Remain: Dwelling in the Secret Place

My brother is a true-blue outdoorsman. When he fishes, he’s all in–wearing shorts with lots of pockets for all the tools of the trade, toting huge tackle boxes full of hooks and lures that sparkle in the sun. When he hunts, he’s no different–getting up long before the sun to sit in cold duck blinds, sporting the essential camouflage clothing. We tease him when he walks in the door after a hunt, “We can’t see you!” And he’ll good-naturedly retort, “That’s the whole point.” Because camouflage keeps the hunter hidden.

Hidden. A meaning I hadn’t expected to find on this exploration of what it means to remain with God. Yet something mysteriously wonderful happens when we make our home in Christ: He becomes our secret place.

Taking Shelter

I’ve been anticipating this part of our journey together since I chose dwell as my word of the year and Psalm 91:1-2 as my Word for the year. 

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”

Psalm 91:1-2, NIV, emphasis mine

Too many times life doesn’t play out as it should in our broken world, but God’s original intent for all His children was for them to have homes, to be part of healthy families. We can look to the Hebrew people and see this divine design for family, where the oldest man is called on to lead, provide, and protect his family. 

To our American minds, the patriarchal society sounds unfair. Our sensibilities scream that all people should have the opportunity to support and lead themselves. However, one of my favorite authors, Dr. Sandra Richter, helps me understand that by imposing our way of life onto the ancient, tribal ways of God’s people, we skew their reality for ours. The truth is God meets His people wherever they are–be it in the harsh era of tyrants and pagans or in the twenty-first century days of (relative) wealth and comfort. God steps into the real place of the Hebrew people and gives them a template for living–a design meant to keep the most vulnerable (the women and children) of that day safe and secure.

With that view and understanding, we can read and relate to what the Psalmist states about our reality with God. Just as the Hebrew women and children find shelter in their homes, the bet’ab, we can do the same in our God. When we dwell with Him, He becomes our shelter.

A Secret Place

Definitions vary for cether, the Hebrew word for ‘shelter’, but one translation is ‘secret place.’ As a child, I loved finding secret places tucked into the corners of my church. While my parents served in various capacities, I had free reign and sought secluded spaces–but not for safety. For fun! When I remained out of sight of others in a place that seemed intended just for me, I felt special. Unique. Like I had the best of mysteries to myself.

Photo by Jonny Gios on Unsplash

When we picture ourselves stepping into the secret place with our Father, we can imagine it as a specially designed dwelling–a place of peace for our world-weary souls. A place to remain with our Father because cether, in this context, is a spiritual state–that of our souls in relationship to God (

But getting to that shelter takes intentionality. We live in constant bombardment of voices, images, and busy schedules. Distractions beg for our attention while God quietly beckons us into His presence. Like Elijah at the mouth of the cave, we must listen for His whisper then step into this secret place with Him (1 Kings 19:12-13). 

In my childhood excursions through the shadows of our church building, the best moments were shared ones–when I could invite someone to explore with me, to share the joy of secret discovery. I’m coming to understand that I would not have asked just anyone to join me–it had to be someone I trusted.

Friends, stepping into God’s secret place–where we are most known–takes courage and trust.

Our Trustworthy God

So, to be able to fully and continually immerse ourselves in the presence of God, we must be building our trust in Him. We have to know who He truly is. We need to dispel any false ideas we have of Him while building the truth of who He is in our hearts and minds. The two best ways to know God’s character are to read His Word and watch how Jesus lived.

Today, let’s start with looking for clues to God’s character in His Word: 

Whoever dwells in the shelter of Elyon
    will rest in the shadow of Shaddai.
I will say of Jehovah, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my Elohim, in whom I trust.”

Psalm 91:1-2, NIV but with Hebrew name additions

Knowing God as Elyon anchors us in His most high nature. 
Knowing God as Shaddai empowers us because He is the Almighty
Knowing God as Jehovah assures us that God is who He says He is. 
Knowing God as Elohim points us to God’s divine nature and secures His position as the God of gods. 

