I grew up in Eldoret, Kenya, and as a young boy, I remember we would go to memorials for my long-gone relatives. The point was that as we, through big and good feasts for them, they would be pleased and in time they would bless us. In 2008, I heard the gospel, and by the grace of God, I was saved. Christ gave me a new appetite. He gave me a new desire for him as I followed him. And it didn’t take long for my family to realize this change.
As the eldest son, there were several obligations and expectations that were ahead of me, and they expected that I would get a good job, get rich, and maintain the family name. Christ was calling somewhere else. He was giving me a desire to train in ministry and volunteer in needy areas. So, I decided, what if you were from a loving and caring family, you would do, to share this desire with my parents. I shared with them, and they called a family meeting and the members of my family came together.
We sat, and it was an evening where I heard from every member of the family, trying to convince me why I shouldn’t take the direction in which Christ was leading. This was a moment of great distress for me. So, a final decision was made that if I don’t take the decision that they were giving me, I should go away.
So, it was a lonely night. I packed the belongings that I had, and it was even lonelier in the morning as I picked up my bags. I went to say goodbye to my family, and my mother she told me,
“Just get lost. We don’t want to see you again. We want to assume like you never existed.”
The psalm that was just read to us was written by a man who was in distress, probably the same person who wrote Psalm 120. And he begins Psalm 120 by saying,
“In my time of distress, I called out to God and he answered me.”
We don’t know who the person is, but we know where he was when he was writing this psalm. Distress is mental or physical suffering born out of adversity. In times of distress, tears become your food. You turn in each direction. You feel hopeless, and you wonder when relief will come. Some people will try to drown their distress by heavy drinking or turning to the abuse of drugs. Some will turn to entertainment, excessive watching of screens, social media, sports, any other thing that can distract you from the reality of where you are circumstantially.
Some will turn inward and try to find solutions within themselves. Some will turn outwards and try to blame others for where they are in distress. I believe in Psalm 121, he gives us a good picture as believers of where we should turn to in time of distress.
“I lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
“I lift up my eyes to the hills.” Notice the direction that the psalmist is looking. He’s not looking inward in despair; he’s not looking downward in self-reliance, but he’s looking to God, in God-dependence. He mentions he lifts up his eyes to the hills. He looks to the hills. The fact that he mentions the hills does not mean that God is only found on the hills, but as we read Scripture over and over, we see that God’s people, when they would meet with God for a covenant, they would meet on a hill.
For example, Abraham, when he was asked to offer his only son Isaac to God, takes a three-day journey and travels to Mount Mariah to offer him as a sacrifice. Then Moses, after he had led the children of Israel from Egypt, they traveled in the wilderness. They get to Mount Sinai, and Moses goes up the mountain. He meets with God, and later he comes down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments. Recently on the series of Elijah, as you can remember probably that the showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal happened at Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18. In the New Testament also, we see that Christ was crucified by the hillside, and he ascends to heaven from the Mount of Olives.
Of course, this does not mean that God is trapped in a physical location. God is omnipresent, meaning he is present everywhere at all time, and needy souls can cry out to him and they will receive his attention. Jeremiah, in Jeremiah 23:24, he puts it that God fills the heaven and earth. And the writer of Psalm 121, when he tells us that he’s lifting his eyes to the hills, he is just reminding us, as 21st century believers, that any time we posture our hearts and look to God, he is there to meet us, regardless of whether you are in Kenya, regardless of whether you are in China, or whether you’re in Greenville. When you turn to God, he is ready to meet you.
“My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
Derek Kidner writes this about this verse,
“The thought of this verse leaps beyond the hills to the universe; beyond the universe to its Maker. Here is a living help: primary, personal, wise, immeasurable.”
As humans, we’re in constant need of something. This need could be physical, it could be spiritual or emotional. And in times of need, it is fundamental to realize where we can turn to when we have a need. In times of distress, in times of despair, in times of grief, in times of pain, in times of suffering, you should turn to God. Jesus gives us an invitation in Matthew 11. He says,
“Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy laden.” Isn’t that how you feel when you are in distress? He says, “Come unto me, all you who weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
There are many reasons in Scripture why we should turn to God in time of distress. I believe the psalmist addresses three, which we’re going to look at today as to why we should turn to God in time of distress. So, reason number one why we should turn to God in times of distress is that God doesn’t sleep through your distress. He tells us in verses 3 and 4,
“He will not let your food be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”
You may feel shaken or overtaken by disaster. Much is weighing on your heart and on your mind, and probably you have turned to various places for help and you didn’t find the help that you needed. Maybe this describes you as you walked through those doors coming in here. You just exercised an act of faith, and as you came in, you probably have cried out to God, and you have felt like he is asleep up there, that he can’t hear your cries. Not just that he is asleep, but he is sleeping hard. It’s like God has taken Nyquil, and he has just been zapped into a deep sleep in that as you cry, he can’t hear you.
