Chapter 4 — Develop a New Eye (Psalm 123)
Our pilgrim has come far on his journey. In his first few songs, he consecrated himself for the climb to Jerusalem. He also realized God would help him on the path, and he celebrated the gathering together of God's people. But his journey, like ours, is about interaction with God, not only in the sublime and spiritual, but in the daily and earthy stuff of life. Our pilgrim needed God not only at the worship service but at home. God isn't just helpful in the temple, but everywhere. Here, our pilgrim sings a song full of themes which would help him see God in his daily affairs of life. He, as we do, needed a fresh vision for how God could help him everyday.
To live the pilgrim life, the disciple life, you must see things anew. The narrow path of Christ requires an alternative approach. In this next psalm, which is more of a sigh than a song, our pilgrim begins to develop his new vision. Let's call it, as many have, the eye of hope. Without this eye, the journey in Christ becomes too discouraging. Without this eye, we cannot see God as we should. But with this eye of hope, we will see more of God than we ever imagined possible.
This new eye is our constant need. Isaiah spoke of the potter spinning his wheel, shaping a lump of clay (Isaiah 29:16). The vessel began in the potter's mind, in the potter's will. The pot has no room to complain or question the potter, for only the potter sees the ultimate result. The pot can choose: either trust the potter or question him. By faith see things from the potter's infinite point of view or the clay's limited view. The potter and clay are an illustration of God's work in His people. He shapes. He molds. We must trust. But for this trust, we must have a new vision of things. Psalm 123 will help us develop that new vision.
Look Into Heaven
"To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!" (Psalm 123:1)
Our pilgrim saw God enthroned in the heavens. A lyric like that was a powerful one because Israel didn't always have that vision. Stephen, the first martyr in the early church, rebuked Jerusalem's religious leaders before they stoned him to death. In his message, he detailed some of the errors their forefathers had made in their understanding of God and His work amongst them. Abraham had not gone all the way to Canaan when God first called him out of Mesopotamia — partial obedience. Joseph's brothers, the patriarchs, had put him in a pit and sold him into slavery. Moses, at age forty, was rejected by the same nation that would accept him at age eighty.
Stephen's point was simple: Israel hadn't always gotten it right at first. As he preached to the religious leaders, I'm sure he prayed that they wouldn't perpetuate the same error. They'd already rejected the Messiah once, but perhaps they could turn and receive Jesus before it was too late. Alas, they killed Stephen. The rejection of Jesus as the Messiah continued.
But during his message, Stephen spoke of another error ancient Israel had made. They had begun to think God lived exclusively in the temple, "Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands," Stephen said (Acts 7:48).
Our pilgrim does not make that error. He does not believe God is confined to Jerusalem, the temple, the holy of holies, or the ark of the covenant. He does believe God is in those places uniquely, for He had called His people to gather there. But our pilgrim does not think the temple is where God's presence stops. He knew God was enthroned in the heavens. To him, the inner room of the temple was only an outward representation of God's invisible throne room in heaven. The real mercy seat, God's throne, was in heaven. Christ had been slain from the foundations of the earth. Our pilgrim had a sense of this.
The disciple realizes they can fix their eyes on God at any moment. He is not reserved for a specific location. Because we now live under the New Covenant of Jesus' blood, today we are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). God's throne-like ministry isn't found in Jerusalem any longer. It is located in our hearts. So we are empowered to lift our eyes, to see differently, to look to God seated on His throne in heaven.
To develop a new eye, you must learn to look to heaven. By faith, you must train your mind to see God above all. You will be discouraged by the news, but God is enthroned in the heavens. You might develop cancer, but God is enthroned in the heavens. You may witness a split within your church, but God is enthroned in the heavens. You might feel the weight of shame for some besetting sin, but God is enthroned in the heavens.
This heavenward glance is part of what it means to "walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7). Our pilgrim did not physically, literally see God enthroned. His was a look of faith. He had learned to look up and, spiritually, by faith, see God enthroned.
