"Safe in the Refuge"
(Delivered Sunday, August 26, 2007 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
Look at the beginning words of our passage this morning. It is a bold declaration. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble . . .” (Psalm 46:1).
We don't know the exact circumstances in which these words were written. But they were clearly written in the context of troublesome times. It may be, as some scholars believe, that troubles were on there way; and that the psalmist made this declaration as a word of encouragement and confidence in advance. Or, it may be, as other scholars have concluded, that the troubles had already come and gone; and that the psalmist is now looking back and making declaration that God had once again proven Himself.
But whether troubles were coming or going—or both!—the psalmist is declaring to the saints his confidence in God. He is declaring that God is our “refuge”—that is, our secure fortress into which the saints may run and be safe from the troubles of this world. And he is declaring that God is our “strength”—that is, the source of power by which we can do what needs to be done in the face of this world's troubles. And he adds that He is “a very present help in trouble”—that is, not a far-away help; not only a help in the past; but a very-present help. Literally, He is a “well-provided help”. He is, right now, everything that we need; and He will be everything we will ever need in the future.
And the burden of my heart this morning, dear brother or sister, is to ask you: What are you doing in your life to make sure that you are resting safely in Him right now? What are you actively and faithfully doing in your life to ensure that, when trouble comes—as it most surely will—it finds you already safe in the place of refuge?
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I had been drawn to this passage recently during my personal time in the Scriptures. I read this passage not long ago during that daily meeting time with the Lord; and caused me to think of the value of that habit.
I hope you don't mind if I share with you what that daily habit looks like for me. Each day—shortly after I wake up in the morning—I get my morning cup of coffee, pick up my Bible, sit in my favorite chair, and pray. I begin by thanking the heavenly Father for my day; and ask Him to bless me as I read His word. Then, I invite Him to help me get to know Him better, and love and obey His Son Jesus Christ more devotedly. Then, I read.
Everyone has a different pattern of Bible reading, I suppose. But for many years now, my habit has been to read two chapters from the Old Testament, and one from the New Testament. I try not to read in a big hurry; but I take the time to read slowly and thoughtfully. If I have a question about something I'm reading, I pray about it and try to find the answer. I may even look things up in a Bible dictionary that I keep nearby. And then, when I'm finished, I write down in my daily journal some particularly precious truth that I discovered from God's word from that morning's reading; and I also write down my response to that truth in the form of a prayer. Then, I spend the remainder of my time praying for the members of my family, and for some of the pressing needs of the people in our church, and for the events of the coming day.
I am sharing this with you because I'm convinced that having this time is the greatest habit of my life. Of course, I have other very positive habits I'm seeking to develop into my daily routine. I exercise. I'm working on eating wisely. I try to stay well-read. I try to get enough sleep at night. But before God, I can testify that there isn't anything else in my personal life that I do that has become as important and as profitable to me as my time with the Lord each morning. There isn't anything I can think of that God has used more in my life—to keep me out of trouble, and to lead me in a deeper relationship with Himself—than that daily habit.
You see; that daily time in God's word—however someone may structure it—a means to an end; and that end is a deepening, growing, personal relationship with Jesus Christ in which we get to know who He is, what He is like, and what He seeks to do in our lives. It's a relationship in which the believer depends increasingly upon Him for wisdom and guidance and strength for daily living. It's a relationship in which we grow to love Him, and obey Him, and even to lay down our lives for Him. It's not all about clocking in “Bible time”, or filling our heads with knowledge. It's about meeting with a wonderful Person—about sitting at the feet of Jesus and learning from Him. It's about setting time aside, at the beginning of the day, to cultivating a relationship with Him in which we walk in constant, conscious communion with Him throughout that day.
And this morning's psalm stood out to me, because it underscores the practical value of that daily meeting with the Lord with respect to times of trouble. Those troubles and trials will come; and we have to make ourselves ready for them now! It's too late to prepare your spirit for times of trouble when you're in the midst of them. As someone has once wisely said: In the midst of a storm is a very bad time to change boats! It's much wiser to make sure now—before the storms of life come, and while things are relatively calm and at peace—that God is your refuge and strength.
And so, whether it's through a pattern similar to mine, or whether it's through some other pattern of meeting with the Lord through His word, I ask my question again: What are you doing in your life right now to daily cultivate an ongoing trust in the Lord? What are you doing to make sure—every day—that God is your refuge and strength? What are you doing to ensure that, when trouble comes, it finds you already safe, and in the place of refuge?
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Thinking about that important daily habit is what drew my attention to this psalm. I believe it encourages us to consider the blessings that belong to those who habitually make God their refuge.
Let's take a closer look at these blessings. First, notice that those who make God their refuge are characterized by . . .
1. CONFIDENT COURAGE IN TIMES OF TROUBLE (vv. 1-3).
The psalmist writes;
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Have you ever been in an earthquake?
