Taking Refuge

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In the front of the little white Bible my parents gave me, when I was old enough to keep it mostly white, was an inscription. I found it recently. In my mother’s delicate handwriting on the page inside the cover, I saw “Our prayer for you. Psalm 91.”

Am I the only one who doesn’t remember numbers or scripture references and who seldom takes the time to look them up? I have to admit that unless it is a very common reference like John 3:16, I nod and move on when a card is signed,
Best wishes on your birthday!
1 Samuel 21:14

“Thank you for your kind thoughts,” I say, and set it on the shelf until enough time has passed to drop it in the recycling bin without insulting anyone.

In the process of paring down our book collection a few years ago, I found my old Bible and read the flyleaf. At the time I felt the Lord was asking me to read Psalm 91 over and over, for weeks, because I wasn’t getting it. Somehow I knew it was important to get it.

I didn’t think it was meant for me. Such promises must have been written to a king, or maybe the Messiah. It felt presumptuous in a pathologically narcissistic way to think that I could take a passage of scripture written in another time for someone else and apply it to myself.

“Its too good for the likes of me,” I thought.

Psalm 91 kept showing up, though, in songs, in stories, in podcasts, sermons and accidental openings to that page.

Does Psalm 91 apply to everyone?” I asked the Lord. The answer is in the first verse. Who is this for? No. It’s not for everyone. It’s for those who take refuge in the shelter of the Most High.

Taking shelter is an action. It means choosing to run to God and not away from him. It means abiding in him, dwelling with him, staying close to him in the secret place in my spirit where we meet and spend time together. It means taking shelter under his wings instead of demanding explanations or running off to fix things myself. It’s believing there is something greater than my own understanding. It’s submitting by letting him help me. It’s admitting that God is God and I am not.

I don’t think baby birds can see much when they’re under Mama bird’s wings. It’s dark in there. I’m sure they are curious about what is going on outside where lights are flashing and siren voices screaming in alarm.

I don’t understand what is going on out in the world right now. What I am getting is a lot of reminders of Psalm 91. This is a time to run under his wings and submit to the one who offers protection.

I get it now.

Psalm 91

He who takes refuge in the shelter of the Most High
will be safe in the shadow of the Almighty.
He will say to the Eternal, “My shelter, my mighty fortress,
my God, I place all my trust in You.”
For He will rescue you from the snares set by your enemies who entrap you
and from deadly plagues.

Like a bird protecting its young, God will cover you with His feathers,
will protect you under His great wings;

You will not dread the terrors that haunt the night
or enemy arrows that fly in the day
or the plagues that lurk in darkness
or the disasters that wreak havoc at noon.

A thousand may fall on your left,
ten thousand may die on your right,
but these horrors won’t come near you.
Only your eyes will witness
the punishment that awaits the evil,
but you will not suffer because of it.
For you made the Eternal refuge,
the Most High your only home.
No evil will come to you;
plagues will be turned away at your door.

He will command His heavenly messengers to guard you,
to keep you safe in every way.
They will hold you up in their hands
so that you will not crash, or fall, or even graze your foot on a stone.
You will walk on the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the lion and the serpent underfoot.

“Because he clings to Me in love,
I will rescue him from harm;
I will set him above danger.
Because he has known Me by name,
He will call on Me, and I will answer.
I’ll be with him through hard times;
I’ll rescue him and grant him honor.
I’ll reward him with many good years on this earth
and let him witness My salvation.”

-The Passion Translation

Marty Goetz sings a beautiful version:

 

 

There’s More

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When I was a young girl my parents gave me a white leather-bound Bible for my tenth birthday. On the dedication page they wrote: “Our prayer for you – Psalm 91″

Years later I decided to record a list of scripture verses that have stood out to me, that got me through tough times, or spoke to me about my relationship with God. The 91st Psalm was one. I realized this psalm was part of my inheritance and had been for a long time. I took time to study it and meditate on it daily, mining it for riches I had previously overlooked. It became precious to me. In time I moved on to other personally meaningful passages.

This morning I awoke with a line from a line from song recorded by Selah playing in my head. “When I feel like I can’t go on You deliver me. When the road is winding and way too long, You deliver me…”

What does “deliver” actually mean? Maybe I shouldn’t make assumptions. I learned the word “deliver” used in many translations of the Bible can come from more than one word in the Hebrew language. One means to transport like delivering a prisoner to a jail. One means to snatch away, rescue or provide a means of escape. (That’s the meaning I was assuming.) Another can mean to rescue but it can also mean to arm, equip, invigorate or make strong.

Psalm 91 uses two different words. The third verse talks about being delivered from a trap. This is the “plucked out/escape” word, natsal. The other word, chalats, shows up in verse 15. The Passion Translation recognizes the difference. Instead of saying you will be taken out of the situation it says, “You will find and feel my presence even in your time of pressure and trouble.”

