WELCOME AND INTRODUCTION
Just over a year ago when I visited Leeds West Hunslet, we took as the theme, “Summer Psalms”, focusing on Psalm 111. In this online worship today, before summer’s finally gone, I’d like to continue that idea, this time focussing on Psalm 121, which has very appropriate themes for our current circumstances in the world, and our title today is, “In my Father’s care” (which has a certain symmetry in other ways, as my last “visit” to West Hunslet in May with the online worship had the theme, “In my Father’s house”!)
So let’s begin our worship with a song which
declares boldly our faith in our Father’s care.
Sing along to “God’s love to me is wonderful”,
led by Chelmsford Salvation Army Songster Brigade.
GOD'S LOVE to me is wonderful, That he should deign to hear The faintest whisper of my heart, Wipe from mine eyes the tear; And though I cannot comprehend Such love, so great, so deep, In his strong hands my soul I trust, He will not fail to keep.
God's love to me is wonderful! My very steps are planned; When mists of doubt encompass me, I hold my Father's hand. His love has banished every fear, In freedom I rejoice, And with my quickened ears I hear The music of his voice.
God's love is wonderful, God's love is wonderful, Wonderful that he should give his Son to die for me; God's love is wonderful!
God's love to me is wonderful! He lights the darkest way; I now enjoy his fellowship, 'Twill last through endless day. My Father doth not ask that I Great gifts on him bestow, But only that I love him too, And serve him here below.
Sidney Edward Cox (1887-1975)
Faithful Father, we begin today by giving you thanks. Your love endures forever, it never fails. Though there are many ways in which we have failed, we have not exceeded the supply of your mercy and grace. We thank you for revealing yourself to us through your word. As we open the Bible today, we pray that we would hear your voice. We ask that your Holy Spirit would be at work, opening our ears to hear and our hearts to receive your word. May we be transformed into your likeness. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen. (Natalie Regoli - “Connect us”)
BIBLE READING – PSALM 121 (NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION)
Psalm 121 is a psalm of assurance … of confidence in God. It is a psalm which speaks of God’s powerful provision, of his constant care. It’s theme is God’s protection of His people. So here is the Psalm …..
Psalm 121 - A song of ascents
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? 2 My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber; 4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord watches over you – the Lord is your shade at your right hand; 6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all harm – he will watch over your life; 8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and for evermore.
PSALM 121 - PART 1 : “My Father’s creation is before me” (vv. 1 and 2)
Let’s delve into this well-known Psalm today in four parts, interspersed with some more songs and music.
We have seen that the psalm is headed, “A song of ascents” … it was a song for going up to worship, maybe sung responsively as pilgrims journeyed to Jerusalem to celebrate a feast.
As pilgrims travelled to Jerusalem - remember they were walking; some may have been on donkeys but at that time neither horses nor camels were common in Ancient Israel – the pilgrims walked through mountainous country where their safety would have been a concern. They could stumble on the rocky tracks and be hurt, someone might suffer sunstroke, or in the chilly nights of camping might become very cold, and there was always the possibility of robbers swooping. So they sing …..
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? 2 My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
In the momentous circumstances of this present time we might ask the same question, or at other times in our lifelong journey through its ups and downs, or in our spiritual journey where sometimes we are caused to doubt or question … “Where does my help come from?” The message of this psalm applies to God’s pilgrims today and gives the assurances we need as we journey … “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”
Life is full of many dangers. The physical: injury, accident, war, infirmity, natural disasters, pandemics. The economic: recession, depression, unemployment, outsourcing, downsizing, insolvency, debt, or theft. The spiritual: doubt, temptation, sin, evil, extremism, false teaching. What more natural question to ask, “where does my help come from?”
Maybe, wherever you are just now, you can speak out aloud, or in your heart, the timeless words of assurance from this Psalm ….. My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
If God who created the heavens and earth, with his power, creativity, wisdom, glory and loving care, is still our heavenly Father, then surely, whatever we face, whatever we are going through, we ultimately have nothing to fear. Over 300 years ago, Matthew Henry, that prince of Bible commentators put it this way. The language may be old, but the truths are timeless …..
We must encourage our confidence in God with this that he made heaven and earth, and he who did that can do any thing. He made the world out of nothing, himself alone, by a word’s speaking … and all very good, very excellent and beautiful; and therefore, how great soever our straits and difficulties are, he has power sufficient for our succour and relief.
When the travellers caught sight of Jerusalem, situated on the mountains, they believed that of all places God dwelt there in His temple, and that he would meet with them from above the “mercy seat”, that covering of the ark of the covenant which held the Ten Commandments. But this Psalm went further, to the truth that their faith was in a God who created the very world, the very universe. Satan and his demonic army may be at work opposing God’s people, but this is still our Father’s world. Some of God’s people had turned their worship to other gods at shrines (“high places”) in the hills, but God’s faithful people looked above the hills to a great God who created them and all things, and who is always present.
