by Kim Reisman
World Methodist Evangelism
I lift my eyes to you, O God, enthroned in heaven. We look to the Lord our God for his mercy, just as servants keep their eyes on their master, as a slave girl watches her mistress for the slightest signal. (Psalm 123:1-2, NLT)
As we begin the new year, our Scripture focus comes from Psalm 123. Psalm 123 is a psalm of ascent – a song people sang as they went up the hill to worship in the Temple in Jerusalem. It describes a posture of looking up – I lift my eyes to you. This posture of looking up is important for our spiritual journey. It’s the type of posture we need to grow in our life of faith.
The problem is this posture of looking up doesn’t come natural to us. Our more natural posture is a horizontal one. We want to explore our spirituality, but on our own, independent terms. The New Age guru Deepak Chopra once said that people were attracted to his teaching because he satisfied a spiritual yearning without making them think they needed to worry about God or punishment.
That’s our natural posture. We want to be spiritual, but we don’t want that spirituality to be encumbered by authority. We want to discover divinity within us or around us, but not above us. We want a God on our own level; a God we can argue with about the things that make us uncomfortable – marriage, divorce, sexuality, what we do with our money. We’re not looking up; we’re looking across.
But Psalm 123 describes a posture of looking up. I lift my eyes to you, O God, enthroned in heaven. When we read this psalm, it’s easy to avoid the issue of authority and get side-tracked by physical location; but our relationship with God isn’t about where God is located, in the heavens or anywhere else. Our relationship with God is about God’s position of authority in our life.
Verse two emphasizes God’s authority as well; we look to God in the same way that servants look to their masters, waiting for the slightest signal to direct them into action. This type of attitude is difficult for us not only because of our discomfort with the language of servitude, but because many of our cultures – especially American culture – emphasize independence. We grow up anticipating one day leaving home; we go to school anticipating graduation and a new job. Each milestone in life marks another step on our road toward independence. What we don’t realize is that independence doesn’t always mean freedom.
We’re all harnessed in one way or another. Each milestone of our life simply marks trading one harness for another. We may be excited about “adulting” until we realize we now have to pay for everything. I had the opportunity to stay home with my children when they were young. I was so excited – no more constraints of work! I wouldn’t have to answer to anyone! Ha! Anyone with children knows I simply removed the harness of employment and replaced it with the harness of parenthood!
Our wide and varying commitments harness us whether we realize it or not. School, jobs, children, parents, these and countless other responsibilities, all come with a yoke that we must wear. That’s why Jesus’ words in Matthew are so important. “Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30, NLT)
Jesus says, “my yoke” because he knows we’re already harnessed; but he wants us to be yoked in a way that suits us. Life will harness you; but you can choose to what or to whom you will be yoked. Jesus says, fasten yourself to my harness, yoke yourself on God’s terms, not those of the world.
There’s a mythical story about a sea captain who was guiding his ship on a very dark night and saw faint lights in the distance. He told his signalman to send a message, “Alter your course 10 degrees south.” A prompt message returned, “Alter your course 10 degrees north.” The captain became angry because his command had been ignored, so he sent a second message, “Alter your course 10 degrees south – I am the captain!” Again, a message promptly returned, “Alter your course 10 degrees north – I am Seaman Third Class Jones.” Infuriated, the captain sent off a third message, knowing that it would evoke fear, “Alter your course 10 degrees south – I am a battleship!” Once again, a prompt replay came, “Alter your course 10 degrees north – I am a lighthouse.”
When we look straight ahead, often all we can see is darkness and fog. We can’t see the forces that have us harnessed and are telling us which direction we should go, how we should behave, what commitments we should or should not make. But when we look up, when we lift our eyes as the psalmist says, we can see the light. When we yoke ourselves to Christ, recognize his authority in our lives, we become connected to God’s hand and can follow God’s light. It’s God’s power and energy that pulls us and pushes us and leads us.
As you pray and fast this month, think about the things that have you harnessed. What would you have to change to more become more fully harnessed to Christ? My prayer is that you will take on a posture of looking up. And in doing so, you would able to see God’s light more clearly, and be guided by it as you seek to follow him.