Security when you're not in control.
Do you feel safer when you believe you are in control? You're not alone.
One of the challenging things about the COVID-19 era is how out of control it makes us feel. We can't control whether or not there is toilet paper at the store, what's happening with our 401K, or when it will be safe to see people again. In my neighborhood we can't even control if the internet is working on a given day. Many of us are taking precautions to try and be safe but the situation reminds us how out of control we are. We want to do something. But we're liable to either feel powerless or try and act like we are still in control by going to the beach with a thousand other people and acting like everything is going to be OK.
It's a good time to read Psalm 91. I’d encourage you to pause here and take a moment to read it, before we walk through the main themes together.
What jumps out at you?
The psalm is built upon the premise that the psalmist is living in the middle of a dangerous environment. Can you see any similarities between their situation and ours?
The Psalmist is enjoying security in the midst of trial, but the security does not come through their own control. The Psalmist is enjoying security because of the intimate and incredible protection of the Lord.
There is a lot we might note from this beautiful psalm but let me offer the following brief observations:
1-Danger is real, and so is God’s protection.
The psalmist is crying out to the Lord amid real danger. His gaze catches the fowler (91:3), the deadly pestilence (91:3), the lion and the adder (91:13). It feels as if he is experiencing danger from almost every aspect of creation, from men to beasts to pandemics. As followers of Christ we are not called to live in some alternate universe, denying reality. The life of the Christian is not the life of Pollyanna. Jesus promises us that in this world we will have trouble (John 16:33).
The focus of the psalm however is not on the danger, but on God’s protection in the middle of it. As varied as the opposition to the Psalmist is, God’s protection is repeated again and again. Verse 4: “He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and a buckler.” The danger the psalmist has faced in life is real, but so is the Lord’s presence with them in the middle of that danger.
The psalm invites us to join in declaring God to be “our Refuge and Fortress”. It offers an opportunity to reflect on ways in which we may have looked for security in something or someone other than the Lord. Trials are often fertile ground for repentance. The Psalm offers an opportunity to reflect on the protection the Lord has covered you with in the past. One of our greatest weaknesses as human beings is our capacity to forget the previous blessings of the Lord. Recounting the blessings of the past often gives us strength in the present and hope for the future.
We cannot control that which is around us because we are not in control. But we worship a God who is, and He offers us wonderful promises: “With long life I will satisfy him, and show him my salvation.” (Psalm 91:16).
Take a few minutes and focus on all of the verbs in the psalm which declare what God is doing for you, right now. Use this as an opportunity to praise Him and to petition Him for your specific needs.
2-The psalmist gives us specific ways to engage with God in the midst of the danger.
We may not be in control, but there are important things we can do to engage with God in the middle of danger. Cruise down to verses 14-16 and identify the descriptive actions of the believer.
“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because
he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.”
The psalmist “holds fast” to God, “knows” God’s name, and “calls to Him” in the midst of trouble. These three verbs are quite significant.
When trial comes there is a temptation to let go of God rather than hold fast. We grow tired, the enemy wields doubt against us, and rather than clinging to the Lord like a rudder in a storm we lose our grip and let go. We back off devotional habits, corporate worship and service and begin to drift.
When trial comes there is a temptation to doubt who God is, failing to “know His name”. We might think that He doesn’t care about our trial or doubt His power or willingness to protect us. This particularly becomes acute when we don’t see a swift fulfillment of our prayers, and begin to question God’s promises. It is a great danger to the believer to doubt God’s faithfulness and yet it happens easier than we would like to admit.
Finally, when trial comes it is so easy for us to look for deliverance somewhere else, rather than calling upon God. I remember hearing one senior saint say that prayer should be our first response rather than our last resort. How true.
Trials offer real temptations and dangers. But they also offer an opportunity to experience God’s presence and protection. We don't have to strive to exert control because God is in control and He will not let us down. Doubtless the psalmist’s trust in God’s protection in the present is influenced by God’s protection in the past. We cannot control events around us, but we can control how we respond to the trial. Psalm 91 invites us to hold fast to the Lord, grow in our knowledge of Him, and call upon Him for help. We way not be able to control the outcome of the trial, but we may actively walk with the one who is leading us through it.
"He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”