Followers of Christ know that God deserves our rapt attention when we pray. We yearn for prayer to be an astonishing experience of love, joy, awe, and reverence in the presence of God. But all too often our thoughts turn to other things. Attention to the Lord falls to the side.
Still, we can take heart. The Scriptures offer us many ways to give our minds over to the Lord when we pray. If we become familiar with these paths and follow them, we will draw near to God and He will draw near to us.
One such path appears in the opening lines of Psalm 123:
To you I lift up my eyes,
O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
As the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
Behold, 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. (vv. 1–2)
This psalm is designated “A Song of Ascents.” It is in a collection of psalms (Pss. 120–34) that Israelites recited and sang as they went up to Jerusalem to celebrate annual festivals at the temple. Many of the Psalms of Ascents turned the hearts of the faithful toward the Lord in anticipation of the astonishing spiritual experiences that awaited them in Jerusalem.
In the first two verses of Psalm 123, the psalmist mentions his own “eyes” and the “eyes” of his traveling companions four times. They were looking at something, but it wasn’t what you might expect. Their eyes were lifted toward the Lord on His throne in heaven. Needless to say, the psalmist does not mean that he or his company peered into heaven with their physical eyes. Rather, he speaks of the eyes of their hearts, the focus of their thoughts.
servants and masters
Later in Psalm 123, the psalmist reveals that he and his company were weary of “the scorn of those who are at ease”; they had had enough of “the contempt of the proud” (v. 4). So they lifted their eyes toward God because of something astonishing about His relationship with them. The psalmist compares their relationship with God with that of a “servant” with his “master” and a “maidservant” with her “mistress.”
In our modern world, such language usually stirs up negative reactions. What modern person wants to be anyone’s servant or handmaiden? But this psalm challenges us to leave these modern attitudes behind. Quite often in the Old Testament world, impoverished Israelites considered themselves tremendously blessed when their wealthier neighbors took them on as servants. On a human level, benevolent masters and mistresses were the only hope that many of the needy had for protection against severe deprivation, brutal violence, and death.