When Jacob was living through a very turbulent and uncertain time in his life, Genesis chapter 28 records how he had a vision of God’s presence still with him ….. “Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!” (v. 16)
Perhaps, just where you are, bring your concerns and anxieties to God, and remember that your help comes from the God who made heaven and earth, and be aware that wherever you are, and whatever you are facing, he is with you now!
MINISTRY FROM THE SONGSTERS – SING FOR JOY (Richard Phillips)
What better music could we hear now than a vocal arrangement of another Psalm which speaks volumes about God’s care and protection … Psalm 95.
The International Staff Songsters were joined by many former members in singing this song at the special birthday concert at Regent Hall just before the lockdown, marking their 40th anniversary, and it is conducted by former leader, Major Len Ballantine.
PSALM 121 - PART 2 : “My Father’s eyes are upon me” (vv. 3 and 4)
Although the precise figures are the subject of some debate, it is reliably thought that the total number of CCTV cameras in the UK is well in excess of four million! That’s one camera for every 14 people in the country. So smile, you’re on camera!
If these statistics can in some way seem rather intrusive and even threatening, Psalm 121 reminds us that there is a much more important way in which we’re always “in view”. For the psalmist says of God five times in this short Psalm that he “watches over” us! God is not only all-powerful and always present, as we have been thinking, he is also “all-seeing”.
This thought, in truth, could feel threatening, but the emphasis is not on a God who is trying to catch us out, but on a God who is caring for us in every moment of the day … 24/7, 365 (or 366!) days a year. Even while we sleep, God watches over us – “he who watches over you will not slumber”!
Psalm 95 which we’ve listened to the Staff Songsters singing, reminds us that we are God’s flock, his sheep under his care. But when we go to bed, we needn’t resort to “counting sheep”, at least not because of worries or concerns, for, as I once heard it described, God is our “night watchman”! In every moment, the cares and concerns of our hearts, our cares and concerns for the future, our cares and concerns for others are fully known to him. He watches over us.
The psalmists were clearly convinced of this truth, for as we also read …..
The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you. (Ps. 32.8 NLT)
The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right; his ears are open to their cries for help. (Ps. 34.15 NLT)
CONGREGATIONAL SONG – SONG BOOK 890 - “SAFE IN THE SHADOW OF THE LORD”
Here is one of the best-loved of Bishop Timothy Dudley-Smith’s over 400 hymns, which beautifully captures many of the thoughts of Psalm 121, and many other psalms …..
PSALM 121 - PART 3 : “My Father’s presence is beside me” (vv. 5 and 6)
The psalmist not only pictures God watching over us, but he pictures God at our side to shield us from all harm. That does not mean obedient believers will never find themselves in difficulty or danger, or will never feel physical and emotional pain.
But it does mean that though things which are permitted to happen to us in this fallen and damaged world may hurt us, they do not ultimately have the power to harm us and take us away from God. King David, the shepherd-king, and Israel’s greatest ruler, had many experiences that brought heartache and even threatened his life, but God enabled him to turn those seeming tragedies into beautiful psalms that encourage us today. The Lord at our right hand provides the “shade” that we need.
How precious, O God, is your constant love! We find protection under the shadow of your wings. (Ps. 36.7)
In writing about the sun and moon, the psalmist is saying several things. To begin with, in that part of the world, the burning sun could be menacing, but at night, sudden drops in temperature could be both uncomfortable and unhealthy, without warm covering.
Day and night, our Father is with us to shelter us from that which could harm us. Jewish people followed a lunar calendar, so the writer was affirming the truth that from day to day, month to month, season to season, year to year, our Father is with us in the many challenges and changes of life.
The chorus in the Song Book (1028) contains the same truth …..
God is with us all the time, In the morning when joybells chime, In the evening when lights are low; Our God is with us everywhere we go.
Whether by day or night, in heat or cold, whatever circumstance and changes come our way, “God is with us”.
MINISTRY FROM THE BAND – PSALM 46 (David Rowsell)
Let’s continue to reflect on these promises, as we listen to the Amsterdam Staff Band play an arrangement of the chorus based on Psalm 46 … “Be still and know that I am God”.
PSALM 121 - PART 4 : “My Father’s care is around me” (vv. 7 and 8)
The phrase “going out and coming in” refers to our daily activities of life. A very similar thought is expressed in Deuteronomy 28.6. Our Father God is concerned about our daily tasks and schedules and even the so-called “minor details” we too often take for granted.
