Monday, November 21, 2011

When You're in Need of Protection

God asks for the hardest thing and it's not until I speak it out loud that Fear comes and steals the breath and every last bit of courage I have.  The imperfections glare and everything that might have worth seems too small to matter and this time I'm certain God's asking too much.

It's not that I've forgotten all the Truth Treasures from Psalm 121, that second stair in the upward climb I'm making through the Psalms of Ascent.  It's just that I haven't let them take root yet in the soil of my deepest self--that place where everything's laid bare and there's no way to stand up under His gaze except to choose Grace and let Shame be washed away.

So I pull out the book again, try to take hold of Him instead of all this fear that's draining the strength right out of me.

Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the hills--
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip--
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD watches over you--
the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The LORD will keep you from all harm--
he will watch over your life;
the LORD will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

I can hardly read through the first few lines because there's a soundtrack in my head playing the song I learned a lifetime ago with those very same words.  And I remember that year God found me beside the ocean and ripped my heart wide open with longing for Him--the One I'd known all my life and yet somehow never really knew at all until then.

And I might've sung that song with every last fiber of my being and I might still hear that melody every time I read this psalm.  But it's not until I'm standing here in the middle of the Psalms of Ascent that I realize what these words really mean.

I might've thought the psalmist was looking to the mountains to find his God.  Because all that beauty on the horizon?  My heart always find a path straight to the Maker when I fix my eyes right at the sky's beginning.  But now that I'm holding these words up in the light of their surroundings, this is what I see:

Psalm 120 [the first Psalm of Ascent] unfolds with the pilgrim still in his remote location, lamenting his living conditions and longing to be near the house of God.  Psalm 121 immediately follows, painting in beautiful brush strokes the image of a traveler on his journey.  He looks at the hills in the distance, wondering and probably even fearing what might be on the other side.  He anticipates the long, arduous journey ahead and, like all of us, wishes he could arrive in the blink of an eye rather than feel the effects of life on the road.
~Beth Moore, Psalms of Ascent

And isn't that exactly where I find myself today--eyes fixed on the long journey ahead, courage slipping away because of the mountains He's asked me to climb?  And aren't I standing here with the fear weighing me down, asking Him, asking myself, asking anyone who might know--where will my help come from?

This psalm might be a few thousand years old but I know it now that it was written for me, for this path I'm on and this fear that holds me back.  And that question I'm asking way down deep?  The answer's right here:  My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. {Ps 121:2}

Then I read this whole psalm in its most literal translation from the Hebrew and the answer jumps clean off the page.

Psalm 121
I lift my eyes up the hills.  From where does help come to me?
My help comes to me from Yahweh, who has made heaven and earth.
He does not let your foot waver, your keeper does not sleep!
Behold, neither sleeps nor slumbers the keeper of Israel!
Yahweh is your keeper, Yahweh is your shade above your right hand!
By day the sun does not strike, nor the moon by night.
Yahweh protects you against all harm, he protects your life.
Yahweh protects your going out and coming in from now on and forever.
~Hans-Joachim Kraus translation

The two brief Hebrew words translated "Yahweh is your keeper" comprise the overarching message....  58 syllables (in Hebrew) precede the phrase translated "Yahweh is your keeper" and 58 syllables follow it....  The central placement of the phrase "Yahweh is your keeper" was not enough for the inspired psalmist to make his point.  He repeated forms of the word translated "keeper" numerous times, both prior to and following the phrase....  [The words "protect" and "keep"] come from the root word transliterated shamar, meaning 'to keep, guard ... to preserve, protect; to watch.'  Many of our English versions translate different words to make the reading easier and less repetitious.  The psalmist who penned this song wasn't interested in varieties of words....  He intended to hammer a point over and over again, repeating it until we got it.
~Beth Moore, Psalms of Ascent

The LORD is my protector.  The LORD will protect me from harm.  The LORD protects my life.  The LORD protects all my comings and goings.  Who wants to change the words when all that's really needed is to recount the Truth until there's no holding us back from the path He's called us to take?

