The Place of Refuge and Strength

Psalms, Strength, Trials, Promises

Chuck Swindoll begins his reflections on Psalm 46 with these words that immediately show us the relevance of Psalm 46,

We deny it. We fake it. We mask it. We try to ignore it. But the truth stubbornly persists – we are weak creatures! Being sinful, we fail. Being prone to sickness, we hurt. Being mortal, we ultimately die. Pressure wears on us. Anxiety gives us ulcers. People intimidate us. Criticism offends us. Disease scares us. Death haunts us. . . . How can we continue to grow in this bag of bones, covered with weaknesses too numerous to mention? We need a big dose of Psalm 46.[1]

Martin Luther was a major figure in the Protestant Reformation. This made him a target for those who did not like what he was doing. In the times when he would get discouraged and depressed he would turn to his friend and protege Philipp Melanchthon and say, “Come, Philipp, let’s sing the forty-sixth Psalm”. The words of this Psalm would give them the strength and perspective they needed.

We still sing Luther’s reflection on this Psalm. We know it as “A Mighty Fortress is our God, a bulwark (or a flood wall) never failing”. Psalm 46 is a Psalm for the times of weakness. It is for the times when we feel life is out of control. It is there for us no matter what storm comes into our lives.

Some people believe Psalm 46 comes from the time when the Assyrian General Sennacherib surrounded the city of Jerusalem. At the time Israel’s King was Hezekiah and the situation looked hopeless. However, Hezekiah turned to the Lord and the Lord delivered Jerusalem. During the night 185,000 Assyrian soldiers were killed by God (no military battle took place). (Isaiah 37; 2 Kings 19) The Israelites understandably rejoiced at God’s miraculous protection.

Though the setting of the Psalm is uncertain, the message of the Psalm is timeless.

God is Our Refuge and Can Handle Anything

God is our refuge and strength,

always ready to help in times of trouble.

So we will not fear when earthquakes come

and the mountains crumble into the sea.

Let the oceans roar and foam.

Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!

Start with the second part of these verses and work backwards and you will see the power of what the words convey. What could possibly help us in an earthquake, tornado, Hurricane, raging flood, or Tsunami? Where do you find strength when someone you love is taken unexpectedly? Where do you turn when the world starts to crash in around you? The answer given in this Psalm is clear: our strength, our refuge, our help is found only in the Lord. The Psalmist tells us that he is ALWAYS ready and able to help in these times.

We cherish and confess these words but in practice we look many other places for our shelter and refuge. We trust

  • Our Financial security
  • Our Physical Strength
  • Our Mastery of Skills (such as martial arts, business acumen, ability to think on our feet)
  • Our Education/Wisdom (our smarts)
  • Our Associations (mafia/gangs/friendships)
  • Our Government
  • The Military
  • Our Doctor
  • The “Goodness” of others
  • Our Experience
  • And even (in times of weather related storms) the National Weather Service

It is much easier to trust what we can see than to trust the One who is unseen. However, the Psalmist reminds us that the things of this world are all subject to the same threats as we are. Only He who made the world is able to protect us from ANYTHING that comes our way.

God not only will protect us FROM some things. He also protects us IN some circumstances. The Lord is stronger than anything the world can throw at us. He is our only true refuge.

The word “interlude” calls us to stop and think about these deep truths.

When We Stand in Him We Are Secure

A river brings joy to the city of our God,

the sacred home of the Most High.

God dwells in that city; it cannot be destroyed.

From the very break of day, God will protect it.

The nations are in chaos,

and their kingdoms crumble!

God’s voice thunders,

and the earth melts!

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;

the God of Israel is our fortress.

The picture now turns to Jerusalem. Jerusalem was called the city of our God and the home of the Most High. Note the contrasts drawn by the Psalmist: The nations are in chaos and their kingdoms crumble. However, when God’s voice speaks the earth melts. God protects His people. If the Lord is in our midst, we are secure.

