Lift up your eyes

Good morning, Friends! It’s good to see you all again! Last weekend after we got back from our daughter’s wedding, and all the guests had gone, my wife and I took a break just for ourselves, as a couple. People need to do that every so often, just to get away and get re-acquainted with each other.

Do you know, after all the time we’ve been living here in High Point, we had never been up to the mountains? We’ve been so busy, and we’ve had so many cares and responsibilities, and we didn’t know where to go, so we’ve never been.

We drove up to Fancy Gap, and headed down along the Blue Ridge Parkway. How many of you have ever been there? Then you know what I mean.

Top speed limit, about 40 miles an hour. Not quite horse and buggy speed. Still a lot faster than walking. But compared to everyday life, this was driving in the slow lane.

I love it! Some people would get impatient with going so slowly, but not me! I’m not a fast driver. I like to be able to look around and see where I’m passing through. We spend way too much of our lives, rushing from one place to another, that we scarcely know where we are.

Up along the Parkway, it’s more than just a different pace. It’s a different life. All the time, I hear people here in North Carolina saying, “I’ve just got to get down to the beach”, or “I need to get up to the mountains!” It’s like we need to return to something really basic. We return to the life we’re supposed to live. It’s like a Sabbath for our souls, a kind of rest and returning, not just amusement but re-creation.

No billboards. No Wi-Fi. No hurry. Not even very many people – we expected it was going to be crowded, with the holiday weekend, but we almost had the whole Parkway to ourselves.

Every 5 or 10 minutes there’s a place you can pull over and look out over the mountains, at some spectacular view. All the ridges and hollers, the endless rugged mountains, marching away into the distance – and scarcely a single sign of human habitation.

It made me think of one of the sayings of William Penn, the early Quaker. He led an extraordinarily busy life, but he also knew how important it was to get away from it all. Here’s what William Penn said one time:

“The Country Life is to be preferr’d; for there we see the Works of God; but in Cities little else but the Works of Men: And the one makes a better Subject for our Contemplation than the other. God’s Works declare his Power, Wisdom and Goodness; but Man’s Works, for the most part, his Pride, Folly and Excess. The Country is both the Philosopher’s Garden and his Library, in which he Reads and Contemplates the Power, Wisdom and Goodness of God.”

William Penn, Seeds of Contemplation

This morning for our Scripture, I’d like to read one of the Psalms of the Old Testament. It’s one of my favorite Psalms. It’s one that I’ve read so often, that I practically know it by heart. Here’s what it says:

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
ill neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
He will keep your life.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in
from this time on and forevermore.

Psalm 121

One of the most basic pieces of advice in the whole Bible is simply to lift up your eyes.

We spend so much of our time looking down – down at the ground, down at our computer screens and cell phones, down at all the ugly events of the world.

When we look down, we see all the ugliness, and the dirt, and the problems. We see our failures and limitations. When we look down, we forget about our dreams. We focus on our pain and we feel lonely. When we look down, we don’t think about God.

One of the things the Bible tells us, over and over, is to lift up our eyes. “Look up! Look up!” the Bible keeps saying. “Look up, and see for yourself what God is doing, all around you!”

One of my favorite Psalms says,

The heavens are shouting the glory of God;
The sky proclaims God’s handiwork.
Day to day pours out the message;
Night after night declares the knowledge of God.

Even though they don’t speak aloud,
Even though their voice isn’t heard,
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world!

Psalm 19:1-4

Last week at Bible study, somebody asked a question. a question. They asked, “Didn’t Jesus ever get tired? Did he just go, go, go all the time? Did Jesus ever stop?”

And the answer is yes, of course Jesus got tired! He worked and he taught and he gave of himself, until he was worn out and exhausted. But then, it says, many times Jesus would leave the crowds, and go up to the mountains by himself to pray.

And the answer is yes, of course Jesus got tired! He worked and he taught and he gave of himself, until he was worn out and exhausted. But then, it says, many times Jesus would leave the crowds, and go up to the mountains by himself to pray.

