Some call Psalms 121 "The Traveller's Psalm" as it is about God's protection as we journey. The subtitle "A Song of Ascent" refers to the pilgrimage Israelites took to Jerusalem for sacrifice and worship.
Some commentators suggest pilgrims would sing this psalm in their camp the night before they reached Jerusalem as they looked at the Holy City. The following psalm (Psalm 122:1-9) takes place within Jerusalem's walls.
Other commentators suggest that weary travellers would sing this song when they saw the hills of Judah in the distance, knowing Jerusalem was within reach. “I lift my eyes toward the mountains...”
Whatever the case, it is a song of hope to sing on life's journey.
Read Psalm 121:1-8 as a group
Q. Who is the "I" in this poem? Who is the "you?"
A. While it could have been written to encourage a friend, Psalm 121 was probably a note from the psalmist to himself. We can certainly benefit from taking it as a personal message of encouragement in our lives! Let it speak to you like a hand-written message from a beloved relative.
Read Psalm 121:1
When are you most likely to lift your eyes "up" to the Lord? (Prayer)
This is a song of protection. In the Hebrew text, only one word is used for what our versions translate variously as “watches over,” “preserves,” and “keeps.” That word (shamar) is used six times. It is found twice in the second stanza (vv. 3–4), once in the third stanza (v. 5), and three times in stanza four (once as “keep” and twice as “watch over,” vv. 7–8). How does God "shamar" you in your times of trouble?
Read Psalm 121:2
How does naming an attribute of God help during prayer? (Focus)
Which of God's attributes do you find most effective in focusing your attention on Him? (omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience, love, forgiveness, creativity, mercy, etc)
Read Psalm 121:3
When have you especially felt God's protection in your life?
Read Psalm 121:4
How does combining "God is always awake and watching" with protection and prayer redefine it in your mind? (Since love is God's primary attribute, His power, presence and knowledge are reassuring not intimidating. God's attention is a blessing - not a curse!)
Read Psalm 121:5
What does it mean to you that God is a safe place "right by your side"?
Read Psalm 121:6
Obviously, God's people experience sunburn and exposure. In a spiritual sense, what does this verse mean to you? (You will be cared for day & night!)
Read Psalm 121:7
I am reminded of the children's book: "We're going on a bear hunt." Life happens. "We can't go over it. we can't go under it. We have to go through it." What difference does it make to know God is there, going through it with you?
Read Psalm 121:8
Most accidents happen within 10 kms of home because we lose focus on the tasks of travelling. Faith life tends to be the other way around. The young in faith tend to have vibrant evangelistic fervor and elderly people have a calm reassuring stalwart faith. On the spiritual journey, the middle tends to be the hardest.
Why is this? What makes some moments more risky for our faith than others? (We often lose our faith-focus during the busiest and most stressful moments.)
What advice would you give someone to help them regain and maintain their faith? (Eyes on the prize! Fix your eyes on Jesus!)
Life is a journey without God or it is a journey with God. The choice is ours to make. The same road is travelled. Birth. Life. Death. But the company and the comfort are very different.
So what is the disciple of Jesus to expect? Eugene Peterson gives this answer on pages 40 and 41 of his book "A Long Obedience in the Same Direction."
The Christian life is not a quiet escape to a garden where we can walk and talk uninterruptedly with our Lord; nor a fantasy trip to a heavenly city where we can compare blue ribbons and gold medals with others who have made it to the winners’ circle.… The Christian life is going to God. In going to God Christians travel the same ground that everyone else walks on, breathe the same air, drink the same water, shop in the same stores, read the same newspapers, are citizens under the same governments, pay the same prices for groceries and gasoline, fear the same dangers, are subject to the same pressures, get the same distresses, are buried in the same ground.
The difference is that each step we walk, each breath we breathe, we know we are preserved by God, we know we are accompanied by God, we know we are ruled by God; and therefore no matter what doubts we endure or what accidents we experience, the Lord will preserve us from evil, he will keep our life.