I live near a massive bay looking out to the Pacific Ocean. From my vantage point on the southernmost part of the bay, I can usually make out the land on the northernmost part of the bay. But, often, a fog comes over the water which blocks any view of the opposite shoreline. But I know it is there. My mind has been trained. At times, I can peer through the fog and see the land where a visitor might not look. Our pilgrim, as we'll see in a moment, is amid hostility. As that fog attempted to block his vision of God, he pushed through, seeing God upon His throne.
But many patches of fog exist. Our sin or shame clouds our vision of God. Our trials and pains cloud our view of God. Our limitations and dreams cloud our vision of God. But Jesus Christ has made a way over that great chasm. He is the way to the Father. By Him and His cross, we can take our sin, shame, trials, pains, and limitations across the chasm and into God's throne room. The disciple life can look through the various fogs which come our way and see God on His throne. We can learn to see Him when we cannot see Him.
The Spirit tries to pull everyone in Christ in this Godward direction. Paul taught of the "law of the Spirit" within us, "by whom we cry, 'Abba, Father'" (Romans 8:2, 15). The Spirit works on your behalf. He attempts to help you see God seated on His throne. This vision is crucial to the pilgrim life. You must know the God in heaven is involved with the earth. By faith, you must believe God is enthroned. By faith, you must believe God is doing something above all you see and experience. Your five senses will fade with age. Your sense of sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch will all dim with time. But faith, this eye of hope, if cultivated aright, can grow stronger, more sensitive, alert, and aware with each passing year.
Look With a Servant Mentality
"Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God…" (Psalm 123:2)
So our pilgrim looks into heaven to see God. So far, his song has been a solo, for only individuals can sing the song of faith. Our traveler cannot make anyone else look to heaven, but he will look to God. But, now, the song turns to the congregation.
The singer, perhaps a leader among the people, now turns to the congregation. "This is what we do," he said, "We look to God." But how do we look to God? How does the pilgrim community interact with their Lord? How do we turn our attention to Him? The singer scans the horizon. "Behold," he says, "We look to God like servants look to the hand of their masters."
But seeing oneself as God's servant is difficult for many. After all, believers hold seemingly competing perspectives regarding their relationship with God. First, we believe we've been granted a high and lofty position in Christ. We are "heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:17). When given such a position it could be challenging to see yourself as a slave. Second, God has been an incredible servant to humanity. He has given us His Son. He has served us with the gospel. But He has also served humanity through His divine providence. The seasons, the fruit of the earth, speak to God's service of humankind.
So God has given us a lofty position, and also serves us. Additionally, the natural man often expects God to serve him and his desires. Unfortunately, many believers bring this attitude into their new life in Christ. For all these reasons it takes discipline for the modern believer to see themselves as God's servant.
But there is a fourth and final obstacle today's believers might struggle with in trying to see God as their master. Western society understands little of the ancient servant-master relationship. It is foreign to us. Many of us live in societies without observable servant-master relationships. Instead, we are used to employee-employer relationships. Employees have certain rights and should not be regarded as lesser. But in the ancient world of the psalmist, servants were considered lower than masters. The servant was on duty, alive to please his master. He would wait with bated breath for the master to unfold his will.
To develop a new eye, you must learn to see God like a servant sees their master. Break up the soil of your heart. Though He will serve and love and lavish His grace upon you, stop seeing God as your servant. Start viewing yourself as His. This readiness to serve the master is the type of eye the modern pilgrim must develop. Your pilgrimage won't last you long if you do not embrace God as Master. In your relationship with Him, you must see Him as greater. We must look to him with the watchful eye servants. What do you want us to do next, O Master? Where ought we go? Who ought we love and serve on your behalf? What would please You?
It is one thing to look to heaven, but quite another to look there as a servant to his master. This eye of service is crucial, and often a steep mountain to pass in this sojourning Christian's pilgrimage. Climb this mountain, gain this eye of service. A glorious life awaits you if you make God your Master.
