“They band together against the righteous and condemn the innocent to death. But the LORD has been my stronghold, and my God is my rock of my refuge. He will bring upon them their own iniquity and destroy them for their wickedness. The LORD our God will destroy them.” Psalm 94:21-23
Times do not change. Degree of magnitude of difficulty (as in global versus regional in past) may be the only thing that is new under the sun. But the Lord Jesus Christ never changes. We call upon Him alone. We can fully trust in Him to bring us through the clouds, great darkness, and tempests in this life. There is no other! He asks us to follow Him and to trust in Him. And so the psalmists (their authors were more than just David) spoke, expressing their faith and prayers, that oppressors will not be allowed to continue their rebellion against the Lord, nor to continue their assault on those whom He has chosen to follow Him. We can follow the psalmists’ examples in praying and even singing these great affirmations of God’s love and authority.
“The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.” Psalm 9:9
“The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer. My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Psalm 18:2
“I will keep watch for You, O my strength; for You, O God, are my fortress.” Psalm 59:9
“From the ends of the earth I call out to You whenever my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” Psalm 61:2
To pray and sing the psalms in a reflective, contemplative way is a very ancient practice. As we do so, it is also an effective way to confess the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and to learn the ways of God as He guides us through life’s challenges. There is something about doing this that teaches us from the inner being, and wraps itself indelibly upon our consciousness. Then we are taught by experience that He is wholly reliable and loves us beyond imagining.
Personally I find it helpful to make art with these themes as well. Then it becomes prayer that can be shared.
Psalm 91: 2 (AMPC) “I will say of the Lord, He is my Refuge and my Fortress, my God; on Him I lean and rely, and in Him I [confidently] trust!”
It is helpful to picture this dwelling place – as revealed in verse 1 – as a refuge or a fortress. Think about the pictures you have seen of ancient castles, hewn from the very mountain in which they are set. These to be sure can be called strongholds! Often on one side is a sheer cliff that drops hundreds of feet straight into the ocean. The sea crashes against this “wall” in all its great force and fury relentlessly, but in futility, for it cannot penetrate what is on the other side of that wall. Nor can any invading force arriving by ship even hope to enter and overtake. Those who arrive to attack will likely not survive their own efforts.
Huge walls surround this fortress on its other sides, which themselves are surrounded by craggy mountains and beast filled forests that threaten anyone who might be so audacious as to attempt to storm such a refuge.
A drawbridge is its front door – the only way in. Only those with the King’s permission can enter, coming and going, doing his bidding. Only one path leads to this entrance, a circuitous and narrow way. It is well protected by heavily armed and well trained guards, vigilant day and night as they patrol this path and surveil from its towers. One look at them would make anyone approaching think twice about his reasons for doing so! Unless of course his intention is to surrender himself in full to the King, to once and for all throw himself down before the mercies of the throne.
Spiritually speaking, King and Fortress and Refuge are one for such souls. The WAY to the fortress is through Jesus Christ alone, for any in need of God’s mercy, protection, and healing. Everything necessary is inside, for those who have greatly realized their need, having been assaulted by thieves and robbers (false teachers, the devil, the world system, and the flesh, and more – all adversaries of this fortress and those who seek refuge in Him).
Those who seek asylum in this refuge will never be turned away, for here we have Jesus’ own promise to such souls: “All whom the Father has given (entrusted) to Me will come to Me; and him who comes to Me I will most certainly not cast out – I will never, no never, reject one of them who comes to Me.” (John 6:37 AMPC)
Life may not seem like such a dwelling place. Even our churches – because of the culture which has assaulted and penetrated all too many of them – may no longer seem like places where it is conducive to finding a spiritual refuge, a place of quiet and reverence, where there is any sort of genuine sense of being “en-fortressed” by the Almighty.
Paradoxically this may have its purpose. Might it be in order for us to better redirect our orientation and intention toward a more prayerful and personal experience of our Lord God as refuge and fortress, in preparation for a time when the outer structures may not be as easily accessible? Or so that we may be as Mary of Bethany who sat at Jesus’ feet to learn of Him, to comprehend and apprehend Him as refuge and fortress – as the Holy Spirit, through His written Word, makes us increasingly aware that, through Christ alone by grace through faith, we now indwell Him and He indwells us? Could it be so that we become intimately acquainted with the Omnipotent yet personal One Who is not bound by walls made by man?
This is He Who “richly and daily supplies me with everything I need to support this body and life. He shields me from all danger, and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does out of pure fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.” (Luther’s Small Catechism)
Can it get any better than this?
So we can pray this verse in praise of Him in Whom we live, move, and have our being, You are my refuge! You are my fortress, my God in Whom I trust! All thanks and praise be to You alone for this magnificent reality given to me because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ Who purchased and won me to be Your own! Let me live continually, by the power of Your Holy Spirit, in the awareness of Your life transforming love for me. Amen.