It’s one thing to know something about God in our heads–”yup, He’s the God of all gods”–and another thing altogether to live as though we believe it’s true. For instance, I know that God is sovereign yet on a daily basis I come face-to-face with my tendency to want to reign on my own throne, making all my own decisions without looking to the One who’s meant to be in charge.

My inability to put God on the throne consistently hints at my lack of trust. Somewhere in my soul I think I can do it. So, in this season of life I’m coming to God more frequently in postures of surrender and confession, asking Him to teach me to know His goodness so I can trust Him with every aspect of my life. 

Photo by Dylan Taylor on Unsplash

Because when we can trust God, we’ll enter His presence more often, more honestly. We will open our hearts and souls to Him, giving Him space and permission to lead us through our shadowy and broken places. To bring healing. Wholeness. Peace. Joy. Love. And a host of other spiritual fruit.

Hidden in God

So, this dwelling with God, this entering His secret place is meant to be holy and wholly good. There’s an incredible word-picture created in the use of the word cether–especially in Psalm 91. I had no idea that the Hebrew language is pictographic until researching for this series. When we see the breakdown for cether in Hebrew, the picture presented is breathtaking.

‘Secret place’ in Hebrew is סָתַר – the letters pronounced as ‘samech + tav + resh.’  The samech is from ‘the thorn,’ meaning grab, hate, or protect. The tav is from ‘the two crossed sticks,’ referring to a mark, sign, signal, or monument. The resh is from ‘the head of a man,’ meaning first, top, beginning, or man.

When we put all this together, “the thorns (samech) surround the marked (tav) man (resh). Now instead of being visible to those who would slay him, he [the Psalm 91 man] is hidden, camouflaged behind a hedge of protection–just as thorn bushes were used to create a hedge of protection around the flock of sheep at night to protect them from predators” (Christine Miller at

When we’re hidden in God, we’re brought inside His presence, which becomes a safe place, hidden from anything that would distract or harm, from prying eyes, from enemies. Oh. My. 

Friends, this is exactly the image we’re to picture in our mind’s eye when we read this New Testament passage:

“Since you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”

Colossians 3:1-3, NIV

We are marked men and women (Romans 2:28-29). Our lives are hidden with Christ in God! Jesus is the ultimate secret place–that set-apart space where we meet with God, are known by Him, and become like Him. Jesus, the One who wore a crown of thorns, becomes our hedge of thorns, surrounding and shrouding us so that we can meet with Him anytime. No matter where we are. Or how we feel. Or who is looking. When we settle into this dwelling place of God, we find the safest of all spaces to open our deepest selves to the One who loves us most. 

Jesus is our camouflage. We are hidden in Him–and that’s the point!

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  • I urge you to read all of Psalm 91 this week to see how its words depict the type of hiddenness inferred by the Hebrew word, cether. Perhaps you’ll see more clearly what Christine Miller has found to be true about the hedge of thorns: “This is why pestilence, war, and enemies pass by the Psalm 91 man. They cannot see him and are turned back from him by the wall of thorns. The man is covered and sheltered and hidden from view.” Journal your responses evoked by the unfolding of what it looks like to meet with God in the secret place.
  • I’ve added a song to our Dwell Playlist! Quite by accident–in searching the words “the secret place”–I came across a song by that title. Once again, I’m enraptured by the truths of lyrics that capture the soul and heart of what we’re learning here:

We are satisfied here with You, here with You
Chains will hit the floor, broken lives restored
We couldn’t ask for more here with You, here with You
I’m running to the secret place
Where You are, where You are
–Phil Wickham

  • If you haven’t had a chance yet to follow me on my new Instagram account, @shelleylinnjohnson, I’d love it if you would. 🙂 Building an author’s platform feels daunting, especially with starting over. I keep releasing it to the Sovereign God of gods, and my hope and trust in Him grow more everyday.

Featured photo by Dustin Humes on Unsplash

Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

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