Though the picture here speaks of Jerusalem, and I believe from the teaching of Scripture that Jerusalem does hold a special place in the heart of God, the Psalm is not saying that we are secure only if we live in Jerusalem. The city of Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 BC and then again in 70 AD. In both those times the problem was that people of the city had forsaken the Lord! The point is not that we are secure if we are in Jerusalem; the point is that we are secure if He is in us and in our midst!

This is the lesson the disciples learned one night on the Sea of Galilee. They were going across the lake when a wicked storm came upon them. Even as experienced fisherman they knew they were fighting a losing battle. While they struggled to keep the waves from sinking the boat, Jesus slept. This made the disciples angry. How dare He sleep when they were about to drown? The gospel of Mark says the disciples woke him up saying, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

We are told that Jesus woke up, stood, and said, “Quiet! Be Still!” And then the wind died down and the water became calm.

Stop at this point and imagine the scene as one of the disciples. You move from panic, anger and fear, to stunned silence. Today somebody surely would have whispered, “Whoa!” It was a moment when the only appropriate response was silence and awe.

Jesus looked at the disciples and said, “Why were you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” The point was this: When the Son of God is in the boat, being in the boat is the safest place to be no matter what is going on around it.

So this begs the question: How do we enter into this refuge? How do we make sure we are in the boat with the Son of God? I think the Bible gives us the answer.

First, we must recognize the futility of standing in our own strength or relying on our own goodness. It didn’t matter how much bailing or rowing the disciples did, they were no match for the storm.  And no matter how strong you think you are, you are helpless before the bombs and bullets of the wicked and against the power of nature. You can stand and shake your fist in defiance all you want at a tornado coming toward you but . . . you are no match for a tornado.

No matter how strong you are, the circumstances of life can knock you flat. All it takes is a deadly germ, an aggressive cancer, a blood clot, a devastating loss, a moment of sleep behind the wheel, or a collapse of the financial markets and our strength will become as dust. We cannot stand in our own strength when the storms of life assail us.

Second, we must see that there is a barrier that exists between us and our God. That barrier is called sin. God has given us directions and we have ignored them. He has commanded us to honor and trust Him and we have instead gone our own way and done our own thing. Instead of bowing humbly before Him we have presumed to stand in judgment over Him. The wall between us and the Lord is one that we have built over the course of our lives.

Let me illustrate this. Imagine a body of water. All around this body of water there are signs that say “Danger: No Swimming”. The water contains deadly bacteria that will poison the body. Not only are there signs posted but there are warnings on the radio, the television, and even people standing near the water admonishing people to stay back.

It is a hot day and you want to swim. You come to this body of water and you don’t care what the signs, the warnings, or the people say. You want to swim and you are going to do what you want to do. You jump into the water and at first it is delightful. You laugh and taunt those around you telling everyone that they are missing out on because they have been intimidated by the warnings.

As you swim further you discover that suddenly you are in trouble. Big trouble. You become weak, nauseous, and light-headed. You just as suddenly realize you are the one who has been foolish. You are so weak you cannot get to shore and even if you could, you know it would be too late.

Suddenly someone puts a boat into the water and races to your rescue. They have in their possession an antibiotic to kill the bacteria that now is shutting down your system. You are brought to the shore and taken to a hospital and you are nursed back to life.

That foolish swimmer represents us. God has warned us of the danger of ignoring His counsel. He has told us that sin (although often pleasurable at first) will kill us. But like the swimmer, we trust our desires more than the Lord. We think it is more important to “fit in” than it is to follow Him.

This leads to the third step: we must admit our rebellion and take hold of the One God has sent to rescue us. Our rescuer is Jesus. The antidote for our sin is the blood of Christ. He conquered the disease of sin and now can help us to be spiritually healthy again.

Taking hold of Christ isn’t just about “going to church”. It is about trusting, embracing, and actually following Christ. It is about inviting the Lord to live in and govern your life. And if you do this He promises to take up residence in your life and in mine and then we will be able to rest in the promise of this Psalm that “when God inhabits the city (or the person) nothing can overcome it”. As long as you remain in Him you can live without fear and with great confidence.

Rest in These Truths

Come, see the glorious works of the Lord:

See how he brings destruction upon the world.

He causes wars to end throughout the earth.

