Many summers ago, Larry and I took our three sons to Colorado. To a one bedroom cabin with no internet. No cable TV. And one tiny table built for two. Needless to say we spent lots of time outdoors–which was the point of the trip.
One afternoon, however, we planned for a day “in.” Eager to have a few moments to ourselves, Larry and I set the boys up with a game and headed up the hill across the street. Wine glasses in hand and the neighbor’s dog in tow, we hiked the low peak–excitedly anticipating the view and the quiet.
But the scene that lay before us was unexpected. Instead of white fluffy clouds casting peaceful shadows on the valley below, black storm clouds raged toward us, throwing bolts of lightning our way. Thunder rumbled, and the smell rain enveloped us. So, we turned. And ran.
The comedy of it did not escape us as we raced that storm down the mini-mountain we’d just climbed. Our laughs were stifled only by our gasps for breath as we did our best not to fall or spill our wine. The tiny cabin in sight, we kept our eyes on the prize–shelter from the storm.
The minute we hit the porch, the raindrops turned into a gulley-washing downpour. We’d made it! Safe from nature’s fury, we pulled up the two chairs and drank what was left of our wine as we watched the storm from inside the cozy cabin.
As we continue our exploration of what it looks like to remain in God, we get to look again at Psalm 91:
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most HighPsalm 91:1-2, NIV, emphasis mine
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.”
Last week we learned that to turn to the Lord Most High as our shelter is to find the place where we are most known and loved. This week we’ll dig into what it means for God to be our refuge.
Originally prepared as a liturgy to be used upon entering and departing the Temple, Psalm 91 invites worshipers of every era into the protective covering of God (Harper’s). The Hebrew word for ‘refuge,’ machaseh, can be used literally to mean a shelter from rain and storms–much like a cabin in the mountains. But in verse two of Psalm 91, God is described as the refuge for His people. As our dwelling place, God becomes our safe zone, shielding us from the storms that brew and blow throughout our lifetimes.
To make sure the hearers of God’s Word are getting the picture, the psalmist reiterates this truth in verse nine. Keep in mind that Moses could have been the first to say these words:
Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—Psalm 91:9-10, ESV, emphasis mine
the Most High, who is my refuge—
no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
no plague come near your tent.
The one (Moses) who personally knew Yahweh as his safe place, invites us to remain in God, to take shelter in God. Verse ten states that when we do make the Most High our refuge, no evil or plague will come upon us. If we don’t take the entire Psalm–its meaning and context–into consideration, we could read these verses and infer that if we say the “magic words” then we’ll go through life without any suffering or tragedy. But that is not the promise here.
Psalm 91’s verses are intended as encouragement in our faith journeys. Their words are not superstitious phrases that create a bubble in a broken world, but they are promises that come with expectations: that we personally connect with our Father. When we do, He offers to be our shield from all things evil. Even when illness or tragedy or loss become our reality, God remains the place in whom we find comfort and safety and fortitude. We do not go it alone. His Word promises over and over that He will never leave or forsake us (ie: Isaiah 41:10) and that He will always be our strength (ie: Habakkuk 3:19).
But, more than anything, these verses–the entirety of Psalm 91–become promises of spiritual defense. Just like the wings across the Ark of the Covenant symbolize protectiveness (Exodus 25:17-22), these words and phrases serve to remind us that when we step into God’s presence, we come under His spiritual covering and care.
Because, friends, we need a refuge from the evil in our world.
Jesus walked this earth healing and teaching–and casting out demons. He trained His followers to do the same and taught them to pray for deliverance from evil (Matthew 6:13). He spoke a prayer over His followers that God would not take us out of the world but protect us from the evil one (John 17:15). Peter reminds all believers that our “enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). And James, Jesus’ brother, coaches us to resist the enemy so he will flee from us (James 4:7).
Paul gives us the best instruction of all when it comes to standing firm in the face of spiritual forces that want to do us harm. Pray! Put on the armor of God. Then pray some more. (Ephesians 6:10-20).
So. Coming under the shelter of God is absolutely seeking cover from the storms of life, but it’s so much more. Seeking God as our refuge means coming under the protection of our Almighty God, who with a word casts out demons, slays giants, and keeps evil at bay. In Christ, we are hidden and kept safe from the evil that desires to taint and twist our faith.
With all these promises of refuge in God, we have nothing to fear. All we have to do is step into it. Grab hold of it. Make it our own.
As I researched for this post, I scoured the New Testament for verses that communicate similar messages of Jesus as a refuge. And the craziest thing kept happening–every time I found a verse containing a word that described Jesus as the safe place, the Greek word translated as hope. I was looking for refuge, and God kept giving me hope. Oh, that God. 😉
Then this verse popped up:
“So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us.”Hebrews 6:18, NLT
There they are–in black and white–refuge and hope in one verse. We flee to Jesus for refuge, which empowers us to hold onto hope, come-what-may.
God’s promises to us–corporately and individually–can always be relied upon. However, one thing God never guarantees is an easy, pain-free life. Quite the opposite, actually–He prepares us for trial and tragedy, pain and persecution. Numerous times throughout Scripture, God encourages us to take heart, press on, and look to Him for strength–because life is hard. In fact, Peter says we should not be surprised when fiery ordeals waylay us because they hit everyone, including Jesus (1 Peter 4:12-13).
But, God promises to be with us in all of it–just as He was for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego when they, quite literally, walked through fire for Him (Daniel 3:16-28). In the same way He sheltered them bodily, He will always be our refuge spiritually–and very often, physically, as well.
And there’s our hope!
No matter how tempted we are to give up and give in, we can hope. “Our hope can be revived by a reminder that hope in God will never be disappointed” (Birge, 1505)–because God is our refuge. He never fails. He never disappoints. He’s always ready to be our shelter–a place to come in from out of the rain.
Whatever mountains you face. Whatever storms rage around you. Whatever fires you anticipate, God beckons you to run toward Him–like racing into a cabin to escape a summer squall.
God wants to be our refuge. He wants us to want Him, so the invitation to make Him our dwelling place is an open one. There are no enchanting words to recite–only hearts to open to our Father. The closer we get to Him, the more we trust Him. And the more we trust Him, the safer we feel and the longer we want to remain in His presence.
- It would probably do us all good to reread Psalm 91 this week–this time to see how its words become promises of spiritual safety. Journal your thoughts about how Jesus is our refuge and hope. I’d LOVE to hear what you come up with.
- Our Dwell Playlist continues to invite me into God’s presence–to dwell there with Him, to remain under the shelter of His wings. I’m praying that each of us practices the idea of drawing near to God and finds that, as we do, He not only draws near to us but anchors us in His love and shelters us from the storms. What peace and hope abide in that holy space.
- I mentioned two books that are actual tomes that have become my constant companions as I research passages in Scripture each week:
- The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary* edited by Gary M. Birge and Andrew E. Hill. I got to hear Dr. Birge teach a few years ago, and I was impressed enough to purchase his commentary. And I am so glad I did!
- Harper’s Bible Commentary* edited by James L. Mays. I received this from my parents for Christmas in 1996 (I love inscriptions!). I’d asked for it because I knew I’d need it for seminary. Just wow. That was so long ago–before we had internet search engines at our fingertips. 🙂
- If you haven’t had a chance yet to follow me on my new Instagram account, @shelleylinnjohnson, I’d love it if you would. “Meta” has deleted both my Facebook and Instagram accounts 🙁 so I’m literally staring over. I remember Beth Moore teaching about the differences between ‘inconveniences’ and ‘tragedies.’ I keep telling myself, “This is not a tragedy.” And, I’m happy to say I’m believing it and moving forward.