Theme: Help in Hardships
In this week’s lessons, we are reminded in vivid and powerful ways how the Lord watches over his children.
Scripture: Psalm 121:1-8
What are the forces arrayed against us? Paul lists seven of them, maybe choosing this number to suggest completeness: trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger and the sword. These are terrible dangers, yet not one of them will be able to separate the Christian from God.
I do not know how you are reacting to this, but I can guess how some might be reacting. Some will comment, “Well, that is all right for Paul to say, since he was an apostle and undoubtedly enjoyed special privileges. I am only a normal Christian. Can this really apply to me?” If you are saying that, let me remind you of Paul’s experience. True, he was an apostle, but this meant that it was his lot to endure greater, rather than less, hardships than ourselves.
He writes about them in 2 Corinthians:
I have worked much harder, been in prisons more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? (2 Cor. 11:23-29).
Every danger Paul wrote about in Romans 8 is in these verses as something Paul had experienced himself or was in danger of experiencing. Eventually he was even put to death for his convictions.
Paul is not writing from some ivory tower or speaking “off the wall,” as we might say. He experienced great difficulties. Yet none of these things separated him from Christ’s love, and today he is in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in heaven, and he will be forever.
This is the point of Psalm 121, not that we will not have problems but that God will keep us safe as we go through them. In last week’s study I mentioned Eugene H. Peterson and his book on the Songs of Ascents. He deals with the reality of the disciple’s ills frankly, noting that the promise of this psalm is not that we shall never stumble or stub our toes, but that “no injury, no illness, no accident, no distress will have evil power over us, that is, will be able to separate us from God’s purposes in us.”1
So what is the disciple of Jesus to expect? Peterson answers,
The Christian life is not a quiet escape to a garden where we can walk and talk uninterruptedly with our Lord; nor a fantasy trip to a heavenly city where we can compare blue ribbons and gold medals with others who have made it to the winners’ circle…. The Christian life is going to God. In going to God Christians travel the same ground that everyone else walks on, breathe the same air, drink the same water, shop in the same stores, read the same newspapers, are citizens under the same governments, pay the same prices for groceries and gasoline, fear the same dangers, are subject to the same pressures, get the same distresses, are buried in the same ground.
The difference is that each step we walk, each breath we breathe, we know we are preserved by God, we know we are accompanied by God, we know we are ruled by God; and therefore no matter what doubts we endure or what accidents we experience, the Lord will preserve us from evil, he will keep our life.2
The mature Christian is neither blind to trouble nor in fear of it, for he is following after Jesus Christ, who said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Where does my help come from? As the psalmist answers, “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.”
1Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1980), p. 38.
2Ibid., pp. 40, 41.
What seven forces does Paul say are arrayed against us? What did Paul actually face? Give examples from his life and ministry.
Explain the real difference between the life of a Christian and the life of an unbeliever.
Reflection: When hardships have come into your life, what does the Lord want to accomplish through them? Rehearse in your own mind what you know is true of God and his Word.
Application: What terrible dangers or troubles have you faced? How has God kept you from falling?
Prayer: Thank God for the many blessings he has given you, especially your relationship with him.