The week before last, we looked at the chorus, ‘Turn your eyes upon Jesus’ and we talked about keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus who is the author and perfecter of our faith.
This week, I want us to consider that God is keeping his eyes on us, that he watches over us.
There is a lot going on at the moment that could scare us. I’ve said it before in these letters; 2020 is not going well! The world is reeling from the virus and from the killing of George Floyd and the strength of feeling and emotion that has brought about. We hear unsettling news about what’s going on in America or China and fear for the future. We watch the news as people go back to pubs and seem to forget that the pandemic is still rife. We turn our eyes to Jesus but can sometimes forget in these times that God has his eye on us.
With so much going on in the world, it can feel as though God has forgotten or abandoned us and that he doesn’t care. I was having a conversation with someone last week for whom everything seems to have gone wrong and he said, “It feels as though someone up there is against me.” There are no easy answers to why for some life is just one awful thing after another. I’m guessing you know people for whom that seems to be the case? I remember a lady from the Salvation Army in Swindon called Joyce who just seemed to face one thing after another from disability to cancer to the birth of a grandchild with hydrocephalus to the illness and subsequent death of her daughter. It was just constant and yet she was one of the most faith-filled people I have ever come across. How? Because she was able to recognise that God was right there with her in the middle of everything that happened.
I am reading through the bible with Nicky Gumbel (the creator of Alpha) this year and in the reading last night he says this:
‘Extraordinarily, it is often the people who have gone through the greatest suffering who have the strongest faith. They testify to the presence of God with them, strengthening and comforting them in the midst of their pain. Betsie ten Boom, as she lay dying in Ravensbruck concentration camp, turned to her sister Corrie and said, “We must tell them that there is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still. They will listen to us, Corrie, because we have been here.”
I had already decided on what I was going to be talking about when I read that last night but, as often happens with God, this just confirmed it for me!
God was working even in the concentration camp in the lives of Betsie and Corrie ten Boom. God was working for Joyce even when everything was falling apart. God is working right now, in the middle of all that is going on in this world.
When you are struggling and feel like everything is just too difficult, don’t assume that God has forgotten about you. Open your eyes and look for what he is doing and I promise that you will find him. The bible says that in all things, God is working for the good with those who love him and are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28) If you are finding it hard to see him, call out to him and ask him to show you himself. Tell others that you are struggling and ask them to pray, too, that God will reveal himself to you in ways that you can’t miss.
Look to scripture.
Our first reading this morning is from Genesis 28 where we find Jacob running away to avoid being killed having tricked his father into giving him his brother Esau’s birthright. On his way, he dreams of a stairway between heaven and earth and he hears the voice of God saying, “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land.” God is with Jacob even after all he has done and is still promising to watch over him and guide him and use him! That’s a really comforting thought, isn’t it?
The Psalms tell us repeatedly that God cares for us and is always watching over us. Psalm 8 has been on my mind over the past week. “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” Psalm 91 is one that we looked at right at the beginning of lockdown along with many other churches as we recognised that God will shelter us under his wing, will rescue and protect, will answer us and will be with us.
Today, though, I want us to go back to Psalm 121 again having concentrated on the first couple of verses two weeks ago.
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
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.
This Psalm is one that the Israelites used to sing together as they travelled to Jerusalem every year for the Passover. It is based around the idea of a journey and says that as we journey through life, God will be with us and is watching over us. It is intended for the whole community of Israel rather than just for individuals and we can cling to this as a church community right now in this time of feeling frightened about what is happening in the world and what the future may bring as well as for us as individuals. It begins with the phrase we considered two weeks ago, “I lift my eyes to the mountains…” but then goes on to remind us that as we are turning our gaze to God, so his is always on us.
You might read this and think that, if God is going to keep us from harm, we then don’t need to worry about social-distancing, following the rules etc because we are safe from the virus. I have had conversations with people who believe just that. However, that would suggest that those who were Christians who have died from the virus were somehow undeserving of God’s protection and that is just plain wrong!
You may read it and decide that it just can’t be true because you know of people who are faithful followers of God who have caught the virus and died. I have had those conversations too. Again, I don’t believe that this is right thinking. I believe that the bible is the Word of God and that, correctly understood and interpreted, it is completely true and reliable.
So how do we correctly understand and interpret this passage?
It’s called a Song of Ascents and, as I’ve already mentioned, was used by the Jews on their pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It begins with the question of the traveller and recognition of the answer, “Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord!” and continues with a blessing from the Priest assuring them that God is watching over them on their journey.
We are all on a journey – even those of us who haven’t left our houses since the middle of March! This journey is filled with dangers and pitfalls and we need to ask ourselves the question, “Where does my help come from?” and reassure ourselves with the answer, “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth!”.
We can then look to a God who neither slumbers nor sleeps so that we can stop and rest when we need to knowing that he is watching over us. We can be assured that as we face this journey God has promised to keep us and as we end our journey, he is there too.
We know from other places in the bible that being a follower of God doesn’t guarantee that we won’t face difficult times and encounter pain and loss. We read that the sun shines on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matt 5:45). We read in various Psalms about the unrighteous prospering. We see in the book of Job that someone who was faithful to God suffered horrendously.
This Pandemic has affected all of us. As a congregation, we have so far avoided catching the virus ourselves but a few of us know those who have and some of us grieve the losses of people we love. None of us have remained completely untainted though as we have been forced to stay home, have been prevented from meeting together and sharing fellowship. Being a Christian doesn’t make us untouchable.
Being a Christian means that whatever situation we find ourselves in, be it a pandemic, the loss of someone we love, a job loss, an illness, we can have the assurance that God is right there with us and is working in it to bring about his good, pleasing and perfect will for our lives.
As I was thinking of this over the week, a song came to me written by General John Gowans:
Don’t assume that God’s dismissed you
From His mind,
Don’t assume that God’s forgotten to be kind;
For no matter what you do,
His love still follows you;
Don’t think that you have left Him far behind.
Don’t assume that God will plan for you no more,
Don’t assume that there’s no future to explore;
For your life He’ll redesign, the pattern be divine;
Don’t think that your repentance He’ll ignore.
Don’t assume you cannot
Give what He’ll demand,
Don’t assume that God condemns you out of hand;
For He gives to those who ask
His grace for every task;
Don’t think that God will fail to understand.
For His love remains the same,
He knows you by your name,
Don’t think because you failed Him He despairs;
For He gives to those who ask
His grace for every task,
God plans for you in love for He still cares.
Whatever you are facing this week, know that God is still God, he is right there in it with you and his plans are still to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)
God bless you all!