has been great fun and by Thursday and Friday while I was still filling in the workbook answers he was actually doing long addition on paper without thinking about the fact that he was writing anything. What was a real encouragement was that I realised half way through that money maths requires an understanding of place values with hundreds, tens and singles which we have not done and carrying numbers but he took it all in his stride. We have a way to go before I hand over the family budget but he is doing well.

Reading is sheer joy to him and for us hearing him read to Zog. Though it has brought a whole new challenge with regards to the awareness of time and needing to get him to put a book down occassionaly to do certain tasks. His delight this week was reading the whole way through a young child’s version of the Wooden Horse of Troy. Ancient Greece has continued to be our focus for history and the house is filled with pages and pages of pictures he has drawn recounting the events. He has even occasionally started to add colour to his pictures, in contrast to his younger siblings who add colour to everything and anything they find. Zog at least now limits that to either paper of himself for the most part but Kanga and a pen is a loose cannon.

Considering how well the week has gone and that we have momentum and there is need for some catch up time I am not going to take a full two weeks off over Easter but keep going next week for 4 days with a long weekend break for Easter which will include meeting up with friends from New Zealand who are on their world travels. This flexibility is one of the great gifts of learning at home and takes the pressure off weeks when folk are feeling under the weather. We can give ourselves time to rest and recuperate knowing we can switch things up at other points. For that I am very thankful after this winter.

reflections on our home learning 25

This has been a long tiring week for all of us. It has seen a battle of wills, coughs and colds disrupting sleep, a mother’s heart and mind elsewhere, a 6 year old boy’s complete frustration and unwillingness to engage with anything that resembles a pencil and paper. It has not been a week of highlights and joyous moments. It has been a week when I wondered if I can do this, can I give the children the best, can I provide for them. And by my own strength I cannot.

This week my heart and mind have been pulled, distracted by possible options for our next season, and by comments that felt as if they were undermining all that I am seeking to do to provide a home for my family, for caring for my family and creation. And in it all fear has shouted loudest, taking me away from being present, telling me that there is no point so there is no point in trying. And Bob, Zog and Kanga have felt it keenly.

I need to think again how to teach maths and all things words, how to engage with material in a fun way with the emphasis being on the learning rather than on Bob’s ability to produce written results. I noticed how easy and fun it has been this week as Zog works out numbers and counting but as he is 3 I have no expectation on him and I am only following up on specific learning as and when he seeks it. For Bob though I expect more and we have moved away from more tangible learning and I need to return to that approach now before he gets so frustrated he gets put off. So this weekend I will need to carve out some time to rethink our lessons and provide him with a safe place once again to learn and to love to learn.

This has not been a joyous week but it has given me time to realise what happens when you take your eyes off the children and cruise along giving more thought to outcomes and results. Weeks like this are a blessing if I am willing to pay attention to them and respond. Tonight though is for healing sleep hopefully and tomorrow is a new day in which through the creative wisdom of God, who knows my 3 inside out, I can come up with some new ideas for learning.

Bob may not be keen on pencil and paper right now but projects such as this sphinx will hold him for hours.


Always be ready…

This is the now traditional sermon blog post – this time on 1 Peter 3:15-16.  I noticed as I was reformatting my script for the blog post that it is definitely written to be spoken, so it doesn’t always read well, and I did relatively often diverge from the wording here as seemed appropriate at the time, but it will give a flavour at least.

Always be ready. As Peter writes these words I wonder if the words he had said to Jesus in the upper room echoed in his head at all “I am ready to die for you Lord”. Peter had uttered those words back in the upper room on the night before the cross. He’d proved dramatically that he wasn’t ready as events unfolded. Now the restored and renewed Peter writes to explain how to be ready. How to be ready in the midst of intense suffering and difficulty to speak of Jesus and live for Jesus.

He writes from Rome. Christians are not being persecuted everywhere in a systematic way – yet. A few years after Peter writes Nero will begin the attacks, and other emperors will persecute yet more intensively the strange people who will not bow the knee and say “Caesar is Lord”.

But as Peter writes it is a matter of local officials, egged on by local synagogues or temples worried about a loss of business who attack the Christians.

It’s not like living in Iraq or Syria with IS around (yet), but it might be like living in many other parts of the world today where being a Christian just makes life harder in a myriad of small, and sometimes large, ways.

For us on our frontline it may not feel that we are persecuted as such, but sometimes following Jesus makes life harder. And it always seems hard to speak of him and tell others.

