“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.” Psalm 121:1-2
My mother is an identical twin and my father looks a lot like his brother. Growing up I have numerous stories of when I couldn’t keep them all straight from one another. When I was 8 I have a vivid memory of such a time.
I was with my Dad, his brother and my cousins. We were walking down an unknown wooded path towards a beach. I had never been in this place before and it all was confusing, I wondered constantly if we were actually lost and they weren’t telling me. In my fear and nervousness, I grabbed my Dad’s hand and walked along with him for a little while.
At one point, looking up to my Dad for further reassurance, I became quite startled. I hadn’t grabbed my Dad’s hand at all… it was his brother and I had been holding the wrong hand all along! Now I felt really anxious and just wanted to go home.
My Uncle had a good chuckle when he saw me realize my mistake. No harm was done and I recovered from my little error. This moment, though, is very vivid to me.
David had such moments constantly because he knew the human heart. In times of fear, distress, uncertainty and anxiety God designed the heart to grab the hand of the one we trust. This is all heart warming until we have those startling moments that the one we trust is not our good Father but false idols that learned to trust in times of ease, peace and safety.
In Psalm 121 David famously says, “I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come?”. David wasn’t just having a lovely moment of reflection on the beauty of the horizon. In David’s time, the tops of the hills was where all the temples to the idols sat.
The Old Testament repeats this ad nauseam, “Look to the hills, do you trust those idols or the God who made not only the hills but the wood those idols are made of?”. David reminds himself, “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
The reality is, in times of distress and when we need help the most, this is when the idols of our heart are exposed. The human heart has a tendency to build idols in times of peace, prosperity and self-sufficiency. We discover what those idols are when we lose control of our lives.
God desires us to be free from idols. Not because he randomly is trying to punish us. Idols enslave, bring anxiety and cannot save. Shouldn’t we all want freedom from that?
“I life up my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come? The question of the hills is, “What or whom do you trust instead of the creator of the heavens and the earth?”
I know, for me, this global pandemic is revealing to me the idols of my heart that were hidden in better times. When we are anxious or fearful, it is the human instinct to reach up and grab the hand of the one we trust. Sometimes, though, we realize the hand we grabbed is not our good Father but a false imposter.
In this time of distress are you grabbing the hand of your father or do you realize there are other hands you grabbed? Are there other places you had trusted, that can’t really save or help? Realizing this is not a place of condemnation, it is a doorway to greater freedom.
What or whom do you trust instead of the creator of the heavens and the earth?
Additional Resource: Bridgetown Church in Portland, Oregon has a wealth of teachings and podcasts that I have benefitted from. In this season of the Covid-19 Pandemic they are doing a series called, “Bridgetown Daily“. Each podcast is a 10 minutes or less devotional with a daily meditation on scripture, a quote, or the life of a Saint to ground you in God and His peace. I would highly recommend it to you!
Give us aid against our enemy, for human help is worthless. Psalm 60:11
In the asking-for-help department, most of us struggle to do it. We all know we should do it more. Often we settle with just being bad at it. For some, it is born out of pain and disappointment in the past. For others, you grew up in a family culture that modeled a “pull your self up by your bootstraps” attitude.
In times of distress, asking for help can be strangely more difficult. It really should be the time we are most prone to reach out.
I remember a very humbling period of my life where I had to face this choice. I was single and very poor. Not, “I can only drive a Honda and not an Audi” poor. But actual, “I can’t afford rent let alone food poor”.
Each day I would wake up and try to figure out how I could patch together three meals, if possible. I stole meals at the student campus where I worked (another story, but yes, I ate and did not pay). I visited friends around the dinner hour. I declared myself on a 40 Day Fast! (my friends were so impressed at my spirituality, they didn’t know it was a money saving campaign). I tried my best to figure out the cheapest food possible. Things got quite desperate and when all was said and done I had to do the very worst thing imaginable.
I asked for help.
Living in South Africa at the time, I went to a local friend. Reluctantly and embarrassingly I laid out my whole situation to her. I didn’t mention the stealing or non-spiritual 40 Day Fast, just the dire lack of money. She herself had grown up in real poverty and just looked at me and calmly said, “Well, first of all, Americans are terrible at cooking on a budget, your people eat too much meat and waste money on sugary snacks. You’ll have to learn to cook like an African.” I’m not making this up, she really told me that. And it was true. I had not been prepared to feed myself on very little and she helped me immensely.
