I’m sure it’s safe to assume that you, like myself, love music. I’m a musician and an avid vinyl collector so music might mean a little more to me than to you, but I think if we are honest, we are all naturally music lovers. Sometimes a certain song is mentally connected to a very specific moment in life, like remembering the song you danced to at your wedding, or what was playing over the car stereo when you were in a car accident. We probably all have THAT song from our youth, the one that we sing loudly when we are in the car alone. Music can be therapeutic in one way or another, as the Eagles so elegantly put it, “some dance to remember, some dance to forget.” Music is a powerful gift, given to us by our creator, quite often music can be the one thing that soothes the soul, or calms our anxious minds.
The words to the songs collected and written by King David in the Psalms are intimate portraits of nearly every aspect of life. In them, we find love, loss, anger, excitement, pain, and worship before God. Psalm 121 has become especially important to me. It is labeled a “Song of Ascent,” meaning a song that was sung on the journey to Jerusalem at appointed times of worship, not unlike a favorite song we might put on in the car as we set out on a trip. This particular “road trip” song was designed to remind those singing and hearing the lyrics of God’s great protection while walking through dark valleys. As that infamous Chumbuwumba song “Tubthumping” stated. “He sings the songs that remind him of the good times, he sings the songs that remind him of the best times.” These songs of Ascent are needed more today than ever before.
As I said before, I love music, if someone asked me to list my top five songs of all time, I could probably not narrow it down to under 20 songs, and I could spend an entire blog post per song detailing why that song mean’s something to me. However, I can say that I do have a favorite “Song of Ascent,” a song that moves me EVERY time I hear it over the radio. I’ve always loved the sonic landscape made by the band U2, but Bono’s lyrics are what have always made them such a big deal in my mind. By the time I was in high school they had put out a string of albums which hadn’t lived up to the magnitude of their work in the previous decade. Then comes the song “Beautiful Day.” There it is, I said it, though I adore the Joshua Tree album as a whole, “Beautiful Day” is my song of Ascent, it is a moving reminder in the mist of the worst of times, if we would truly open our eyes to the glory around us, it isn’t as bad as we think it is. This is what a truly great song aims to do, and it’s why David collected songs for us to hold dear in the Psalms. Here is one of my favorites.
Psalms 121 goes a little something like this:
“I lift my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?” (v. 1)
Imagine walking as a family through a valley, as you are walking you look up at the steep mountains above, not knowing if there may be robbers waiting to attack from the high ground. This eerie feeling is what the first verse is attempting to confront. When we find ourselves in hazardous moments, we often ask ourselves where we can go for help. The answer to this question reveals a lot about our heart and where I trust lies. The Psalm goes on to answer the question.
“My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” (v. 2)
This was a reminder while in the valley, that neither help nor harm was coming from the mountain, but rather, our help is coming from the one who made the mountain and all of creation. It was a reminder to them, and us as well, that if the one who made everything is the one protecting us, then nothing can destroy us.
The song goes on to remind the singer of the greatness of God’s loving protection.
“He will not let your foot be moved;” (v. 3a)
Those rocky cliffs that we have to cross, the ones that verse 1 had us look towards, it looks like rough terrain. A single miss step in life and we all are capable of tumbling to our demise, yet our protector will not allow us to fall.
“He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (v. 3b-4)
Our God does not sleep; He is never out of touch for the evening or taking a weekend off. He is present at all times to attend to our needs as His sheep. He is our constant keeper as the song continues.
“The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil;” (v. 5-7a)
The song reminds its singer, as the journey grows long, that God is keeping them, He is bringing them shade in the middle of the day, He is with them both throughout the day and all through the night. He proclaims that God’s protection is more than a physical shade against the sun, but a deterrent against all that is evil in this world, reminding us that there is nothing that can stand against our God.
The song concludes by informing us that this isn’t just a promise for us along this single journey, but this is the reality of life with God every single day of our lives.
“He will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.” (v. 7b-8)
Our God is with us now in the valley, tomorrow on the mountain, in our youth, and as we grow old, through sickness and disease, through brokenness and pain, where ever we go, our God, our Keeper is right there with us. On the darkest of days, with Him, it is always a “Beautiful day.”
Let’s look back at the U2 song for a moment, the verses are a masterwork of bearing witness to the broken-heartedness we often find ourselves in, yet then the course lifts declaring what we so often miss in the midst of the mess.
“It’s a beautiful day, don’t let it get away.”
In the bridge, Bono walks us through several glimpses of beauty to be seen in the world as well as how we’ve broken them. And then the bridge ends reminding us of a moment bursting with life after one of history’s darkest moments.
“See the bird with the leaf in its mouth,
after the flood, all the colors came out.
It was a beautiful day.”
Like the families singing Psalm 121 on the road as a reminder about the God who brought us through in the past, He is the one who is still bringing us through this very moment. Let Bono’s prayer within the song be our prayer. Let the spirit of God who is at work in the very valleys of death that we walk through, carry us through. He never sleeps, He’s never caught off guard, He is never powerless, and if He is with us, what can be against us.
For the moments we forget what Psalm 121 speaks over us, Lord hear our prayer:
“Touch me, take me to that other place, reach me, I know I’m not a hopeless case.”
Grace and Peace to You.