Peter knows that, and in this letter he writes to help us be ready always to speak for Jesus when we are under pressure for following him. Peter talks about this in the context of a life where we are to “declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness” in everything we do.

That means having a life that is marked by all the things we’ve looked at so far in the frontlines series.

It means that when appropriate we speak of Jesus. Not necessarily all the time, we all have different gifts and abilities, and some are natural evangelists, able to talk easily about faith. (I’m not)

But even if that isn’t true for you, what everybody needs to be able to do is give an answer when asked. Peter’s assumption is that life as a Christian will look so different because of the new birth into a living hope, because of resurrection life, starting now, lived with the perspective of the end that people are bound to ask why we do things the way we do because we will be operating out of such a different value system.
So we have three parts to being ready to speak of Jesus:

  • Honour Christ the Lord as holy in our hearts
  • Be able to explain why you believe (and live) differently
  • Speak with humility, respect and a clear conscience

First: Be ready to speak by honouring Christ the Lord as holy in your hearts.

Peter here is dealing with the fear that we all have of people and what they will think. In v14-15 he’s actually quoting something God said to Isaiah 100s of years before. Isaiah lived at a pretty bleak point in Judah’s history, when a foolish king was trying to make clever alliances to stand up to the Assyrian empire. The King wasn’t pleased with Isaiah pointing out his errors, so God spoke to reassure Isaiah and said:

“Do not fear what they fear, do not be terrified, but make the LORD Almighty holy in your heart – he is to be your fear, he is to be your terror”.

Peter’s point is the same – don’t fear people, but set apart Jesus the LORD as holy

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord (NIV)

 but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy (ESV)

In some ways it is slightly odd to talk about making God holy. Usually we talk about him making us holy. It is the same word, though, as is used in the Lord’s prayer “hallowed be thy name”. Easy to make this into something we say without really meaning, thinking that it just means “may everyone respect Jesus a bit”. But to treat Jesus’ name as holy is to honour him, to respect and fear him, and to obey him.

Another example of this concept is found in an episode in Moses’ life:

When he is told he won’t get to the promised land because when God tells him to speak to a rock so that water will flow to quench the people’s thirst he strikes the rock, and scolds the people God says to him – “because you did not treat me as holy”. All he did was one small act of disobedience, but it signified that treating God as holy had become in that point less important to him than doing what seemed to make sense.

Treating God as holy, means treating God as he is God being holy means that he is infinitely above us because he made us and we are mere creatures, and because he is utterly good and we are sinful people.

It means he knows what is best and right because he is good.

Notice too that in the reading from Isaiah, Isaiah was told to make God holy, But Peter tells his readers to make Christ the Lord holy – it makes the point that for Peter Jesus is God. The God Isaiah was told to make holy came and walked on the earth as one of us. Jesus is that God. He is the LORD Almighty.

And so he doesn’t call us to do anything he hasn’t already done – Peter makes that point a couple of times – Jesus suffered for us – the righteous for the unrighteous to bring you to God – that is what this time of year is all about in the church calendar. Jesus knows what it is to suffer and to die for what is right – and he calls us to do the same.

So when we seek to obey Jesus we are not obeying a cruel taskmaster with no idea what we are going through, we are obeying one who loves us more than we can imagine and who knows what is best and who knows what is good and what is right. Our job is to set that in our hearts – in our minds – the heart was seen as the control centre of the body.

Because if we do that we won’t fear other people, we won’t fear what they fear. Other people fear other people. We all fear other people.

But if we revere Jesus Christ the LORD as holy in our hearts we will fear him above anybody else. We will do what he wants, and no one will be able to stop us.

The question here is: what are you afraid of? Ask that question honestly.

What is it that terrifies you. It is a good question. In the context of giving a reason for the hope that we have it is often “what will people think?” What will people say if they realise I’m a Christian? What will they say if they hear me talking about Jesus? Maybe it is a fear that they will hold us to account – and so it might stop us doing certain things. Maybe it is a fear of them making it hard for us.

Peter says we are to deal with that fear by returning to Jesus Christ the Lord and making him holy in our hearts. How does this change our fear?

Well, standing at your shoulder is Jesus. He is with you by his Spirit. He sees the way you shuffle awkwardly. He feels the awkward feeling. He wants to breath courage into you. He wants you to step out and realise it’s not so bad. Because his Spirit is at work.

Because really, it’s not so bad – when I am actually having those conversations I realise that. It is all in the anticipation. And he’s ready to cheer and help, and remind you – you just need to ask. And if you fail. And if it goes wrong. And if you do clam up at the last minute. He’s ready. To turn you back round, and rebuild the pieces – just ask Peter.

