President Theodore Roosevelt delivered a speech in 1906 at the dedication of the office building for the House of Representatives in which he stated: “You may recall the description of the Man with the Muck-rake, the man who could look no way but downward with the muck-rake in his hands; who was offered a celestial crown for his muck-rake, but who would neither look up nor regard the crown he was offered, but continued to rake to himself the filth of the floor.”
This is a description of a character from the book Pilgrim’s Progress; he is known, simply enough, as the Man with the Muck-rake. It is clear that he would rather rake up straws, sticks, and the dust of the floor than pay attention to what is communicated to him from above. The Man with the Muck-rake is a vivid example of a person whose gaze is fixed on downward things and never upward. He would never lift his gaze from the filth and the mire to see what was above.
Psalm 106 is a striking passage of Scripture, for in it I believe we find some muck-rakers. It clearly declares to us the ineptness of humanity; the complete inability of man to escape sin, and failure when he forgets God. This Psalm is a chronicle of the acts of people who, at times, forgot to lift their gaze up to Heaven, unto God, and in doing so they entered into unimaginable wickedness.
This Psalm begins and ends with a command to praise the Lord. It reiterates for us the reality of God’s inherent goodness and the continuing presence of His mercy. In spite of God’s mighty acts and goodness, we read three times over that the Israelites, “Remembered not…mercies;” that “they soon forgat his works,” and “they forgat God their saviour.” They were completely consumed by the moment and neglected to look up to the One who could change their circumstances.
That is what is so striking to me about Psalm 106. Every time the Israelites forgot God, what He had done, what He was currently doing, or what He could do, they stumbled. They began to simply see the moment, the circumstance of the day, and the difficulty at hand. When they forgot God, the situation became dim and confusion set in; they became directionless, passionless, and faithless. They began to look down, and they literally forgot to “look up.” They had a weak resolve, and a settled reality that their wisdom offered no solution to their problems. It was here that they failed.
It is clear throughout Scripture that God intends for us to remember the good things He has done. In fact, He instructed the Israelites to pitch stones in Gilgal for the sake of remembering that God had brought them through the Jordan River and to remind them, in the future, of His power on their behalf. In the New Testament, as Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper with the disciples, He instructed them to observe it in remembrance of Him. There is strength in remembering God and His power, and there is stability in keeping our eyes on Him.
Abraham was able to endure his pilgrimage on this earth because he looked for a city whose Builder and Maker was God. We are commanded to look unto Jesus, “The author and finisher of our faith.” It was only when Peter began to focus on the boisterous wind that surrounded him instead of on Christ that he began to sink. So much of our Christian life is dependent upon where, or better yet, unto who we are looking.
I want to pass along a simple encouragement. In the midst of all of the hardship and in the midst of all the muck, the mire, the dust, and the filth of this world, don’t forget to look up. Remember what God has done, that He is currently working His plan for you, and that He is the One who can do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. He is the power that worketh in us, and greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world. When we fix our gaze on that which we cannot control or on the muck of this world, we become passionless, fruitless, and directionless. Remember to look up today and pray the prayer we find closing Psalm 106.
“Save us, O LORD our God, and gather us from among the heathen, to give thanks unto thy holy name, and to triumph in thy praise. Blessed be the LORD God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting: and let all the people say, Amen. Praise ye the LORD.” Psalm 106:47–48