Far from drudgery, life with God as Master is one of great freedom. Humans are made to serve. Personal freedom is a myth. You will serve God or others or sin or a passion, but you'll never be free enough to serve yourself. We are an enslavable bunch. But to serve God and others is freedom. "For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another" (Galatians 5:13).
Service to God is our "reasonable service" (Romans 12:1, NKJV). For all He has done for us, the great position He has granted to us, turning around to serve Him is the proper reaction. The more the pilgrim looks to God for direction, correction, and leadership, the more joy will be his. Men ("servants") and women ("maidservants") are all included in our song. God is looking for people who will come out of the world and serve Him. He longs for this because it is for our highest good.
If your Christian life is spent waiting for others to serve you, and for God to serve you, your eye is undeveloped. You need a new vision. See yourself serving God and others. Volunteer. Join. Commit. God is looking for you to look to Him with the eye of a servant.
Look With an Expectation of Grace
"…till he has mercy upon us. Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us…" (Psalm 123:2-3)
Now we learn what our pilgrims crave from their Master. With great anticipation, they sang, "We look to the Lord our God, till He has mercy upon us." This lyric highlights a significant feature of the servant-master relationship. God, the Master, is in a higher position, so we wait for Him to bend low and favor us. Three times, the pilgrim's sang for God's mercy to come upon them.
In this song, mercy is more than the withholding of judgment; it is the stooping down in kindness for an inferior. The pilgrim community waited for God to lower Himself in grace towards His people. They awaited favor, compassion, and grace. They weren't cowering servants, but expectant servants. They held their heads high in expectation of the favor of God upon their lives. They looked for grace. They longed for it.
In our New Testament, we even have fuller teaching about God's grace than the ancient pilgrims. In Christ, we have a confident expectation of God's grace, favor, and mercy. Christ came. He stooped down in His incarnation, taking on human flesh. He lowered Himself to show the kindness of God. His cross opened up a new way of approaching God, a New Testament version of the psalmist's wait for God's favor. Hebrews says, "Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16).
Pilgrim's learn to go to God for grace. And, because it is grace and not merit, the pilgrim expects to find it. There is hope in the pilgrim's heart. We expect to receive mercy and find grace. This is beyond wishful thinking, but a confident expectation. In the pilgrim life, you must learn to look to God for grace and to expect its arrival.
But an expectation of grace is difficult for us to grow into. We often expect wages, not grace. We look for God to pay us back for our praise and prayers and service. We think all good children come from good parenting. We think all good churches come from good pastors. We think all good salaries come from good workers. But we often do not stop to think of where good parents and good pastors and good workers come from — His grace! Nor do we stop to consider how God can, by His grace, make good children and churches and salaries despite the people involved, not because of them. We must be able to say it was all from God's grace because it is.
It is hard work to believe the potter is shaping something beautiful in us because of His gracious will for our lives. We think we must make something of ourselves, make our grace. The word "wait" is not found in the song, but waiting is the spirit of the song, for you must learn to wait for the grace of God to come upon your life. The pilgrim life is one of waiting for God's grace and favor and mercy, not our own.
Think about it. You sense in your heart the needs of your life. You might be able to define the grace you think you need. Community, love, kindness, affirmation — you make a list. These are the "needs" of your soul. But will you wait for God's grace and favor? Will you wait for the community and relationships He has for you? Will you run to Him for the love only He can provide? Will you look to Him for kindness and affirmation? There are shortcuts to all of these needs, but the pilgrim does not take them. He journeys up the mountain and waits for God's supply.
Waiting for grace is hard. We often want rewards — or punishment — based on what we have done. We are so prone to try to earn before God. We want mental peace to come as a result of the reading or solitude or prayers we endured to get it. We want our fruitfulness to be based on our studies and preparations and sacrifice. We want our successes to be built upon our greatness. Conversely, we often want pain as a result of our failures. We wallow in it, glad that doom has come our way because we didn't do life correctly. Our suspicions are confirmed. We had better perform better next time.