Then: Be ready to speak by knowing why you live the way you do

Be ready to give a defence of what you believe. A defence sounds like a trial – and indeed Peter may well have a trial in view. It was reality for the apostles – Paul gives a defense in Jerusalem before Romans and Jews which tells the story of how he came to meet Jesus and realise that Jesus was God. Can you do that? Write down sometime how you became a Christian, and the story of what God has done in your life since. Then

you will be part way ready.

Be ready with reasons for the hope you have:

Peter in this letter spells out how the hope we have is rooted in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from death. Can you defend why you believe that Jesus rose from the dead? There are lots of good reasons: The tomb was empty, the disciples believed they had met him, Paul talks about 500 at once – no one ever produced a body, the resurrection was radically different from other ancient beliefs, and no-one among the Jews was expecting just one man to rise. There was the changed lives of first Christians who lived transformed lives ever since

We need, says Peter, to be ready to give the reason why we believe.

It isn’t so much that we are going to argue anyone into God’s kingdom. Rather we need to know that the gospel is reasonable, that it does make sense. Faith is not about a leap in the dark. Faith is about trust in a person

who gives us good reasons to trust Him.

And it’s about Reasons for the Hope that we have.

The hope of resurrection. The hope of life now that goes on forever.

This is not about hoping in an everyday sense. It is not the same as “I hope my football team don’t go down”, or “I hope England can manage to win a one day cricket match”. It’s not even the same as “I hope I get promotion”, “I hope a get a pay rise”. These hopes rise and fall, and are dashed.

In the Bible hope is about something that is certain. Heaven is a reality for all who trust in Jesus. One day we will be like him. One day we will be with him forever, and he will be with us, and he will wipe away every tear from every eye, and he will reward all we have done out of love for him. In some way all the good we have done will be a part of that new creation. That is the living hope Peter talks about at the start of the letter, the new birth into a living hope.

It is that hope that changes life now. Christians who changed our country: I think it was Lord Shaftesbury (child labour laws) who said that he had not lived one day without consciously thinking of the Lord’s return. It didn’t stop him fighting for reform in Parliament.

It was said of Wilberforce (slavery) “I would be as happy as he is, if I had the hope of heaven that he has”. Right now we live in a country and a world starved of hope. We need the hope that the gospel changes lives,

that God turns things around. He has done it before.We need to pray and live in the hope that he will do it again,and in the certain hope that he will one day make all things new.

Which brings us on to the final point;

Be ready with gentleness and respect – living a true “good life”

Peter’s letter is full of exhorting to live a true “good life”, a life where our conduct is measured and marked by God’s standards, and where we are ready to answer with gentleness and with respect. Peter may mean gentleness and respect directed to people, or because he uses the word fear so soon after he has talked about not fearing people, he may be reminding us of the need to have a right fear of God as we go about speaking to others.

Both are important – both treating people with respect, and having a right fear of God. Both will help us as we answer people. Treating other people gently means listening to their questions, and making sure we give a good response to what they have said – not just riding roughshod over their question to get to what we do know, but being ready to admit when we don’t have the answer.

With a right fear of God means that we won’t fear them, so will give an honest answer, even when that contains something they won’t want to hear – obviously done in a loving and gentle way, but we will hold firm to what is true and right.

We keep a good conscience, suffering only because we do what is good, and right. Because we have a life centred on Christ, Obeying his rule, Living like him, So that when people do speak against Christians then those who look down on Christians would have a sense of shame at the mistreatment they see.

The hope ultimately is what Peter wrote earlier in 1 Peter 2 – live such good lives among the pagans that they may see you and glorify God when he comes to “visit”

How zealous are we for what is good? How eager to do these other things we’ve spoken about in the frontlines series. If we really do them and put them into practice we will be noticed. We need each other’s help to support each other so that we can be ready to speak, ready to give an answer, ready to help each other do this.

Peter wrote this letter to a bunch of Christians scattered in the Empire. 250 years later the entire Roman Empire was Christian in name because so many people had come to believe this message. It took a lot of persecution and suffering, but God turned the world upside down through them. Christians stood out a mile.

They treated women, children and slaves as people not objects. They took in the unwanted babies left to die.They didn’t fight back. They didn’t cause trouble. They did refuse to worship the emperor. They died for their beliefs.

If they could stand out then, surely we can in our day too. We can be ready, by setting apart Jesus Christ the Lord as holy in our hearts, by having a defense of our faith ready and by living a life that matches our profession.