My prayer for you this morning is that this truth will strengthen you, is that this truth will encourage you, is that this truth will give you even more of a reason to cry out to God, that the God of Israel never shuts his eyes. He never dozes off. He is always alert and on watch in your time of distress because he doesn’t sleep through your distress.
Reason number 2 why we should turn to God in time of distress is that God never abandons his children. It says in verse 5,
“The Lord is your keeper; The Lord is your shade on your right hand.”
Six times in this psalm the writer repeats of God as a keeper or he keeps. Verse 3 he says, “He who keeps you,” verse 4, “He who keeps Israel,” verse 5, “The Lord is your keeper,” verse 7 twice, “The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in.” You keep what is important to you.
If I was to ask you where your driving license is, where your bank cards are, you probably wouldn’t have to think twice where they are. You just know where they are. You’ve got it. You keep it in an important place. Scripture will help us understand what the writer means when he tells us that God is our keeper. This word “keep” is used in Genesis 2. God made a beautiful garden. Then he placed man in this garden, and he commands him to cultivate this garden and to keep it and to take good care of it.
Again, we see it in Genesis chapter 4. Cain had just slain his brother Abel, and God comes and asks him in verse 9, “Where is Abel, your brother? This is what Cain said. “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”
In other words, “I don’t care where my brother is.” This word “keep” has the idea of being attentive; it has the idea of watching over through and through, having your attention fully on something or someone. The Lord has his attention on you in time of distress, in times of pain, in times of grief, in times of uncertainty, in difficult decision-making process. God as our Father is in tune, and he is alert with what we are going through. He is our shade where we should run to for refreshment and for keeping.
“The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.”
We remember how he led his children by a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire during the night. The Lord is God in all seasons. It doesn’t matter in your distress whether it is during the day or during the night, whether it’s in the summer, whether it’s in the winter. God is in tune. He is alert. He is watching, and we can cry out because he never abandons; he never sleeps through your distress. He is always near to us. And this leads us to reason number 3 why we should turn to God in time of distress. It is that God guards your life continually. The writer tells us that “The Lord will keep you from all evil.”
You see Jesus in Matthew 5, he is teaching his disciples how to pray. And one of the requests he tells them to ask for is that they will be kept from the evil one. Of course, this does not mean that life will be cozy. What the writer is saying is that all evil that can possibly come your way shall certainly be under the watchful eye of your maker. As Paul puts it so beautifully in Romans 5:35,
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
‘For your sake, we are being killed all day long. We are regarded as a ship to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
He will keep your life.
“The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.”
The author is pointing here to a life that is eternal, a life that is not just temporal. As Jesus says in John 10, that his sheep hear his voice. They follow him, and he gives them eternal life. And no one will be able to snatch them out of his hand. We have died, and our lives are hidden with Christ in God. In the beginning, I shared how I was deserted and chased from those whom I loved. By the grace of God, he has restored these relationships. But when there was turmoil in my heart and at home, God kept me. When I felt deserted by the people I loved, he was with me. He led me through difficult days and long nights.
God doesn’t sleep through your distress. He never abandons his children. He guards your life continually.
So, what should we do in our time of distress? I will say we should do three things:
1: Anchor yourself in the word of God. We see this beautifully shown by the writer of Psalm 121. He is aware of the redemptive history. He knows how God kept his children. He knows how he led them, and he recites it. He tells over and over. When we anchor ourselves in the word of God, this gives us a solid foundation to stand on when we are crying out to God.
2: Talk to God. God is your Father. God is a Father who never deserts his children. He is a Father who cares. Talk to him. He knows what is going through in your life. We see this beautifully portrayed by Christ in the moment of his greatest distress. The cross was before him, and he goes in the Garden of Gethsemane and he speaks to the Father.
And 3: Trust God for your keeping. Your distress could be pain. Your distress could be the loss of a loved one. Your distress could be making a difficult decision in your life at the moment. Trust God for your keeping. The greatest distress is for those who would never trust in God but would trust in themselves for their keeping. I pray that through Christ Jesus, you will trust in God for your keeping. Shall we pray?
Thank you, Lord, for your goodness and mercies. Thank you that we have a Father, a friend who is closer than a brother. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for hearts that are here and are crying to you, immersed in so much distress. I pray that you will continue to draw them out. Give us hope, minister to our hearts, even as we meditate through your Word. We love you, Lord Jesus. We ask these things, in Jesus’ name. Amen.