We need to do what Jesus did more often. If Jesus found it necessary to get away and refresh his spirit, how much more do we need to do the same thing? Getting away to the mountains or the beach isn’t just recreation, it’s re-creation. It’s re-creating our spirit. It’s picking up some new life for our souls, as well as relaxation for our bodies.

I know I’m supposed to tell you all to be here at worship every Sunday, but sometimes we just need to get away. And that’s OK. It’s actually in the Bible!

But here in today’s Psalm, it doesn’t talk about getting away, it says to lift up your eyes. That’s something we can do every day, many times a day. It might not be as complete a getaway as a couple of days up at Blowing Rock or Grandfather Mountain, but just looking up is almost like a mini-getaway, all by itself.

It’s a literal piece of advice, and it’s also a spiritual piece of advice. Lift up your eyes from whatever you’re working on, and see the sky for a moment. See all the birds. If you’re out at night, look at the stars.

There is so much more to the world than our daily responsibilities and our daily troubles. God has created such an amazing world, such an endless universe. When we look down all the time, at our desk or our work, we don’t see all that world that God has made. We don’t see how beautiful it all is.

Most of the time, when we see something bad, like an accident or like some piece of wrong or corruption, we tend to look down, or look away, because we don’t want to see it. We do that so often, we make a habit of looking down. It’s what we do all the time.

We need to look up instead. Those problems are real. Those pains are real. But we get into this rhythm of seeing something bad, and then looking down. Ugh – look down. Ow – look down. Till it’s automatic and we can’t stop ourselves, and we think down is the only way to look.

You hear people say, “Been down so long, everything looks up to me!” But the Psalm says,

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

If you spend all your time looking down, feeling bad, feeling hopeless, of course your day is going to feel like a burden. If you look up, if you lift up your eyes, you’re going to see something different. You’re going to be opening up to a new reality.

My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. . .
That’s a new confidence. That’s new strength. That’s a new way of facing life.

The apostle Paul said the same thing, in one of the letters he wrote. Paul said,

“If God is for us, who can be against us? Who can bring any charge of failure against us, since God has chosen us? Who can separate us from the love of God? Not hardship, not distress, not persecution or hunger, not nakedness or danger! No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loves us. I am convinced that neither death nor life, angels in heaven or powers on earth, nothing present, nothing to come, no power, no height, depth or anything in creation, will ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. . .”

Romans 8:31, 33, 35-39

If you’re looking down all the time, you may never see this or know it in your heart. But if you look up, if you just lift up your eyes, you’ll see for yourself how true it is.

It feels as though everything in this world is going to pieces. It feels as if the whole world is racing downhill. If all you do each day is look at the news, you’re going to get so depressed. That’s because you’ll only see what human beings can do.

We work so hard, and it only takes a few bad spirits, or a little bit of ignorance and prejudice and laziness and hate and greed, to destroy what we and so many people have put our hearts into. It’s so discouraging. We wind up looking down, every day.

But when we look up, we see something different. We see God at work. We see good people, loving each other. We see miracles every day. We see God’s glory, all around us. It’s not even hidden – we only need to lift up our eyes.

Paul wrote, in the same letter I just quoted, he said this:

In my opinion, whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared to the magnificent future that God has planned for us. The whole creation is standing on tiptoe, waiting to see the wonderful sight of the children of God coming into their own. The rest of the world can’t see this. And yet our hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and the whole world will share in the magnificent freedom which belongs to the children of God!”

Romans 8:18-21

I think I’ve said enough. Every day, we need to look up, not down. We need to look up to the hills, to the mountains that God has raised up from the earth. We need to look up to the heavens, and see the stars that sang together in the morning day of creation. We need to look up, and see the miracles that God is doing all around us.

We need to look up, and see the glory of God. We need to look up, and see the things that Jesus promised: people being healed, people getting free, people coming together to share in God’s work. Jesus said we should never give in to being discouraged – “Look up,” he said, and “see the world around you like a ripe field, filled with people, ready to be harvested.”

Don’t pray looking down at your lap, or staring at your shoes. When you pray, look up, because you’re ready to see that God is here!

He will not let your foot be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in
from this time on and forevermore.

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