Unto you I lift up my eyes,O You who are enthroned in the heavens! Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master,And as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,So our eyes look to the Lord our God,Until He is gracious and favorable toward us. Be gracious to us, O Lord, be gracious and favorable toward us,For we are greatly filled with contempt. Our soul is greatly filledWith the scoffing of those who are at ease,And with the contempt of the proud [who disregard God’s law].
A farmer and his sixteen-year-old son were plowing when a bullhorn from the house summoned with an urgent message. The boy begged to operate the tractor alone. Dad relented with this clear instruction: “Son, the key to plowing a straight furrow Lise in picking out an object across the field, then steadily driving the tractor in that direction.
When the father returned twenty minutes later, he was horrified at the squiggly S-shaped furrows. “Son,” he remonstrated, “I told you the key to plowing straight furrows was keeping your eye on a distant object and plowing straight toward it.”
Tearfully, the boy answered, “Dad, I did just what you told me, but there was no way I could get that cow to stand still.”
Perhaps along with the teenager, and the Psalmist, you are finding it difficult to stay focused on the right thing.
Psalm 123 asks us to consider which direction we are looking. We are on the trail of pilgrims making the ascent to Zion, but every once in a while we look back down into the valley floor and think about going back to the very places we have left. When we are looking up, the difficulties of the journey are formidable and without God’s help impossible to overcome. While we have lofty ideals of our final goal(Psalm 122), we quickly find ourselves toiling on the upward climb, far below our ultimate destination(Psalm 123). In this psalm the psalmist acknowledges he’s having trouble fixing his gaze and he needs an anchoring orientation. He has begun the second psalm-(Psalm 121) by lifting his eyes to the hills. Quickly, he shifts his view from his difficult circumstances to God Himself, and he repeats that lesson by beginning with focusing on the Lord rather than the mountains.
The second thing we are asked to consider is: How closely are we looking?
However, the psalmist isn’t looking at God through a telescope for worship has brought Him near. God is no distant object but a near Presence- so near that His intentions for the psalmist are as clear as the ones that a slave or maid can read the body language of their owner or employer. A familiar gesture is given, perhaps a pointed finger, clapped hands or clenched fist, and instantly the master has nonverbally communicated his wishes. Is that how we are in regard to the Lord? Or does He have to shout to penetrate our rebellious, stubborn, distanced hearts? Can we focus on God’s gestures- the quiet nonverbal inner ways He directs our lives?
The third thing we are asked to consider-and maybe the most important is: How long will we look? Psalm 123:2 invites us to look “till he shows us his mercy.” Do we work hard for the Master and are our eyes glued on Him so that we remain sensitive to the slightest hint of His day to day directions?
Evidently the traveler of Psalm 123 has gone a long while without a break. He has given up waiting for a hand signal as his endurance and stamina have been depleted, so he asks for a timeout. It would be easy to think-based on verses 1 and 2 that the weariness stemmed from the constant readiness to serve the Lord as a slave serves a master or a maid serves her mistress, but that’s not it at all. This exhaustion comes from the proud and arrogant. Verse four- the lament of the pilgrim reveals his inner plight:”We have endured much.” It’s the oppression of adversaries or adversities that wear us down for the Lord’s yoke is easy and His burden light(Matthew 11:30).
The pilgrim of Psalm 123 does not turn to those who have afflicted them or circumstances and ask them to back off, for they wouldn’t listen anyway. So he asks the Lord for mercy and prays for some relief to be given without trying to dictate to the Lord what should be done.
Interestingly, not a word of thanksgiving or praise is found in this psalm. Have there been such days like that in your life?
It takes effort to move upward and outward. Sometimes the best we can do is tell the Lord we’re keeping our eyes upon Him and need His mercy. If for some reason you’re feeling energy-depleted or harassed, and your prayer isn’t prayed with much faith, or life has worn you down, why not follow the psalmist’s example and resolve to keep focused on the Lord “until he shows us his mercy.”
Those who are in the “long haul” Christian journey will make it if they choose to keep their eyes upon the Lord(Hebrews 12:1,2).
Dr. John Thompson