We can do it because the same God helps us. The same God who raised Jesus from death. He will do it.

1Pet. 5:10-11 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.


The first time I saw forgiveness first hand has stood by me and shaped how I understand it today. I was not long out of university and my team leader had made a comment with no intent to hurt but as words can do it stung. No doubt because there was a morsel of truth in it that I did not want to hear. But it had hurt and that hurt caused a rift. A rift that another team member saw and sought to see redeemed. She arranged for myself and the team leader to meet and to talk. Before I could say anything my team leader had acknowledged what he had said and said sorry. I felt silly and embarrassed. This was wrong, he was older than me, surely I was just being a silly little girl and should not let his comments bother me so I mumbled a comment to the effect of ‘ no worries, it doesn’t matter.’ He would not accept that and apologised again asking for my forgiveness. I realised that unless I forgave him this was not going to go away. I realised that I needed to extend forgiveness to him. I had no idea what that meant or looked like but as soon as I said ‘I forgive you’ both he and I were set free.

That experience has stayed with me and while I am not always quick to forgive as I should be I do seek to forgive in tangible ways and not just accept an apology. It is why we are teaching our children to not only say ‘sorry’ but also to say ‘I forgive you’ with a hug. It is why we don’t just say thank you when someone says sorry to us, but we say I forgive you. Often conversation is about the importance of saying sorry and taking responsibility for our actions. We are called as Christ followers though to be Christ like, to forgive. To forgive seventy times seven. I am thankful I have never experienced life changing events at the hands of others that have placed in the position of wondering if I can forgive them for their actions. But I wonder without the daily practice of forgiveness in the little things that extending forgiveness through more significant events is possible.And our world needs forgiveness if it is going to find a way forward to peace.

Those of us familiar with liturgical forms of worship are all to familiar with confession and forgiveness but I have been struck recently with the times when ‘thank you’ rather than ‘I forgive you’ has been used in conversations what we mean when we declare God has forgiven us. Do we miss the freedom of the life of believers partly because we have made ‘you are forgiven, sin no more’ into ‘thanks for owning up’? Do we really get that in forgiving us God keeps no record of our actions, if we simply say ‘ thank you’, by which we nor the other person are truly able to move forward as no one knows what that means as far as we stand with each other; is the person hurt still harbouring resentment and pain, or have they actually moved on, or are they actually that concerned about our relationship. It can leave people unsure and hesitant, it keeps barriers up between each other.

It is not easy to forgive but that does not mean we do not do it. That is why I believe saying sorry is only part of the story. But saying ‘ I forgive you’ must be part of the story to, not an optional extra, not something lost to banal politeness. As we move toward Easter, there is both Good Friday and Easter Sunday. May we be people who do not avoid the repentance of Good Friday but may we be people who do not forget the wonder of Easter Sunday, of new life, of new hope, and extend tangible forgiveness to those who need it from us, for their sake, for our sake and because it reflects the glory of our risen Christ.

reflections on our home learning 23 and 24

The past two weeks have seen us learning outside our normal ways. Last week I took the children to stay with grandparents to give Mark a week of solid writing and sleep. This week saw us then navigate a week with me on my back for two days having hurt it on Tuesday. I think Bob liked doing Maths in bed:)

It has stretched me to be disciplined to keep things going, to press on when it would be easy to just take time off altogether. But in fact it has worked out well just to keep doing a little each day and it has made a big difference to Bob who does not normally cope well when I am out of action. Mummy in bed is not a good sign for him but because I was not ill as such and able to do things with him all be it from a horizontal position he was able to find his footing through it all which was encouraging to see.

A highlight for the this week was watching the BBC Horizon programme about the solar system with Bob and him coming out with a great comment half way through it. ‘Mummy why are they talking all about the things that God has made but never mentioning Him. That really is very strange to talk about what He made and not say that.’ I love that at this age he is very comfortable holding science and faith together. Long may that last and long may his wonder with it all last.  He sees no reason why they cannot go hand in hand. And I have to say that by the end of the programme the theory presented that we just got lucky with the way things worked out for our planet to find itself in a place to allow life to form only strengthened my belief that it is not luck that got us here at all but the work of a Creator who was very intentional and deliberate.

