I suppose prayer language is a bit like barbecue—each region has its own distinctive flavor. Some phrases seem to have made the circuit and are employed everywhere (guide, guard and direct, until the next appointed time, well-pleasing in Thy sight). Then there’s one I’ve only heard a handful of times, but I really gravitate toward: traveling mercies.
It’s a compressed way of asking God to watch over people who are on the road. We all know that not everyone who travels makes it to their destination. When our loved ones travel, we feel a certain vulnerability for them (and ourselves) that leads us to ask the Almighty for His watch over them. What parent doesn’t know the anxiety of having their high school or college aged child out on the road or the sigh of relief that comes when they text to tell us that they have arrived safely at their destination?
Psalm 121 proclaims God’s traveling mercies.
The psalmist travels in trust. As he neared the elevated surroundings of the city (Psalm 125:2), he was reminded that protection for the journey comes from the One whose presence was specially manifested there. The Almighty neither slumbered nor slept so travelers were secure (v. 3-4). He watched over them in his “coming and going” (v. 8). Traveling mercies indeed.
And yet we know that not every disciple arrives safely at their destination. People do slip, the sun wearies them, or the night upsets them. It is important that we understand this psalm to be saying “not that we shall never stub our toes, but that no injury, no illness, no accident, no distress will have evil power over us, that is, will be able to separate us from God’s purposes in us” (Eugene Peterson). This is the bigger picture of traveling mercies.
Disciples are never promised exemption from the difficulties of life. To believe or act as though belonging to God means we are entitled to a life free of pain or problems is poor theology and makes for even worse biography. This psalm assures us the Maker of heaven and earth will always get us where He needs us to be.
“My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (v. 2). The One who has the power to create all things is the One who watches over us. He can in the words of James Mays, “sustain the journeys of life and the journey life is.”