There began a whole food make-over in my life. I learned how to cook in a new way. She taught me a host of other money saving changes to my life. I didn’t hit the lottery jackpot which would have been my preferred outcome. I did scrounge enough to pay back for what I stole, of that I am thankful.
I made it through that season, mostly due to my friend who helped.
I think back to those years when I read David’s words in Psalm 60, “Give me aide against my enemy for human help is worthless”. These words are not a motto to live by, they are the prayer of a man stuck in cynicism and independence.
We all feel that people are no good to us, at times. But this is not a place to dwell in, it is an expression of cynicism, perhaps hurt or even regret. God calls us to be people who actually ask for help. We are not supposed to turn to God simply because we refuse to turn to others. God wanted David to turn to Him and others for help.
The truth is, we aren’t forced out of our independence in good times. Crisis, pain, depression, and lack. These are seasons when we finally break down and say, “I need help.” For some of us, the desperation has to get really acute.
I didn’t enjoy lack of money or being able to feed myself. But, I know, apart from that situation, I would never have humbled myself and gone to a friend and said, “I can’t do it on my own.” Often my excuse was, “It’s not like I know of people who can solve my problem”. For me, the only reason I should lower myself to ask for help is if the person could solve my problem. My friend didn’t solve my problem, didn’t magically give me the money I needed or the free food I wanted. What she did was enter into my problem, walked along side me, was a faithful presence with me. I’m forever grateful God used that situation to push me towards others (and learning a new way to live).
If you are in a time of emotional, physical or spiritual difficulty. Reach out to God, he is our ever-present help in time of need. Don’t stop there, though, perhaps God is using this season to shout from the roof-tops, “Reach out to others. Humble yourself! Admit your need! Ask for help!”
Maybe you are like me and wouldn’t learn this truth any other way.
Bonus Resource: You might be someone who struggles to find the words on what you are going through, name the season you are in or just express yourself to others. I am that way. One tool I really love is the “Wheel of Emotions”. Those who know me, know I sure do love the wheel! This might be helpful for you in identify what you are going through, as a tool for journaling or just asking yourself, “what the heck am I feeling right now!?”Feel free to save it and print it out for your own use!
“Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog! Save me from the mouth of the lion! You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!” Psalm 22:20-21
I was 8-years-old when my Dad asked me to go to our mailbox to get the daily newspaper and mail. I plodded out there, looking carefully in each box at the end of our short driveway. I don’t know what alerted me to the impending danger but I instinctually looked back over my shoulder. Sprinting towards me with snarling teeth was our neighbors pitbull. I took off like my life depended on it, because it did. I wasn’t fast but I tried. Unfortunately the pitbull was faster and gaining on me quickly.
At the last second, like a scene from a kid’s movie, I saw our German Shepherd come racing around the house. He intercepted the Pitbull and possibly saved my life, at the minimum a severe wound.
Whenever I read the words of Psalm 22, “Deliver … my precious life from the power of the dog!” I think of this moment. I don’t know who David’s “dogs” were but mine was not a metaphor at 8-years-old. It was a literal dog and I was scared out of my mind.
All of us can share a story when fear took over because life was on the line. When fear consumed because financial ruin was imminent or a marriage had just imploded. The truth is there is so much to fear.
We are living in a time where there are very real things to fear. Job losses, viruses that leave us or our loved ones very vulnerable, family relationships that are teetering on the edge of collapse. God never tells us to just “think positive.” In my last post I show how God actually wants us to give voice to fears and anxiety.
The unique thing about today is how we can feed our fears. Not in giving more fuel to the very real fears we face… but by adding to them exponentially. If we fear and worry about 4 things right now, a few moments on Twitter or Cables news can round that list out to an even 10 by the end of the day.
Never before have we had more opportunity to expand our list of “potential fears, very bad calamities and imminent doom”. The internet, cable news and social media are all built to add to our list of things to fear.
I think this is one of the reasons that study after study shows that the more you read the news and scroll social media… the more likely you are to struggle with overwhelming fear, anxiety and depression.
In this time, we all have plenty of very real concerns we carry in our lives. Take those to God. But also, be radical in refusing to add to your list of reasons to fear. Stop feeding the bears, making them fat and active in every corner of your life.