He breaks the bow and snaps the spear;

he burns the shields with fire.

10 “Be still, and know that I am God!

I will be honored by every nation.

I will be honored throughout the world.”

11 The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;

the God of Israel is our fortress.

Interlude

The image now is that of a battlefield. There are sunken ships (think about Pearl Harbor), bombed out buildings, dead bodies littering the ground, and fires burn without resistance. It is a picture of devastation and destruction that military people have witnessed and we have seen too often on television.

In this stanza however, the cause of the devastation is the Lord Himself. The picture is that there is coming a day when the Lord of Life will stand and squash the rebellion that has been taking place against Him. Not only will the armies be defeated and corrupt systems destroyed, all evil will be defeated. Disease will be gone. Painful loss will be over. Foolish pursuits will give way to productive living. Deception will be replaced with truth. Death replaced by life. Rebellion replaced with worship.

So in verse 10 we read, “Be still and know that I am God!” This is spoken to the storms that threaten our lives and the evil that dogs our steps. But it is also spoken to our hearts. In the times of crisis we can either run around frantically in panic or we can rest confidently in the strength of the Lord. Dr. Boice relates the story of Elisabeth Elliot,

She suffered the loss of two husbands. The first, Jim Elliot, was killed by Auca Indians in Ecuador while trying to reach them with the gospel. The second, Addison Leitch, was slowly consumed by cancer. In relating what these experiences were like, she referred to this psalm, saying that in the first shock of death “everything that has seemed most dependable has given way. Mountains are falling, earth is reeling. In such a time it is a profound comfort to know that although all things seem to be shaken, one thing is not: God is not shaken.”3 She added that the thing that is most needful is to do what the psalmist does later, to “be still” and know that God is God. God is God whether we recognize it or not. But it comforts us and infuses strength into our faltering spirits to rest on that truth.[2]

Conclusions

Are storm clouds circling your life? Do things seem to be falling apart round you? You face a choice. You can do battle in your own strength and lose (maybe not this time, but you will ultimately), or you can run to the One who provides refuge and strength.

On the day he died John Wesley had already nearly lost his voice and could be understood only with difficulty. But at the last with all the strength he could summon, Wesley suddenly called out, “The best of all is, God is with us.” Then, raising his hand slightly and waving it in triumph, he exclaimed again with thrilling effect, “The best of all is, God is with us.”[3]

Is God with you? Have you surrendered to the One who alone can save you? If you have not I urge you to do so while there is still time. He will not protect you unless you take refuge in Him. You cannot take refuge in Him apart from putting your trust and life in Jesus.

You may think it is too late. But, as long as you have breath in your body it is not too late. Maybe you think it would be better to wait awhile and turn to Him later. To say this is to show that you do not understand the invitation to salvation. This not a sentence or a punishment, it is a doorway to peace, life, and a relationship with God that surpasses any of the trinkets which amuse you.

When God is your refuge there is no longer anything to fear . . . including death. This is why Wesley could wave his hand in triumph and confidence even in death.

If you do not have this relationship with God, don’t put it off. Cry out to Him. Say, “Yes, Lord, I want you to save me! I ask you to save me not only from the dangers of the threats around me but also from the toxic poison of sin that is within me. I reach out to Jesus and I recognize that He died and rose again as the antidote to my sin. I receive Him as my Rescuer, My King, My Guide and my Protector. Come into my life Lord Jesus. Save me by your grace. Protect me in your strength. Fill me with your life.

If you will do this, the Lord will take up residence in your life just as He has in mine. And if we have learned anything this morning I hope it is this: When God inhabits a life, the one so inhabited can find rest and internal peace no matter what is going on around them.

 


[1] Swindoll, Charles R. Living Beyong the Daily Grind Book 1 ((Waco TX :Word, 1988) 132

3 Elisabeth Elliot, Facing the Death of Someone You Love (Westchester, Ill.: Good News Publishers, 1980),

[2] Boice, J. M. (2005). Psalms 42–106: An Expositional Commentary (p. 389). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] Ibid p. 393

Scripture:

Psalm 46