Yesterday I was looking at photos I took on the drive home from a hospital a day’s drive away. I spent two days there undergoing specialized tests looking for more cancerous tumours. That’s a scary prospect.

Most of the time I am at peace, but sometimes I feel stressed. Driving up the steep Kootenay Pass on the side of the east side of the mountain with no guard rails between us and a sudden drop of hundreds of feet was one of those moments. I don’t have any photos. There is no place to stop.

I didn’t really want to stop. I just wanted to get out of there.

We parked in a wide lot when we reached the top and I walked around beside the little lake up there. Pacing helps me regain calm.

I took this photo from inside a cabin beside the road. When I looked at it this morning I felt I saw in the picture an open-door invitation to step out of the confines of my own thinking into a greater concept of what safe and secure deliverance means. It could mean being rescued from a situation or it could mean being armed and invigorated in preparation for a greater victory right in the circumstance.

God is creative and not reactive. The road up the mountain is the same road whether a guardrail is visible or not. I don’t know the results of the tests yet. From here the view is a bit scary, but he provides shelter and rest stops along the way. Whether he rescues me from this circumstance or equips me for battle and wider definition of what victory  and holding ground looks like, he has assured me of his presence. He’s got this and he’s not leaving.

After all these years there is even more to be learned from this precious psalm.

For here is what the Lord has spoken to me:
“Because you have delighted in me as my great lover,
I will greatly protect you.
I will set you in a high place,
Safe and secure before my face.
I will answer your cry for help every time you pray,
And you will find and feel my presence
Even in your time of pressure and trouble.
I will be your glorious Hero and give you a feast!
You will be satisfied with a full life
And with all that I do for you.
For you will enjoy
The fullness of my salvation!”

Psalm 91:14-16 The Passion Translation

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Unafraid

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You will not be afraid of the terror by night,
Or of the arrow that flies by day;
Of the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
Or of the destruction that lays waste at noon.

For He will give His angels charge concerning you,
To guard you in all your ways.
They will bear you up in their hands,
That you do not strike your foot against a stone.

(Psalm 91:5-6, 11-12)

Anxiety can be one of the most crippling aspects of dementia in the elderly. It is so difficult for people who have always been in control to allow others to help them.

Psalm 91 was a great comfort to my mother. Songs remain in the mind after many other memories have faded. Musical settings of scriptures full of assurance can be such a comfort. Thank God for the strength of music.

Without those treasures buried in our hearts throughout a lifetime of learning to trust, the darkness can be very dark indeed. I see the difference in my four family members who have walked or who are walking this memory loss path. We reap what we sow. The fruit of a lifetime of sowing seeds of faith and the fruit of years of sowing seeds of fear look very different when night falls.

Lord, teach us to trust you and dwell in your shelter now, so that it will always be a familiar refuge we can slip into easily.

 

 

Refuge

Who Shall Ascend
Refuge

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
    will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
 This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
    he is my God, and I trust him.
 For he will rescue you from every trap
    and protect you from deadly disease.
 He will cover you with his feathers.
    He will shelter you with his wings.
    His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
 Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,
    nor the arrow that flies in the day.
 Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,
    nor the disaster that strikes at midday.
 Though a thousand fall at your side,
    though ten thousand are dying around you,
    these evils will not touch you.
 Just open your eyes,
    and see how the wicked are punished.

 If you make the Lord your refuge,
    if you make the Most High your shelter,
 no evil will conquer you;
    no plague will come near your home.
 For he will order his angels
    to protect you wherever you go.
 They will hold you up with their hands
    so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.
 You will trample upon lions and cobras;
    you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!

 The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me.
    I will protect those who trust in my name.
 When they call on me, I will answer;
    I will be with them in trouble.
    I will rescue and honor them.
 I will reward them with a long life
    and give them my salvation.”

(Psalm 91)

 

 

At a standstill

I was praying:

Lord, I don’t get it! I just don’t get it!

This world is such a confusing place and threats have come from all directions and in my zeal I’ve done some stupid things.

I’m sorry.

I’ve come running to you and asked for forgiveness, like you said.

I’m trying to follow you, to stay close to you, to listen to you, but I feel like I don’t have a sense of direction.

I know you have been helping me grow spiritually but now I don’t know what I’m supposed to do next.

I’m at a standstill.

I feel hemmed in.

Stifled.

I feel like I don’t have a vision for the future.

It’s as if there’s a kind of darkness around me.

What is this place?

Then I heard Himself speak in my spirit: Under my wings.

Photo: Canada geese by the lake yesterday

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    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.”

Surely he will save you
    from the fowler’s snare
    and from the deadly pestilence.
 He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge.

Psalm 91:1-3