The reality is, for must of us, we can update the information we need in 5 minutes on the internet each morning and evening. Why consume more? Is the price you pay truly worth it?
We often say, “don’t feed your fears”, let’s also say “Don’t create a bigger list of fears” We’ve got enough on our plates as is.
Resource Highlight: One tool that I use on a regular basis is an app called, Insight Timer. This is a great app for meditation, stillness, prayer and even sleep. I personally use it often for a timed ten-minute period of stillness and prayer before God. Check it out if you are looking for a tool to help as you set aside times of focused silence and stillness with God.
“I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.” Psalm 6:6
Nieces are fun, especially as toddlers. My oldest niece was full of big words (like “pagoda”) and big emotions that made life fun and funny. As a toddler, though, knowing what to do with her big emotions was not always clear to her. Often she would sit on my lap and play silly games with me. I would tickle her and she would laugh and giggle. I had to use caution though. Often she would get so happy and so giggly that it felt, to her, uncontainable. If it reached a tipping point she would shoot her head forward and bite me on my face. Yes, you read that right, she would bite me when too happy.
The instant she bit me, she would pull away with horror on her face and then burst into hysterical tears, full of guilt or sadness over my now bleeding face.
Most of us don’t struggle with how to handle too much joy and glee in our lives. Our struggle is handling the unwanted emotions such as anger, anxiety, fear, worry, envy, despair or a feeling of powerlessness.
One strategy is to ignore them, just hoping they will eventually go away. Other people accept these emotions as permanent residents in their lives and accept life will never get better.
A third approach is to get aggressive with negative emotions and attempt to cancel them out. I’ve heard it said by many, “Our feelings aren’t the truth!”. Some suggest that every time we feel something we don’t want, we simply rehearse what is true to cancel out the lie.
In Psalm 6 we see David take a radically different approach. David actually rehearsed his emotions! Instead of believing that this approach would give greater power to his emotions, the opposite seemed to happen. The more David voiced his anxiety, fear and worry… the more of the truth he seemed to understand.
While emotions do lie to us, it doesn’t mean they aren’t real. The truth is, we might be literally feeling anxiety in a given moment. The David approach was not to say, “anxiety is a liar!” (although that may be true)… he would treat emotions as information. They told him what he was going through and he acted as if God wanted to hear all the details of his worry, fear and anxiety.
For David, voicing his negative emotions didn’t give them greater power. Quite the opposite! The voicing of negative emotions seemed to disarm them and lead him into deeper security, peace and joy.
In an age of anxiety we need more of the David approach. God does not desire us to be in denial, hopeless for change or afraid of our emotions. We are to be like David who knew, “the only way out is through.”
Pastor Tim Keller once said, “Every single emotion should be processed in prayer.” I think he got this from the Psalms, where David literally brought every high and every low and voiced it before God and others.
In an age of anxiety, how could you give greater voice to your heavy and negative emotions? Try reading the Psalms and see how David did it. Instead of ignoring, accepting or rejecting your negative emotions… try the approach of Psalms. You might discover that giving them a voice before God and friends doesn’t overwhelm but rather brings the peace you have been needing.
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” -Psalm 91:1
When I lived in South Africa, a lot of our life was lived outdoors. Compared to the American way of being indoors, I much preferred it. Large gatherings, walking instead of driving, coffee with a friend, spending time together as a family, special meals with close friends… all done outdoors.
In our city of Cape Town it was not stereotypically hot as many assume when they think of the continent of Africa. We had many cool or even cold days. But, quickly, you did realize that even if the temperature wasn’t scorching, the sun was still intense. For my pale skin I could get burned easily. For everyone though, the gaze of the sun was an unwelcome thing.
I remember many large gathering with friends in parks or along rivers. Often there was two or three trees nearby. Inevitably, everyone would be vying for a spot in the shade of the windswept trees. I have many fond and funny memories of 15-20 adults and children packed into one little plot of shade. Kids crawling all over us, food balanced on flimsy plates. Sometimes we would shout a “hello” to the rest of the group crowded into the shade of the next closest tree. Vast expanses of grass were everywhere around us. But, in that tiny plot of shade is where we all squeezed.