My first experience was in the Seattle earthquake of 1963. I was only seven years old when it struck. I was walking to school through a wooded area that opened up to a residential neighborhood. The earth rolled beneath me, and the trees shook next to me; and I had seen just enough “giant monster dinosaur” movies to be both terrified and excited. When I cautiously stepped out of the woods and onto the street of the neighborhood, I didn't see any giant dinosaurs. Instead, I saw people all up and down the row of houses—standing on their porches and lawns, looking around anxiously. I'll never forget it.
I've been in a few earthquakes since. I'm told that I was in a tornado (although I was too young to remember it); and I've even been near the eruption of a volcano! I thought about such experience as I read verses 2-3; and I believe that, if all that the psalmist had said was what he says in verses 2-3—that is, if he just asserted 'fearlessness' in the face of such things without first asserting what he said in verse one—then they would have been the words of an insane fool!
But then, there's that important word “therefore” at the beginning of verse 2. It makes all the difference, because it affirms that there is a sound reason for the courage and fearlessness of the saints. Because God "is"—not merely “was”, and not merely “will be”, but “is” right now—our refuge and strength; because we have the habit of holding Him to be a very present help in time of trouble; “therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling”.
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I heard about an earthquake that struck once. After the rumbling was over, and people were looking around in terror, a Christian woman had the peace of heart and presence of mind to quietly declare, “Isn't God powerful!” Those are the words of someone who had first cultivated a trust in God as her refuge and strength!
And I suggest that there's an argument from the greater to the lessor involved in these first three verses. Once we make God our refuge and strength, and our very present help in trouble, then it follows that we can be without fear in the midst of such cataclysmic upheaval. And if we can be without fear in such great things as those, we can also be without fear during every 'lessor' form of trouble in life. No matter what the trial—great or small—we can say, “Isn't God powerful!”
Suppose trouble comes in the form of a crisis to our health. If we have made God our refuge and strength beforehand, then we will already be resting in the hands of “the Great Physician”; and we will not have any reason to fear. Or suppose trouble comes in the form of a job loss, or some financial crisis. If we have already made God our refuge and strength, then we are under the provision of Him who holds the wealth of kingdoms in His hand; and we will have no need to fear.
Name your trouble. It's not likely to be anything as great as the earth being removed, or the mountains being carried into the sea, or the waters roaring and being troubled, or even the mountains shaking with its swelling! And if we can even be without fear then with God as our refuge, we can certainly be without fear in the lessor things.
But on the other hand, if you neglect to habitually make God your refuge and strength when trouble comes, then be afraid! Be very afraid! Now is the time to make things right—before the trouble comes.
And then, you can say "Therefore, we will not fear . . ."
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So that's one characteristic of those who have made God their refuge and strength. They have confident courage in the face of trouble. But as we read on, we see that they also have . . .
2. SUSTAINING JOY IN THE MIDST OF CHANGE (vv. 4-7).
Perhaps you've heard that seen that old "office bulletin-board" quote: "If you can keep your head while all those around you are loosing theirs, then you obviously don't know what's going on." Well; that might just be so. But then again, it might be because you have a secret resource in your spirit that sustains you through it all—if you have made God your refuge and strength in advance.
I believe that 'secret resource' is what the psalm speaks of when it goes on to say,
Think of the picture the psalmist is giving us here. It's the picture of “the city of God”—Jerusalem. It's “the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High”, where the Temple of God was. God, in mercy to His people, had made His dwelling place there; and it's there that the people of God went to meet with Him. Nearby is a river—the River Jordan. It was fed by the fresh waters of Galilee, and had many tributaries and streams that branched off from it and fed and refreshed the surrounding regions.
I suggest that the river is a picture of God's divine grace. It describes the endless resource of God's own provision for the spiritual strength of His people in each trial. It is a supply that is ever fresh, ever flowing, ever full. And from that “river” branches off the practical administrations of that divine grace to our particular needs in everyday life. One branch of God's sustaining grace flows to this area of our lives; another to that. In each trial, God provides the sustaining power of His grace to meet us in each specific area of need.
And so long as we make it our habit to be in the place where the streams of that river reach—so long as we are in "the city" that He has made His “dwelling place”—we are made “glad” by the over-flow of His divine grace. So long as we have made Him our refuge and strength, and maintain a daily fellowship of love and trust in Him, we continually experience what Jesus told us about the Holy Spirit. “He who believes in Me,” He said, “as the Scripture has also said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:39).
Reading about this “river of grace”—and thinking about the daily habit of fellowship with God through His word that keeps us in contact with it—reminds me of what it says in the beginning of Psalm 1;
There's a sustaining joy and peace that characterizes those make God their refuge. He is with those who keep close to Him. They have the confidence that He is present, active and involved. They are assured that they will not be moved or shaken from the secure place He puts them. When they have need of help, His help always comes—never too late or too early, but right on time. Just when it seems the darkest, the dawn is brightened by His timely aid.
