This reflection was addressed to the Bailieborough Group by Rev. John O’Donnell on the Sunday the 22nd of March 2020. This was the first Sunday we could not meet together for worship due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
When I was a little boy I went shopping with my mother. I got distracted for a second and when I looked up she was gone. This was just my local Dunnes and she was probably just on the other side of a rail of clothes. I was only “lost” for the briefest of moments, but to me, back then, this was a crisis! I can still remember that sense of panic and doom. When you’re that age your parents are everything. They’re your security, your refuge, your fortress.
Everybody needs a fortress, we all need security, not just little kids. Our big problem is that we seek our security in the things of this world, rather than our Creator. In the Old Testament we read about how Israel kept running to false fortresses instead of God. They ran to false gods, to powerful nations, they leaned on their own strength.
We do the same thing today. We seek security in our wealth, our beauty, our intelligence, our health, our strength. We seek security in the approval of others, or in being part of a powerful group. All these are just things of the world, they are not God and so, even if they might be good things, they can’t give us the security only God can provide.
Psalm 91 is a mini sermon, written to point us to the only one who can truly provide that security that we all deeply need. It calls us to put our trust in God and look to him and him only for our ultimate security. May we dwell in the shelter of the Most High, the shadow of the Almighty, and may we be able to say of God “My refuge and my fortress” (vv. 1-2)
The message of Psalm 91 is that those who trust in God will not be let down.
There is nothing that God cannot deliver His people from. The dangers of night or day, attack or illness. God will protect.
You might object: Is this Psalm saying that those who love God are invincible? That nothing bad will happen to them? Or if you look at it another way it sounds even worse – does this mean that those who are suffering must not be loving God properly?
I really don’t want anyone to think that if you or your loved ones are suffering it means that they just aren’t trusting enough in God.
It’s important to remember that the Psalms are poetry and this poem is a celebration of the faithfulness, goodness and sovereignty of God. It’s not meant to be a comprehensive lesson on suffering or blessings.
It’s also important to remember to read this in conversation with the rest of Scripture. And you’ll find all through the Bible faithful people who suffer. Abel, who was murdered by Cain, Job who loved God but went through terrible suffering, the apostles and early church disciples and martyrs – even God himself: Jesus Christ. They all loved God. They all knew suffering.
There will be hard times in life. Even in Psalm 91 we are told that there will be trouble. Verse 15: God himself says “I will be with him in trouble,”. There will be trouble, but God will be with us.
So, what can we say about security for those who run to God? We can say this – Psalm 91 says it, and the rest of Scripture agrees: Christian, God will not let you go. God will be with you. God will hold you safe in His love. Everything else may let you down, but God will not. Your health may fail you, you may lose your wealth, your family and friends may even desert you. But God will not, He will never. God is our refuge and fortress. We are safe with Him.
Let’s look at some reasons to trust God that this Psalm shows us.
Number 1: God is sovereign. God is in control. This psalm describes God as “Almighty” and “Most High” in the first verse. Nothing can push God around. Nothing can force his hand. Nothing can overwhelm him. Nothing gets the jump on God. Even on the world’s darkest day, God was still in control. After Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to be with the Father. Peter addressed the crowds in Jerusalem and said that Jesus, whom they crucified and God raised up was handed over to them “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (see Acts 2:23) No matter how bad things look, God is in charge.
Number 2: God is Good. Verse 8 tells us that God punishes the wicked. Verse 10 tells us that he protects from harm and disaster. God is good. When you’re in trouble or scared it’s good to know that someone is in charge, but power and control aren’t everything. A tyrant and a righteous ruler might be equally powerful, but only one is good. To run to someone for security you need to know that they are good.
Finally, Number 3: God is loving. The knowledge that God is in control and that God is good give us some good reasons to us to trust Him, but still this isn’t enough. Power can be something that we run away from if it is not accompanied by goodness. But goodness too can also cause us to flee – or want to avoid it.
More than 700 years before Jesus, the prophet Isaiah had a vision. He saw God seated on a throne and surrounded by angels praising Him. The angels called out to each other and praised God’s holiness and power and glory. Isaiah saw this vision of perfect power and perfect goodness and holiness.
His response was:
“‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’”
When Peter met Jesus he saw that Jesus came from God. Peter knew that God is holy and good.
So, he fell before Jesus and said
‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ (Luke 5:8)
When faced with the goodness of God we can’t help but notice our sinfulness. We may understand that God is in charge and trust that He is good, but we still will not come to God unless we get it into our heads and our hearts that God loves us. We need to believe in the grace of God. That God loves those who have not earned that love and never could.
Psalm 91 doesn’t just use the image of a strong fortress to portray God’s protection. It says in verse 4 that God
“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge;”
God is like a bird protecting its young under its wings. God protects those who trust in Him because they are His children and He loves them.
The Psalm concludes in verses 14 to 16 with direct speech from God about those who love and trust in Him.
‘Because he loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honour him.
With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.’
In Christ, God has delivered His people out of sin and death. He protects us so that nothing will ever separate us from Him. He answers when we call and is always with us – even on the darkest days.
In Christ, God satisfies His people, saving them to a life that never ends. We all have our fortresses. We all run somewhere. We seek strength somewhere. We seek protection somewhere. But only God is sovereign over all. Only God is truly good and holy. And no love compares to the love of God.
God called and called and still the people would keep wandering away from Him. So what do you do when your child won’t come when you call? What do you do when your sheep has gotten itself lost You go get it! This is what God did. God’s response to us always going to the wrong places was to come and get us. When Jesus came He came for the lost. He came for those who had sought shelter in the wrong places. “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (see Luke 19:10). This is what we believe – that God came to get us when we wouldn’t come to him.
That is the message of the cross – not only that God wants us to seek Him, but that God Himself came seeking us, died to rescue us from our lostness and bring us back to God and rose again to give us new life in Him. And those who trust in Him, who trust in Jesus and His sacrifice for us, God will never let go.
May you know God as your fortress in these strange and anxious days. May you know that he is sovereign, good and more loving than you can imagine.