230305 – Lent – Trust

Yr A ~ Lent 2 ~ Psalm 121

“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.” That’s how Psalm 121 starts. Some people think that the psalmist is looking up to the hills in search for help, and expects to find it there in God – because ‘up’ is where God is. Ok, possibly, but I don’t think that’s what’s going on at all. I think the psalmist is much wiser than that.

(note – the video cuts off the first paragraph)

Psalm 121 is a pilgrimage psalm, which means it was meant to be sung while journeying toward Jerusalem for attending a religious festival. Psalms 120-134 are all pilgrimage psalms. A little travelling music, if you will. The hills the psalmist is literally looking up to are filled with two things – shrines to other gods, and bandits. The hills surrounding Jerusalem were home to all sorts of bad guys who were looking to rob pilgrims heading to the holy city. And because Jerusalem was where the Jewish Temple was all the other gods’ shrines had to be outside the city. There were all sorts of competing gods and ideologies floating around in Jesus’ time, just like there are now. What are the shrines that people worship at today? How about shopping malls, 3000 square foot homes, and sports stadiums, to name a few?

So, another way to frame the opening of this psalm is: “Everywhere I look and go it seems like there’s trouble and temptation. How will I live through all that?” And the answer is: “My help comes from the Lord.” In other words, the psalmist trusts that God will somehow see them through it. But how? What does that look like? Don’t your own struggles and even world events prove that God doesn’t always see us through things?

Let’s talk about that. It’s hard to watch the news and not be moved. It’s absolutely gut-wrenching – so much pain and trouble. Wars and rumours of wars, vitriolic, polarized politics, pandemics, social problems, injustice. “How can I trust a God that let’s all this happen?” Or the ever popular, “If God is real why do bad things happen to good people?” These are logical questions, but they miss the point about who and how God is. Let me explain.

God is not bubble wrap. God is not a helicopter parent hovering over us to make sure we don’t get dirty or hurt. God is not a snow plow parent out in front of us clearing a path so we never have any obstacles to deal with. God works from the inside out, not the outside in.

We see natural disasters and bloody conflicts and we cry out “Where’s God while all this is going on?” Do we mean the same God that yesterday we didn’t give a second thought to, but now we want to come riding in on a white stallion to save the damsel in distress? We seem to utterly reject an interventionist God until we encounter a disaster or a hardship and then we curse God for not intervening. That’s lunacy!

Being reborn, as Jesus teaches, doesn’t put you in a bullet-proof haz-mat suit that keeps you safe and clean forever. You may recall that being who he was didn’t exactly give Jesus a pass on an excruciatingly painful end (well, almost end). Trusting in God doesn’t change the outer world; it transforms your inner world and gives you the strength, and courage, and will, and discernment, and groundedness, and compassion to move through that outer world in peace – whatever your circumstances.

Psalm 121 is all about trust. It’s written by someone who knows that trust is the lifeblood of the spiritual life. But trust is more than just naive wishful thinking. Trust isn’t a mindless abandoning of reality to grasp some imaginary fairy tale Pollyanna vision of life. Trust is that inner assuredness that you’re not in this thing alone – you are, in fact, surrounded and enfolded by the Presence of God.

We know that, and the psalmist knew that, but we need to be constantly reminding ourselves of it, because we lose our focus on God so easily, and frequently bemoan feeling abandoned when we aren’t – we never can be – because God is always present. Surely, God is in this place. Help me notice!

If anyone ought to know this spiritual truth, it’s Henri Nouwen. Nouwen was a Catholic priest who taught religion at Yale and Harvard, and was a prolific author who wrote over 40 books on spirituality. He’s among the most respected spirituality teachers ever, and is one of my personal favourites, maybe yours too. Henri is being our spiritual guide through Lent this year. Each week I’m incorporating a prayer from his beautiful book called A Cry for Mercy, which was written during an extended stay at a monastery – which he needed because he had lost his focus on God’s presence! Like I said, we all lose our focus by times. Even the giants. This excerpt is a prayer he wrote in his journal during Lent:

“O Lord, who else or what else can I desire but you? You are my Lord, Lord of my heart, mind, and soul. You know me through and through. In and through you everything that is finds its origin and goal. You embrace all that exists and care for it with divine love and compassion. Why, then, do I keep expecting happiness and satisfaction outside of you? Why do I keep relating to you as one of my many relationships, instead of my only relationship, in which all other ones are grounded? Why do I keep looking for popularity, respect from others, success, acclaim, and sensual pleasures? Why, Lord, is it so hard for me to make you the only one? Why do I keep hesitating to surrender myself totally to you?

“Help me, O Lord, to let my old self die, to let die the thousand big and small ways in which I am still building up my false self and trying to cling to my false desires. Let me be reborn in you and see through you the world in the right way, so that all my actions, words, and thought can become a hymn of praise to you.

“I need your loving grace to travel on this hard road that leads to the death of my old self and to a new life in and for you. I know and trust that this is the road to freedom. Lord, dispel my mistrust and help me become a trusting friend. Amen.”

“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.”

I really like Nouwen’s image of our relationship with God being our primary relationship. I’m a married guy. Since that day every single situation I’ve ever encountered has been somehow influenced by that day. Every decision I make is somehow related to that day. On that day I officially stopped being just a ‘me’ and started to live as an ‘us’. Us buys a car, us goes into a new career, us moves across the country, us has children, us says what time I come home – not that I’m being told to do all those things, but they’re not my decisions alone. Every single thing I do in some small or large way is impacted by that relationship.  And even though it’s awesome and things are all working out wonderfully (right dear?) if they weren’t I’d still have that relationship at the core. If poor health, or loss of a job, or a natural disaster were to hit I’d still be influenced by that relationship. For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.

It’s the same with God – only deeper, and fuller, and richer, and wider, and more awesome, and more foundational, and more all-encompassing. Once you die to what was and allow yourself to be reborn into God’s way – or rather, every time you die to what was and trust God to make you, and remake you anew – then every step you take, every movement, every breath, every heartbeat has God at the centre of it. And when you look at the ‘hills’ and see the troubles and temptations you can simply and honestly respond, “My help comes from God,” and you get on with your journey.

I’ll say it again; God is not bubble wrap. God is not a helicopter parent hovering over us to make sure we don’t get dirty or hurt, or a snow plow parent clearing our path of obstacles. Would you really want to have all your problems and challenges taken away from you? Do you really want a life without anything ever being hard, or disappointing, or sad? Wouldn’t that take the joy away too? Adversity makes peace feel more joyful.

“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.”

God is our helper,not our ‘do it all for you-er’. God works from the inside out, not the outside in. But God can’t work unless we allow it – unless we trust.

And when we trust, when we allow that primary, foundational relationship to grow, and flourish, and nourish, and strengthen us – well, it feels like this:

Psalm 121:3-8 God will not let your foot be moved; God who keeps you will not slumber.
God 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; may God keep your life.
The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.

Now, is all that literally true? Will you always be completely protected from and immune to all bad things in life if you just trust in God? Of course not. That exaggerated, poetic language is what love sounds like. Filled to overflowing with God’s love, we trust that God’s ever-presence will be a profound help to us as we navigate life. We trust that as we face challenges we can draw on God’s strength and peace. And we keep gathering like we are now to keep reminding ourselves and one another that we are not alone, that we live in God’s world, and that God is always, always with us, even when we lose focus.

Trust me.


Henri J.M. Nouwen, A Cry for Mercy: Prayers from the Genesee (New York, NY: Doubleday, 2002), 33-34.