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And contrast this with the turmoil of the world. You see this very clearly in verses six through seven;
I have wondered what it would look like if we were to be given a “time-lapsed” vision of all the he nations and empires of the world throughout the centuries. What would it would look like to see the history of all the interrelating kingdoms of this world—from the beginning of human history to its end—in just a matter of a few seconds? What would it look like to see the movement of the nations of this earth from God's standpoint above time? How would the picture appear; as kingdoms arose and kingdoms fell, as empires changed hands, and as the borders and boundaries of nations moved from one place to another? How would it look to see people groups war, and conquer, and be displaced—over and over again—in just a moment of time? I suspect that the effect would be that the world looked like a boiling pot—bubbling, and swirling, and shifting in constant change.
Here, it seems to me that the psalmist puts the whole summary of changing, swirling human history before us—and the lesson we're to learn from it. Kingdoms rise and fall. Nations rage and fight. But above it all, God sits as Sovereign. He utters His voice—and it all dissolves into nothing. And God has promised that it will all melt away. It will all vanish with a great noise, and will be replaced by new heavens and a new earth (2 Peter 3:10-13). And yet, the affirmation of the psalmist is: “The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.” Those who trust Him will remain.
And again, consider this an argument from the greater to the lesser. If the sovereignty of God over even the turmoil and upheaval of the nations of this earth is a cause for joy for His people, then how much more so in the midst of the comparably small changes and transitions you and I deal with in everyday life?
And remember; that sustained joy and peace in the midst of the seemingly chaotic changes of life doesn't happen by accident. It's comes from a decision to daily cultivate a relationship with the sovereign God as our refuge and strength.
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So then; we see that those who make it their habit in life to keep God as their refuge and strength are characterized by certain qualities. They are characterized by confident courage in times of trouble. They are also characterized by sustaining joy and inward peace in the midst of change. And finally, we see that they are characterized by . . .
3. PREVAILING HOPE WITH RESPECT TO THE FUTURE (vv. 8-11).
Now; such hope for the future requires a backward look at the demonstrations of God's power in the past. And so, the psalmist invites us to look at the work of God in the past with respect to those who have made Him their refuge and strength:
Some scholars have suggested that the psalmist may here be making reference to the great victory God brought about for the people of Israel against the Assyrian army, during the time of King Hezekiah (see Isaiah 36-37). The Assyrians constituted the most fearsome threat in the world; and they had come aggressively against Israel and had surrounded little Jerusalem. But Hezekiah trusted God as his refuge and strength in the time of trouble; and as a result, the Lord sent His angel in the middle of the night to slay 185,000 of the Assyrian soldiers. The people of Israel awoke up to "behold" the work of the Lord—and to see the desolation He had made on their behalf. He literally made that war "cease". All that was left for the people of God to do was to burn the bows and spears and chariots of the Assyrians in the fire.
In verses 8-9, the psalmist calls his reader to behold the work of the Lord in the past. And it was in this context that God Himself now steps in and calls for His people to consider His help for the future:
Just as He has proven Himself in the trials of the past, so He will do in the trials to come. He has a plan and a purpose. He has promised, in Psalm 2, that He will set His King on His holy hill of Zion:
He has assured us, in Philippians 2:10-11 that "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father".
And once again, we need to think of this as an argument from the greater to the lesser. We are to remember the outlook God has laid before us for the end of the age. We're to remember that Jesus Christ will win in the end, and will rule over the kingdoms of this earth as King of kings and Lord of lords. And if God will fulfill His great plan for the ages in due time, then we can rest assured that He will fulfill all His purposes for us in our daily trials and troubles.
We are to make the twice-repeated affirmation of the psalmist our own:
And if we have done so, then we can "be still” in our time of trial, “and know" that He is God.
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Let me close with a few observations by way of application. First, making God our refuge and strength is a decision we make. It is a choice of the will. It's not something we fall into accidentally. It's a personal declaration—a resolve of the heart. Have you come to the place where you release your hold on all other “lessor” resources, place your trust in God the Father through Jesus His Son, and “make” Him your refuge and strength? Have you told Him so?
Second, it's not a resolve we make once for all time. It is a habit of life. We must daily renew our resolve to make God our refuge and strength. We must cultivate that trust in Him in an ongoing, progressively growing way. Having placed your trust in Him through Jesus Christ, do you then go on to cultivate that trust through a daily habit of meeting through daily prayer and Bible study? And do you then turn to Him as your refuge and strength in each trial?
And finally, note that making God our refuge and strength is not something that you and I are to do all on our own. The whole context of this psalm is one of 'community'. He isn't just “my” refuge and strength, or “your” refuge and strength. He is “our” refuge and strength (v. 1). It isn't just “me”, but “we” who will not fear (v. 2). The Lord of hosts isn't just with “me”, but rather with “us” (vv. 7, 11). Do you make sure that you meet regularly with the people of God, and draw encouragement from the assembly of the saints in your resolve to make God your refuge? As the writer of Hebrews says,
And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together, as is the habit of some but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Dear brothers and sisters; by these means, let's habitually make God our trust. And as we do so, when trouble comes—as it surely will—may it find us prepared; resting safely and securely in 'the refuge'!
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