There's one more question on the page of this book I'm working through and it's clear that this is the one that matter most of all:  What is God saying to you today?

And there are too many days when I can't hear what He wants to tell me, but this day isn't one of them and there's nothing I can do to stop His voice from cutting straight through all the fear.

Wherever this road takes you, I'm going with you.  Wherever you end up, I'm already there.  And every step you take along the way?  I'll be your protector, your defender, your God.  Now--will you come with Me?

Maybe the long journey begins with a single word but it never ends there.  Because there's always another chance to turn around and go back or stay where we are and refuse to move forward.  There's always another chance to say no to whatever He's asked.

But that means there's always another chance to say yes.  And it might take me weeks to find the courage for every one of these steps.  And I might have to fight a war against Fear and Exhaustion just to stay this course.  But, oh, I'll do whatever it takes to say yes to everything He's asked.

Because who wants to take a different road when this is the one God's on?

Maybe I'm not ready yet to pen my own Psalm 121, but I'm ready to say yes again.  Because it's all I have and it's all He asks and I'll say it as many time as it takes.

Because God's on this road and there's no where else I want to be.

6 comments:

  1. I'm also thankful for each opportunity to Choose Him...and for His infinite patience with me, remember I'm am 'but dust'...=)

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  2. You are right, sister. There's always another chance for no and always another chance for yes. The thought that strikes me reading this Psalm again, here, is that our God is not off in the hills to which we look. In the Psalm, He is on the road with us to keep our feet from slipping. He is in our bedchamber keeping watch so we can sleep in peace. He is shading our right hand, which seems to me very close indeed. I've never noticed that before, but it encourages me. Perhaps it will bring you hope too.

    Lovely friend, may God bless your Thanksgiving with sincere gratitude springing up within. Even just for that one day, may God grant respite from the fear and exhaustion and a glimmer of hope. I'm thankful to have met you here. Grace to you in Jesus, Courtney.

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  3. Courtney,

    on thanksgiving day, i am thankful for your faithfulness, however hard the road is. and i'm praying that, even amidst the exhaustion and fear, God will give you hope and joy...

    have you ever read any Julian of Norwich? she was a mediaeval anchoress and mystic who wrote a beautiful book ("Revelations of Divine Love"). after reading your post, i was reminded of her, and hoped you might find comfort a couple things she says in "Revelations":


    He said not 'Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be travailed, thou shalt not be dis-eased'; but he said, 'Thou shalt not be overcome.'

    and

    If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love.

    However "tempested or travailed", you're always kept in His precious love!

    --chris

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  4. @Rachel Schober: Ah, yes. The patience He has with us along the way...can there ever be enough "thank you's" for that? And thanks for the laugh. I haven't thought about "but dust" for quite a while. Love to you, Dearest Friend.

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  5. @tinuviel: I am so glad you were struck by the nearness of God in reading this psalm again. I think the word "come" makes it easy for us to think that our help has to "come" from somewhere else to reach us. But the rest of the psalm so clearly declares that our Help is right by our side every step of this journey. I am hoping to capture that very idea when I write my personal version of Psalm 121.

    And for your words of blessing? Thank you. It is a joy to share words with you and call you friend. May you, too, find deep joy and sweet rest in this day of giving thanks.

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  6. @chris: I haven't read Julian of Norwich--thank you for sharing these beautiful words here. "Thou shalt not be overcome" is the phrase that has grabbed hold of me especially today. And by His Grace, we are not overcome, no matter how hard the road. Thank you for that deep encouragement. And yes, "tempested and travailed" are such apt descriptions of this life, aren't they? There *is* hope and there *is* joy in Him and I am so thankful for being found in Him.

    And I am thankful for you and the words you so generously bestow here in my corner of the world. You are a gift to me. Much grace to you, Friend.

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