As I was getting ready to pick up my kids from school yesterday, a refrain kept circling in my head – Thou, O Lord, are a shield for me…my glory and the lifter of my head…
I went through my cd collection until I found the song that taught me these verses from Psalms by heart and let it play. It is still on my mind today…maybe because that phrase gets to the core of my heart – Thou, O Lord, are the lifter of my head…because so many times we have shoulders slumped in worry, eyes downcast in shame, feeling like it isn’t even worth the effort to hold ourselves straight, to look ahead in courage…
I see this movement – this eyes looking down at the floor, the defeated posture – in my own kids sometimes. When they’re in trouble, when they’re sad, when they tried something and it didn’t go exactly how they expected it to go – they look away from me. Sometimes they try to hide somewhere in the house, alone, and I have to search them out. And then I have to, quite literally, lift their chins toward me so that I can wipe away those tears and reassure them that they are okay….that they are loved in all times, in all things.
I have been there, so many times. I have been the one who didn’t want to look up because I was certain I would only see condemnation. I have been the one who couldn’t lift up my head because my heart was broken, my hope for the future gone. I have felt small in my shame. I have felt afraid in my pain. I have tried to hide away, sure there was no good thing in me.
Have you ever felt this way? Do you, even now, feel too tired to hold yourself up, too worried to look into the future with confidence or hope, too broken down to lift your eyes?
If that answer is a yes, can we take a few minutes to remember the story of John 8?
There is no hiding the wrong she has done and the price is already set – she will pay for her guilt with her life. As their long strides and firm grips drag her into the temple courts, she does not need to look up to know that all eyes are on her. They all see her shame.
There is a crowd there, gathered around Jesus. The Pharisees make the woman stand before the group and say it loud and clear, making sure everyone hears her crime – she has been caught, yes, with their own eyes. She has sinned in the act of adultery and the law demands that she should be stoned. They want to know if Jesus agrees with their verdict.
Her life is laid bare before this crowd and though I can’t know for sure, I can imagine that she is gulping down tears of humiliation and fear. I can imagine that she is hopeless.
Perhaps she expects this man, who is obviously much-esteemed, to nod his consent and reach down for a stone.
And He reaches down, yes, but does not pick up a stone. He begins to write on the ground.
Maybe you know the rest of this story already…how they keep after Him, asking again and again what He believes her rightful punishment should be. With every accusation, every re-play of her dark moments, does she sink deeper into shame? Does she become more certain that her life is over?
In this moment, she hears the Teacher say – Let anyone of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.
I don’t know if the courts go silent. I don’t know if these men continue to mutter, to condemn. But I do know that they begin to leave.
And, so, after every accuser is gone and it is just this woman, just this woman rooted to the ground in her misery, and Jesus. He stands up and asks her – woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?
Again, I can’t know for sure – but I imagine that her shoulders have been slumped in defeat, her head hanging down as their words piled upon her.
And at His voice – at this question – she must lift her head. She must look up to see her deliverance – and this last One standing – what will He say to her?
Neither have I condemned you. Go and sin no more.
In His eyes, she sees another chance. In Him, she sees hope.
He sees her sin, yes – but He also sees her. He sees a heart that can be changed. He sees a heart that can be free from darkness.
He sees a daughter, redeemed.
A few more moments come to my mind…I think of the parents and children, rebuked by the disciples – after their reprimands, feeling too unimportant to come into the presence of Jesus – but looking up to see His welcome, too see His care for them….to see that they matter to Him. Come to Me, He says. And He brings the little ones close, blesses them.
I think of the woman we meet in Luke 8. She knows miracles happen when He is near. So, silently and unseen, she reaches for just the hem of His garment. Unclean and broken, she doesn’t call for His attention. She wouldn’t want His eyes on her. For so long she has been in pain, for so long she has been alone.
But this one touch – and the disease that held her captive falls away. But this touch does not go unnoticed as she had hoped – His voice calls out – Who touched Me?
She falls trembling at His feet, ready for whatever chastisement may come, explanation limping out of her mouth.
But He says – Daughter – and she looks up to see compassion.
We could reach back into the Old Testament and walk through the New…always finding the same thing. When the broken-hearted and broken-bodied come to God, they find Love. He lifts their heads to Hope.
And each time eyes lift to His, they meet mercy.
Sometimes all we can see is what we have done wrong. Sometimes we pull burdens of worry onto our backs and find ourselves bent beneath them. Sometimes we are just plain heartbroken over the hard things of this life and the weariness of it hangs our heads low.
If your head is bowed low, your eyes downcast – I pray that you will feel His eternal hands gently cup your face and lift it toward His.
Can I offer this from my own life? Every time I have cried out to Him, He has heard me. He has lifted my head, over and over again, bringing hope and restoring my heart in ways I thought were impossible. Don’t be afraid to look to Him.
You will see compassion in His eyes. If you have made mistakes and chosen sin, you will find forgiveness and redemption in His grace. He was lifted onto the cross for our deliverance.
You will see the One who saves us when we are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18) You will see the One who comforts all who mourn…the One who gives a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair, beauty where there was once only ashes. (Isaiah 61) The One sent to bind up the brokenhearted…to give us strength…to sustain us, day by day, is here with us now.
Lift up your head, friend. Look up to the One who fights our battles for us. The enemy, our accuser, can tell us that there is nothing to be done for our shame, for our problem, for our fears – but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Stand and be strong in the power of His might…there is nothing impossible for our God, who supplies all our needs according to His great riches…who heals every disease…who speaks peace to the storms and life into death. Lift up your head, for you are free from condemnation. He has given us His own righteousness. Lift up your head, for in days of trouble we know that He is coming soon to make all things new. In His own words – Take heart, for I have overcome the world! (John 16:33)
Let Him be the lifter of your head, the Father who loves you, in all times, in all things.