For many, the concept of a “shadow” evokes imagery of secrecy, danger lurking, the hidden parts of us we don’t want to reveal. In Psalm 91, a shadow is a place of rest and refuge. For those who follow Jesus, we get to abide or take up residence in a shadow. Not just any shadow but the shadow of God himself. Whatever threatens to scorch us or sap our strength, there is a place of shade and escape.
In these days where so many threats seem to be looming; viruses, economic calamity, isolation, the unknown future. What would it look like for you to “rest in the shadow of the Almighty”? In this world it feels that threats and fears lurk in every shadow. But there is one shadow that is a place of rest. In a world that makes us weary, there is a place of rest.
I will be posting every few days on a Psalm during this time of social distancing. I will also include a link to a resource, article or other content that you might find help in this time.
Resource Highlight: Today I would like to highlight Curable Health. This app was life changing for me in finally breaking years of Chronic pain (muscle and migraine). There was the side benefit of drastically reducing anxiety I was experiencing! During this time they have decided to make most of their app available for free as a service to people who might find it helpful. If you download the app you will find the free resources that are available, greatly expanded. If you struggle with chronic pain or anxiety I would highly encourage you to check it out and even consider subscribing!
Upon hearing of our move to the United States, our South African friends inevitably brought up one thing. Politics. “Wow, are you going to have some conversations!”, “Prepare yourself for the division and all the crazies”, “I’m sure you are dreading having to enter into this political climate.”
Do you know what was surprising to me? None of it was true. Well, it was true online in the cyber world. But in the real flesh and blood conversations, I rarely heard crazy and outraged political arguments. Not because it is a big love fest. Rather, the opposite. I have found that for the majority of Americans, it has gotten to the point that people are simply afraid to bring it up unless they are with people they really know and trust. The risk is to great. The animosity, toxic. The lack of listening so rare.
We live in an age of outrage. “Outrage culture is always about other people who have done things wrong. The new morality is just being mad at other people.” And if you bring up politics or even share an opinion… you might be the object of this outrage.
A friend on Facebook posted this recently, “I challenge liberals to name one city under liberal leadership that is doing well. Just name one. Waiting”. Of course, I was curious as to how this would go down. The woman is known by her friends as being very politically active and her conservative opinions are not a secret.
Just as I expected, there were not many replies. We all have learned, who wants to reply to a question along those lines, on a public social media forum? One poor brave soul (or glutton for punishment) did step out and name a city. The dog pile was pretty predictable. “That place has a homeless problem that makes you not want to live there!”, “Their taxes are terrible!”, “What a dump!”. Of course you could find negative statistics on ANY city in America to back up your point, but, I digress.
As “liberal” people failed to reply to this question, other comments started rolling in. “Crickets! Just as I thought! You can’t do it! Haha!!”, “Silence, can’t think of one can ya!?” These are sad comments because the reality is we have chased each other to our silos. We have shouted each other into hiding. We have closed our ears and shouted so loud that we can’t hear others hearts. So what’s the point of talking in an age where so very few actually listen?
This Facebook scenario is exactly why, I have found, people generally keep to themselves. As we look around at the politicians that we support. They are us. Or we are them. I truly don’t know who went first.
So what do Christians do in an age of outrage?
One option is “tolerance”. This has been suggested. “The way forward is a more tolerant society”. This is an idea, but it is not Christ’s idea. For the Christian, the call is not to “put up with one another.” The goal is what we’ve always known, “love”.
We do not move from outrage to tolerance. It won’t work to try and just keep our disdain to ourselves and simply put up with each other. Our call is is to far more, love. Self-sacrificing, patient, humble, dying-for-your-enemy, kindness in the face of hate love.
Anyone can argue on Facebook. That is easy. Who can listen and love in real life? Who can defend our enemies against de-humanizing attacks of those we politically disagree with? Who knows that the path to victory (in the Kingdom) is not paved with destroying your critics because they first sought to destroy you?
If the new morality is just hating the right things and being mad at the right people. We are wondering nomads and lost. The ancient path of Jesus is still our bright shining light in a time of darkness. Love. Love those who love us? Easy. Do good to those who do good to us? No problem. Humble, listening, curious, you-go-first, gentle and gracious love? It is so rare because we see in Jesus, it is the picture of Divinity joining with humanity. Miraculous indeed.