To develop a new eye, you must see God as full of grace and mercy. Looking to Him this way breaks this human cycle. It takes us into a new realm. No longer do we want wages or punishment, but God's grace. We expect Him to stoop down and bless His children. He did it at the cross so He will continue to do it from heaven. So we pray with Ezra, "Brighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our slavery" (Ezra 9:8). We learn to expect God's grace to flow.
Look When You've Had Enough
"…for we have had more than enough of contempt. Our soul has had more than enough of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud." (Psalm 123:3-4)
Now we see the reason they waited for grace from their Master God. Our pilgrims had been toiling under contempt and scorn. Disrespect and hate, in the mind and from the lips, was theirs. Someone hated them with a passion. This entire song was launched from a platform of disrespect and rejection. Our pilgrims were taunted and hated. Looking back into their historical setting, we cannot know what particular trial they alluded to, but they were in the thick of it.
But our pilgrims have said enough is enough. They carefully explained it to God — "We have had more than enough…our soul has had more than enough," they said. The pilgrim band grew tired of being despised and rejected. They hurt as they endured. They'd had enough — the Hebrew word means "glutted" — of their trial. Their pain took them way past the point of satiation. They were stuffed because persecution, hatred, and contempt had been crammed down their throats.
Perhaps you've said this to God. "I've had more than enough, Father," we say. But notice in this there is a cry. Our pilgrim community had learned how to cry to God in the midst of pain. This is part of the pilgrim life, the ability to look to God when you've had enough. When your heart is overwhelmed, when you think you cannot go on, when you have had more than enough, you must run to God. The pilgrim life is one in which the pains of life do not embitter us or turn us from Him. We go to Him in honesty and desperation, depending upon Him for every ounce of energy and life we need.
The pilgrim life allows the pains of life to find redemption. The devil would drive us from God through the persecution and hatred, but the disciple runs to God in the midst of the hardship. Our pilgrims allowed God to redeem their attacks — they turned to Him for grace. Instead of flitting about to friends or our screens or our vices, we must turn to Him during pain. The disciple trains their mind. The disciple learns to look to God when they've had enough.
Consider James' word on waiting for the grace of God to appear. He wanted to give his readers a case study, an example to encourage them. He found Job. "You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful" (James 5:11). James tells us to remain steadfast. The latter rain is coming. He wants us to think of Job. He was steadfast, James says, and you've seen the end of his life, overflowing with blessings from God.
But I wonder how Job might have felt about James' commentary. Steadfast? I think Job might have balked a little. Do you remember when God spoke near the end of the book of Job? He had a frank conversation with Job. "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?" God said. "Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it" (Job 38:2, 40:2). God spoke to Job. God corrected Job.
But then the grace. "After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: 'My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has" (Job 42:7). "As my servant Job has." The jaw drops to the floor. Amazing. God confronted Job man to man, but then He confessed Job had spoken of Him what was right. This is a grace statement, for Job's wait for God's grace, while faithful, was also sloppy. But God has grace towards a sloppy wait for His grace.
The pilgrim life is one in which our new eye is developed slowly. It gets stronger with time. It is not perfect confidence. Like Job, we often stumble. The pain makes us say and think that which is out of balance. But God sees our process with grace. We worship a God who became flesh. He knows our frame because He experienced it. Christ endured both contempt and scorn for us. He patiently embraced the scoffing of the religious leaders and the taunts of the Romans. And with grace, He fosters in us that beautiful eye of hope.
Let us become a people who can look past earth into God's glorious throne room in heaven. He is seated, in control, sovereignly leading the nations to His glorious conclusion. And when we look up, let us do so as servants who anticipate the direction of their master. Give God control of your life. And look for grace to flow from your Master, for He is also your benevolent Father who sent His Son to die for you. Know the grace will come. While you are in the travails of life, know you can run to His arms of grace to aid you through the pain. He endured the pain for you. Go to Him and allow His love to encourage your soul.