“He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall remain stable and fixed under the shadow of the Almighty [Whose power no foe can withstand].” (Psalm 91:1 AMPC)
What might it mean to dwell in this “place”, the Presence of the One Who is the Person of God Himself? We can only come into this through our Lord Jesus Christ, as we continually trust in Him. We’re shown here that we remain “stable and fixed,” as we “dwell in” – abide, remain, stay put – through abiding faith / trust / confidence in our Lord!
This entire Psalm is chock full of many promises to those who love God and have been brought to faith in Christ. We should take this to heart, “For as many as are the promises of God, they all find their Yes in Him [Christ]. For this reason we also utter the Amen (so be it) to God through Him [in His Person and by His agency] to the glory of God.” (2 Corinthians 1:20.) Therefore, this is a good Psalm to keep before us in these days of great instability and disinformation and obfuscation, to meditate on it, and to personalize it as a prayer – even commit it to heart.
Remember – We can take the cue from the very beginning – Psalm1:1,2 about where to fix our prayerful thoughts and attention: “Blessed (happy, fortunate, prosperous, and enviable) is the man who walks and lives not in the counsel of the ungodly [following their advice, their plans and purposes], nor stands [submissive and inactive] in the path where sinners walk, nor sits down [to relax and rest] where the scornful [and the mockers] gather. But his delight and desire are in the law of the Lord, and on His law (the precepts, the instructions, the teachings of God) he habitually meditates (ponders and studies) by day and by night.”
The promise here in Psalm 91:1 is that no foe can withstand the power of Christ (to Whom is given all authority in heaven and on earth, per Matthew 28:18). Often the biggest foe is where we fix our attention. Will it be on this life’s concerns, or riches and wealth, the news, worries, or some other thing? Or instead might we “look up”?! “If then you have been raised with Christ [to a new life, thus sharing His resurrection from the dead], aim at and seek the [rich, eternal treasures] that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. And set your minds and keep them set on what is above (the higher things), not on the things that are on the earth. For [as far as this world is concerned] you have died, and your [new, real] life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:1-3) Realize that if your new life is hidden with Christ in God, then you can see that you dwell in that “secret place” spiritually, and these promises are yours!
Isn’t it worth knowing what they are? A daily verse by verse prayerful contemplation of Psalm 91 might be a very fruitful place to start, to make His promises your own, if you can see that you are God’s own in Christ Jesus!
Sometimes it pays to stay with the simplicity that is Christ. What was important to Jesus? People can spend all sorts of time discussing and challenging one another’s lofty ideas, while at the same time failing to grasp and to practice what’s important to Him, biblically speaking – which is where the buck stops.
One thing that comes to mind and is so often overlooked is something that has been coming into focus a great deal of late: “And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” 1John 2:3.
1 John 2:4-6 clearly informs us, “Whoever says, ‘I know Him’ but does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps His word, in him truly the love of God has been perfected. By this we may know that we are in Him: whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked.”
Christianity is meant to be an “evidence based” faith, the evidence being a growth in Christ likeness – love and holiness. 1 John 4:13 – “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.” This is where the “can do” comes from, not of ourselves, but of God the Holy Spirit Himself!
It’s not about the right church or the right pew. It’s not about the religious traditions or commandments of men. It’s not about the latest church trends. It’s not about the politics of the land. It’s not about your favorite televangelist. It’s not about your best life now. It’s not about miracles, gifts, signs and wonders! It’s not about what your priest or preacher said last week – unless he’s in agreement with what Jesus teaches about the evidence. And the evidence is everything, per Jesus!
Here’s a key: “If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31b,2. The only way we can be sure about that is to become intimately acquainted with Holy Scripture. Read it. Pray it. Study it. Meditate on it day and night. Talk about it. See Psalm 1 and Psalm 119 for details.
It boils down to what Jesus taught, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” John 14:15
That we have been talked out of this by “can’t do” preachers of every expression of Christianity is a great tragedy. Why? Because Jesus says, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35. It’s how the world knows we are His own! Love like His is the fulfillment of the law! The “can’t do” preachers love to dwell on how much we love sin and how impossible it is to live as Jesus calls His disciples to live. Certainly that is true up to a point – without the Holy Spirit we cannot, for that is the natural state of fallen humanity. But with God, the Counselor and Comforter, what He asks of us is possible. So how about setting our sites on something higher, according to the way Jesus sees things?
A way must be made for this to happen. Might this be why Jesus very clearly directs His followers: “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? So if you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” Luke 11:11-13. We are to ask and keep on asking, or as the Amplified Classic Version states, “… how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask and continue to ask Him!”
And “Blessed are those hungering and thirsting for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Matthew 5:6. How hungry are you? How thirsty?
“If anyone says, ‘I know Him,’ but does not keep His commandments, he is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone keeps His word, the love of God has been truly perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him: Whoever claims to abide in Him must walk as Jesus walked.” 1 John 2:4-6.