Zog is hungry to learn and is loving identifying letters, big and small and working out numbers on his fingers. He is also weary from endless bouts of tonsilitis, we have had another this week so we are all eager for his ENT appointment at the end of the month. In contrast to  his older brother he is much more expressive of his thought processes so we can find ourselves in very long convoluted circular conversations when we ask him a simple question, in contrast to waiting in deafening silence for a period of time before Bob would even indicate he had heard the question. Both boys though differ from their sister, Kanga whose level of awareness and social etiquette is in a completely different league. As soon as I mention we are going out she is straight to the door trailing coat and shoes which she is attempting to put on whereas the boys need to be unearthed from their worlds to be reminded that I have spoken to them. She is continuing to show fearless independence in both thought and action and Mark and I are often reminded of the comment of one of our Regent professors who looked out across the room and said ‘ to all of you who have strong-willed children, praise God for they will be the ones who make a difference and change the world, they may of course wear you out first, but it is that strength that will make the difference in the lives of others that we are seeking to see happen.’ Now if only he were offering babysitting services too.

My prayer is that all 3 of our children whatever they do, where ever they go will be people who make a difference for good in the lives of others and hold out the hand of faith in a world that seems to have forgotten the One who gave us life and are not afraid to hold faith together with science, economics, law, etc. My privilege is that right now I get to walk alongside them equipping them with basic skills of through numeracy and literacy and to discover the richness and wonder of this world so that they can grow in understanding how to extend God’s love and mercy to those around them in the places they find themselves in.

Kept by God

“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.
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.
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.”
(Psalms 121:1–8 ESV)

I’m reading through the Psalms at the moment. I had thought I might blog about Psalm 119, but somehow never quite managed it, although I do recommend reading it, and focusing on one 8 verse section at a time – there is an amazing variety to the Psalmist’s praise of God for his word.
Having finished Psalm 119 it was on to the Psalms of ascents. I don’t have much to say about Psalm 120 (but there is an excellent reflection on it in Eugene Peterson’s mediation on the Psalms of ascents – “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction”).
Psalm 121 has long been a Psalm I have loved, possibly since it appeared in my pigeon hole at university along with a chocolate brownie and a note of encouragement! I remember it being the focus of Chapel one particular tough week at Regent – and it seemed like the talk that week had been prepared especially for us.
There is something about the first line that resonates – possibly because I have usually lived somewhere where seeing hills is possible – the North Downs, Durham Cathedral, the North Downs again, Vancouver North Shore mountains (these somewhat put anything else into the shade) and now the Cotswolds – not to mention my love of the English Lake District.
That could be a bit misleading however because when the Psalmist looks up to the hills he isn’t thinking “O how pretty, perhaps I’ll talk a walk later”. He is thinking of danger. He is thinking of the fact that hills are the centre for the worship of other gods. He is thinking that he needs help. Which is why it so vital that the LORD (the God of Israel, who rescued them out of Egypt) is the creator God who made everything.
For us it might not be hills that make us think danger. It could be our office, it might be a relationship, it could be our bank statement. It might be anything that could bring danger, or lure us away from God. When we see those things we ask: where does my help come from. And for us too – our help comes from the LORD – who made everything.
Which also means that the hills then become a great reminder of God’s power and strength. As look to the hills I think of the one who made the hills, and I remember that he is the same God who has rescued me. He has the power to do what he says.
And that means the rest of the Psalm is really good news – because it tells us that this creator God keeps watch over us. This creator God does not slumber or sleep – I always seem to read this Psalm after a particularly bad run of nights with one or other child, so this is incredibly good news. His watching over me is a constant.
He keeps me from danger striking me down. He keeps me from all evil – evil has no final power over us. He keeps our life – our life is safe with God. He keeps all our going out and coming in – from now and forever. This keeping is a guarding, a watching over, a constant vigilant care. It doesn’t mean bad things don’t happen – but it does mean that in the bad things there is one who knows and keeps us to the end – we can trust his care for us.
Eugene Peterson puts it like this:

“The difference is that each step we walk, each breath we breath, we know we are preserved by God, we know we are accompanied by God, we know we are ruled by God; and therefore no matter what doubts we endure or what accidents we experience, the Lord will preserve us from evil, he will keep our life…. We Christians believe that life is created and shaped by God and that the life of faith is a daily exploration of the constant and countless ways in which God’s grace and love are experienced. … Faith is not a precarious affair of chance escape from satanic assaults. It is the solid, massive, secure experience of God who keeps all evil from getting inside us, who keeps our life, who keeps our going out and our coming in, from this time forth and forevermore.” (“A Long Obedience in the Same Direction”)

So, reread the Psalm again, and reflect on all the “keep” words – and notice who does the keeping (the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth).