Lately I’ve been reading in the Psalms of Ascent. These are the songs sung by the Israelites as they journeyed to Jerusalem for their annual feasts. This morning I lingered over Psalm 123:

To you I lift up my eyes,

O you who are enthroned in the heavens!

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,

till he has mercy upon us.

Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,

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. (v.1–4)

The phrase that caught my attention was “I lift up my eyes.” In the midst of “more than enough” suffering, the psalmist looks up to the One who is enthroned in heaven. This is no casual glance upward. It is a fixed, steady, expectant gaze at the LORD. He calls out for and awaits God’s mercy. The psalmist appeals to the only one who can truly help, the King on his throne. This is similar to the focus of Psalm 121:1–2:

I lift up my eyes to the hills.

From where does my help come?

My help comes from the Lord,

who made heaven and earth.

Are you faced with “more than enough” hardship today? Do the challenges you face seem insurmountable? Does the journey seem too much? Where do you look for help? If you’re like me, you don’t always look up. In fact, too often we look out, we look in, or we look down. What do I mean?

Sometimes we “look out” expecting that our help comes from other people. There is a certain rightness to this. Others do bear our burdens (Gal 6:2). Others are called to encourage our faintheartedness and help our weakness (1 Thess 5:14). Others comfort us with the comfort of Christ (2 Cor 1:3–4). But they are not our Messiah. In their own human frailty, they often fall short of what we truly need.

If others are untrustworthy helpers and unable to bear the full weight of our suffering, where else do we look? Sometimes we “look in.” We look inward for the fortitude and perseverance to face our hardships. We ratchet up our planning and our doing. That strategy may work for a season but inevitably our small boat of personal resources swamps in the wind and waves of life in a fallen world. As I feverishly bail water, I realize I’m in a losing battle. The broken relationship is irreparable. The cancer is terminal. Reputation is forever tarnished. The chronic pain is truly chronic. The business will indeed fail. Then what? I find that at these points, too often I “look down.” I become discouraged and overwhelmed. Life shrinks to the rocky ground before me and in that earth-bound gaze I try to plod on.

When we experience the insufficiency of looking in, out, or down, this is precisely the point at which our loving and faithful Father King calls me—and you—to look up. To call out for mercy in our time of need. To fix our gaze on mercy personified—Jesus Christ—who sits enthroned in heaven. He faced “more than enough” suffering in the humiliation of his freely chosen incarnation, earthly life, and death (Phil 2:6-8). He was despised and rejected, a man of sorrows and well acquainted with grief (Isa 53:3). And in the midst of his horrific suffering, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death (Heb 5:7). In his resurrection victory over sin, suffering, and death he now invites you, weary traveler, to draw near to the throne of grace, that you may receive mercy and find grace in your time of need (Heb 4:16).

Look up to the merciful One who stands ready to help.