More years ago than I care to remember, before entering the Training College, when I was responsible for
a team of collectors in north Leeds for the Salvation Army door-to-door appeal (then held in February!),
I came across for the first time those little cylinders on the door-frames of Jewish households, placed there in obedience to the Mosaic law, containing portions of Scripture from Deuteronomy 6:9 and 11:20. As they went in and out of the house they would touch that little container, to remind them whose they were, and in whose care they were …..
“the Lord will watch over your coming and going”
What an assurance to know, as we go in and out of the house, and wherever we go, even at this time of somewhat restricted movement, our Father is with us and cares for our every need.
And His loving care will go on forever …..
“the Lord will watch over your coming and going BOTH NOW AND FOR EVERMORE.”
This is, as we recalled, a pilgrim psalm, as the worshippers saw their destination, Mount Zion, the Temple, and the Ark of the Covenant, this visible symbol of God’s presence on earth.
But the pilgrims cannot stay in the safety and security of the sanctuary forever, they must travel on.
Our task lies out in the world. The sanctuary is the place to be revitalised … to be refreshed … to receive assurance … to be in the presence of God … to pray for the world into which we will venture forth. But as we go out, let’s remember that our Father watches over us and journeys beside us.
Father God, who alone makes us dwell in safety, keep us, Lord, under the shadow of your mercy.
We pray for all who are affected by coronavirus, through illness or isolation or anxiety, that they may find relief and recovery; and for doctors, nurses and all healthcare workers,
that through their skill and insights many will continue to be restored to health. And we pray for scientific researchers,
that through their long and untiring work effective treatments and vaccines will be found.
Father God, we pray for our homes and families, our schools and young people, for teachers and all school staff as the school year has commenced,
we pray for their safety,
and that as young people return to their learning environment,
they may progress and blossom in that community.
We pray for a blessing on our local neighbourhoods, that they may be places of trust and friendship, where all are known and cared for.
For our own church family,
we pray for any known to us who have particular needs just now,
and ask that you will guide us in the most fruitful way to minster to them.
For those who are guiding our nation at this time, and shaping national policies, may they make wise decisions; foster, Lord, among them, a spirit of co-operation and mutual aid.
Father God, may greed and self-interest be banished in the family of nations.
We pray especially for those areas of the world ravaged by poverty, pestilence, famine, corruption and war,
particularly with the added burdens of the pandemic;
especially we pray for our fellow Salvationists, in their own suffering,
and in their ministry to find solutions and bring relief.
God of love and hope, you made the world and care for all creation, but the world feels strange right now. Help us to put our trust in you in all circumstances. Amen.
CONGREGATIONAL SONG – SONG BOOK 959 - “I’LL GO IN THE STRENGTH OF THE LORD”
As we have thought about God’s watching over our coming in and going out, as we go out to another week, let’s sing that Salvation Army version of this song which has become so popular throughout the church,
“I’ll go in the strength of the Lord” (here in a BBC “Songs of Praise” recording).
FINAL THOUGHTS AND PRAYER
The words of Psalm 121 make a great blessing. Perhaps you could read it once more, as a blessing for someone you know, holding their picture in your mind as you read the Psalm and bless them!
And here is a closing prayer as we go out to a new week …..
O GRACIOUS AND HOLY FATHER, give us wisdom to perceive you, diligence to seek you, patience to wait for you, eyes to behold you, a heart to meditate upon you, and a life to proclaim you, through the power of the spirit of Jesus Christ our Lord. St. Benedict
Thank you for reading
Written by Major Stuart Barker
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We have now been able to set up a scheme which will enable you to give in an offering online. Below there is a QR code – a square with ‘Givt’ in the middle and black and white squiggles all over it – and when you download the ‘Givt’ app onto your phone or other device you will be able to make a contribution, of whatever amount, to the Corps simply by showing you phone or device to the QR icon.
Here’s what to do :
Download the app named ‘Givt’ from the Apple ‘App Store’ or ‘Google Play’ on your phone or tablet etc.
Wait for an email from ‘Givt’ which will give you instructions as to how to proceed further
Follow the emailed instructions to register on to the system.
Then when you want to make a donation you simply allow your phone or device to read the QR icon below and enter the amount you want to give – and you’re done!
The amount will be given anonymously and will be taken from your account not less than 8 days and not more than 11 days from when you made the donation. The Bank details are safe and secure and 100% of the gift is given to LWH Corps.
Please note that the donation is not instead of your cartridge, - it simply takes the place of your normal ‘Sunday Offering Plate’ gift. Your giving is very important to the Corps and greatly appreciated.
At this time when we are unable to meet as we used to, we have lost the Offering revenue, so this a great way to keep on supporting the Corps in these difficult times.
That’s all there is to it – but If you want clarification on any point please do not hesitate to contact me.