“I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”
– Psalm 121
I have read/heard the verse above several times in my 30+ years as a Christian. But now that my American-bred family of five lives as ex-pats in a mountainous region of the Balkans, it has new meaning to me. Within 20 minutes of our apartment, nestled in a long valley, are four different snow-capped Olympic mountains. You literally cannot look out my window, drive down the street or look at a reflection in a building or puddle without “lifting your eyes” and seeing a mountain.
Not only is this verse more meaningful to me now because I live in the middle of a mountain range, it is also impactful because never before have I felt my deep, deep need for the Lord. My family and I moved from a small college town in Georgia to a large capital city in Southeastern Europe a little over one year ago. We knew relocating a middle-aged couple with careers, connections, and influence, along with three school-aged children would be challenging, but never in my wildest dreams could I have guessed that it would feel nearly impossible.
In my home culture, when I asked the Lord for help it usually was asked more like a polite request for wants, not needs. Here, when I pray, I find myself pleading with God in desperation. I wish I could say that I plead with Him for the salvation of the lost here. I wish I could say that my heart breaks for the brokenness around us. I wish I could say that I plead for His Kingdom to come, His will to be done. And sometimes, I do.
But if I am honest, on most mornings this first year here, during my quiet and centering time in the Word and journaling, I don’t have the capacity to pray earnestly for those “bigger” things. Most days it’s been for our little family that I’ve pleaded:
Lord, please help my children. They feel so sad here, so lonely. Will they resent us for bringing them here? Lord, please help my daughter. She was struggling to read in English, and now we’ve thrown her into another language! Lord, please help my son. He used to love school, and now he cries and dreads the week ahead. Lord, please help my husband. He feels so incompetent and stupid and lonely here. I’ve never seen him look so defeated. Lord, please help me. I want to protect and provide for my family and I am so worried about their fragile hearts. I want to be a good mom. Lord, please help us. Buoy us here as we continue to live out what you’ve called us to.
A few months ago, John Piper shed more light on these verses for me. He explained that the “high places” that the kings in the Old Testament were told to tear down were the places of idol worship—the places that they looked to for help. The idea that the psalmist was communicating in this verse was in essence, “I look up and see the place of idol worship. But where do I choose to find my help? My help comes from the Lord, the One True God, the Maker of Heaven and Earth.”
Sometimes as I walk down the street here in my new city and “lift my eyes to the mountains,” I ask myself what idols I worshiped on the figurative mountains of my past. Good schools for my kids? Nice Christian friends for them? A rewarding career? A peaceful, satisfying marriage? A thriving, life-giving church to be a part of? Nothing is wrong with any of these things. But I realize now that having them made me feel safe, secure in who I was, encouraged and hopeful for the future.
In the states, as a woman who walked with the Lord for over 30 years and worked in full-time ministry for almost a decade, I would have said that my identity was securely rooted in Christ. But living here, stripped away from all we knew before (the safety of the suburban life, competency in our career fields, fruitfulness in our circles of influence), I can clearly see that my identity was not actually in Christ, but in the scaffolding I had erected as my life.
With this in perspective, the verse above takes on a whole new dimension:
“I lift my eyes to the mountains,
[to the idolatrous places of my life. To the things I erect to give me a sense of strength, affirmation, encouragement, and identity.]
Where does my help [really] come from?
[Even though those things feel helpful to me, they are only idols on a
mountain top to which I run to for a sense of security and comfort.]
[In truth] My help comes from THE LORD,
The Maker of Heaven and Earth.”
As you read this, you are probably not a missionary living in a foreign land. Maybe you’re a businessman, a stay-at-home mom, a retired widow, a college student? Whoever you are and wherever you are, I challenge you to pause with me and “lift your eyes to the mountains.” Ask the Lord to show you if there are any “high places” where you are running in order to find security, peace, comfort, or encouragement. In your job? In your performance? In finding a spouse? In having a baby? In finding a good church? The list is endless.
I encourage you to write them out (perhaps in a journal or in the notes section of your phone) and talk to the Lord about them over the next several days and weeks. Ask God to show you how you would respond if those things were suddenly taken from you. Or if you don’t have them yet, how you would respond if you never attain them.
The response He shows you may be disheartening at first—maybe even terrifying. But, my prayer is that as you imagine life without the scaffolding of those things, you too will recognize your deep, deep desperation for Christ. And that your desperation will cause you to plead with the Lord for help and to ultimately find your truest identity fully in Him.
I am so thankful for the opportunity to lift my eyes to the hills knowing that my help comes only from the Lord. God was/is so faithful to bring my family here (and to bring circumstances into your life) that cause us to see Him more clearly, turn from earthly comforts, and find all of our satisfaction in Him. He wants all of our affection, not only because He is worthy of all glory and honor and praise, but also because it’s what we were made for—to be fully satisfied in Him.
—C.R. (Eastern Europe)