It is also true that “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:8,9.
There’s a balance here. It’s not either or. When the Holy Spirit is bestowed, this begins the process whereby we are made more and more Christlike on a continuing basis. If this is not happening, some serious, prayerful self examination is in order. So, check into the Holy Ghost Hokey Pokey Clinic and turn yourself around!
We need to abide and to grow in grace and in knowledge of the Lord. This is the way of a normal Christian life, with its ups and downs. But to think that we should abide always as “poor miserable sinners” forever, or live as we please in our sin, since grace abounds, is an eternally fatal error – not only for ourselves but possibly as well for all to whom we are a “witness.” There must, therefore, always be a continual surrendering to the Holy Spirit by way of godly sorrow for sin, confession, and repentance. And then, in receiving forgiveness, “With my lips I proclaim all the judgments of Your mouth. I rejoice in the way of Your testimonies as much as in all riches. I will meditate on Your precepts and regard Your ways.” Psalm 119:14,15.
So, KISS – Keep It Simple Saints.
And LOVE – Let Others View Emmanuel.
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and only a few find it. Beware of false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” Matthew 7:13-15.
Plenty of pop televangelists “give their regards to Broad Way”. Flash, flair, show, big mansions, private jets, living the high style life. Where’s the cross in that?!
Ephesians 2:3 (context verses 1-10). Among them (referring to those dead in trespasses and sins, the sons of disobedience under the prince of the power of the air) we too all (“we” – clearly Paul includes himself, although he had been quite “religious”) formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
At times it can seem like life is giving us a beating. The following are some thoughts about what this might be about, if we love Jesus and are truly desirous to follow Him. It helps to get some clarification on how things work in this relationship with Him.
When we are born of the Holy Spirit, or “born from above”, there is a difference between what we were by nature and what we have become and are becoming in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. There is nothing short of a spiritual sea change (a transformation) – in thought, attitude, word, deed, worldview, and more. Everything of the self centered, self absorbed life decreases as Christ increases. That includes self righteousness appealing to human pride. Sometimes this is fast and drastic; at other times the pace is very slow. It depends on what God is doing and what He has in mind for the individual.
Locally along the coast of Lake Michigan, where the Great Lakes are sometimes referred to as the “Inland Seas”, we are being given a glimpse of this by the powerful forces of nature – if only we have eyes to see it. There is much of the “sea” rising up against the shore – sand, dunes, bluffs, trees, flora and fauna, trees, and even a few houses of those who have built on the sand are being washed away. The dirt and rocks are no match for the power of ever encroaching wind and waves combined. A sea change is being imposed upon the land by the forces of nature.
Could this be a lesson God has placed in front of us through His creation? As the purpose of the water and wind will have its way, so shall the purpose of God!
The soil, sand, and whatever is growing from it, or is built on it, is being washed away by the power of the water. The “dirt” must go. It stands in the way of God’s plans and purposes for our life, to remold and reshape us into His likeness. We cannot move what stands in the way of that of our own volition. We are part of it in fact. But it cannot stand against the Holy Spirit, represented by the strong wind and relentless waves. Once this process is occurring, it reconfigures everything, never to be the same again. This is God’s kind of “re-formation”. It may mean a dismantling of how things have been entirely, followed by a restart.
This analogy might be a poor one. When we ask and keep on asking for the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:5-13), He does not damage us irreparably. He demolishes within us that which keeps us captive to the prince of this world, the works of the devil in us which Jesus came to destroy (1 John 3:8), his “hooks” of the world, and the flesh. He does not damage us like the waters beating against the shore, but He does “storm” the kingdom of darkness within us which has established a beachhead and a foothold in His kingdom! This occupation of His Kingdom by darkness is not to be allowed. Our body and being are God’s holy temple, and His will is to remove all within it that has been set up by the prince of this world (with our complicity!), that stands against His good intentions for us, which is His love and blessing. That is what brings brings Him glory.
At the same time He restores and rejuvenates us, evidentially validating all of God’s promises, which are yea (sure) and amen (firm) in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20).
If one is born from above, the process goes on to which we surrender, like the sands must surrender to the invincible sea – to His grace which changes us, causing a sea change within us. At times God’s love must be tough and persistent as a maelstrom. So it is good to understand that this can be a possibility.
“See now that I, I am He, And there is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, And there is no one who can deliver from My hand.” Deuteronomy 32:39.
If anyone is experiencing God’s sea changes, the evidence will be that we will see changes in that person. This witnesses to the reality taking place, in a living relationship with Christ Jesus. The old heart – core of the being and its motivations – is replaced by a heart that resembles Jesus, because His transformation is taking place within. What takes place on the inside is seen on the outside. At some point. Sometimes quickly. Sometimes very gradually.
For truly, we are His workmanship! (Ephesians 2:10).