Security - Will God Protect ME?
Security—Will God Protect Me?
If we do not learn to dwell in the secret place of the Most High, to abide in the shadow of the Almighty, the years to come are going to fill our hearts with increasing fear.
He who 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;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.
If you make the Most High your dwelling—
even the Lord, who is my refuge—
then no harm will befall you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread upon the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent
"Because he loves me," says the Lord, "I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call upon me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life will I satisfy him
and show him my salvation."
Scared to death.
There's enough in this world to scare us to death, isn't there? But did you know that you can actually, literally, be scared to death? As recently as 1980, studies have verified that people can literally be frightened out of their lives (Science Digest, Nov./ Dec, 1980, p. 105).
A prominent scientist examined fifteen cases in which people, four of them children, were assaulted. They could not flee and they could not fight, so even though they received only minor injuries, they died. They were so afraid, it seems, that they were actually scared to death.
How is this physiologically possible? Upon examination, the evidence indicated that stress caused by fear had literally destroyed the victims' hearts. Heart cells were destroyed by the body's violent reaction to fear, said the study. Because the people were utterly helpless, they couldn't fight back and they couldn't escape, their adrenalin kept on pumping into their hearts, and their hearts, overwrought, destroyed themselves.
We live in a scary world. And the impact of the fear we live with is real and deadly. I remember a cartoon in The New Yorker several years ago in which an elderly apartment dweller was in the process of locking the seven different locks on his door—deadbolts, sliding locks, security locks. All the time the blade of a saw was cutting a circle in the floor under him! It was a humorous attempt to make a serious point. There really is no possible escape from everything that threatens us in our world. That is why the words of Psalm 91 are more poignant today than ever.
Someone has said that Psalm 91 is an expanded commentary on the great cry of the apostle Paul: "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31). What is the message of the Psalm? Its message is a promise for God's people in an increasingly frightened and insecure age. It's a promise we must take to heart in today's world—or live our lives in fear and timidity.
The Promise of Protection
And what is that promise? God promises us shelter, covering, and comprehensive protection based on His very nature. Those who claim the promise and dwell in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. God offers us security, says the psalmist, by providing secret shelter.
In the first verse of the psalm, we find the act of faith, the steps we must take. What we must do is search for that shelter. And then we must be willing to use it. What does that mean? To dwell in that shelter is continually to commune with God, reposing our trust in Him, depositing our confidence in Him. The psalmist says that the promise of security is for the individual who is willing to do this. But it is an act of faith to dwell in such a way. And this keeps many of us from ever experiencing that special treatment.
But why do we shy away from this act of faith? Because we know that being a Christian doesn't keep us from harm. It doesn't keep us from death and accidents and illness and pain and crisis. So it's hard to understand fully what "protection from God" could be if we still experience such danger.
Yet let's look at what kind of protection this promise calls forth from God. If we make the choice to dwell in His secret place, as the psalmist puts it, then God's response will be to treat us as His guests. In the ancient eastern world, the duty of the host was the most sacred duty a man could have. Even to this day, if you come into the tent of a Bedouin or another nomadic desert dweller, he will protect you with his very life. This is the background from which the psalmist was writing. Almighty God is saying, in effect, "When you dwell in My most secret place, I promise to be your divine host with the sacred responsibility of covering and caring for you." When we deposit our trust in Him, then He guarantees He will give us His sheltering protection against all that harms us—until our duty is done and our race is finished in His service.
We will still go through trials. That is part of life. But the psalmist says we can go through these trials with confidence. If we are "dwelling" in communion with God, if we are accepting the shelter only He can give, then we will be safe until our work for the Lord is over, until our time on this earth is done.
How does this protection work? I believe He protects and secures those of us who take that step of faith to dwell with Him in several very interesting ways.
Look back at the figure of speech used by the psalmist. He speaks of a God who covers us with "His wings."
"He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge." The reference is to the great wings of an eagle as they stretch out to stabilize the young eaglet in flight—or to cover it if it tumbles from the nest while trying to fly. The very first word that God spoke to Moses on Mt. Sinai was to remind Moses that He brought the people out of Egypt "on eagle's wings." Think of it. The God of the cosmic universe—of unfathomable, immeasurable space—that great God condescends to relate to us like an eagle who spreads out its wings to protect its young.
On Eagles' Wings
I can't help but think of an enlightening article I read recently. It was written by several noted ornithologists and described the time they spent watching one family of eagles nested on the edge of a canyon. As they watched, the eaglet hatched and grew. On the sixty-seventh day, the little bird stood on the edge of the nest for an hour and a half, then stretched its wings trying out the air, testing its tail feathers, leaning forward into the wind over the canyon's edge. Suddenly there came the mighty moment when the eaglet's legs pushed off the nest and, for the first time, it tried to fly. The result was almost disaster. Some little kites hovering around the canyon's edge began to divebomb the little eaglet. And the eaglet lost control so completely that it was about to crash into the wall of the canyon and fall to its death. Then, just at the right moment, the father and mother eagles flew down to the eaglet and surrounded him, one on either side. Flying in formation beside it, the parents allowed the eaglet to use the thermal currents their wings were causing to help itself stabilize. Then they escorted the eaglet back to the nest.
This is exactly the picture the psalmist is painting of God's promise to us. God is there, to come alongside us. How often do we dive off into dangerous situations, half prepared? Then when we're about to crash, we find that the goodness of God is there, stabilizing us, enabling us to find our way home. This is the great promise in Psalm 91. The God whom we meet in Christ not only promises us a hiding place but He promises to stabilize us like an eagle with its eaglet.
Enter the Angels
But if we read further, we get the rest of the promise. The psalmist tells us that when we put our faith in that security, God actually protects us through angelic intervention. That's right. Angels.
Do you believe in angels? No, I'm not talking about leprechauns or munchkins or muppets—or fairy tales. Do you believe there are beings created to serve God and do as He bids? The psalmist states with certainty that God will command His angels "concerning you to guard you in all your ways. They will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone." The Modern Language Bible says, "He gives his angels orders regarding you, to protect you wherever you go."
Do you believe in angels? The Scriptures clearly state that God uses supernatural beings in His government and providence of the world. So, on the basis of the Word of God, we have no more reason to doubt the existence of angelic protection than we have to doubt the existence of Abraham or Moses or Paul—or even Jesus Christ Himself.
The Bible tells of "cherubim and seraphim," angelic beings that protect the children of God "in the way." When he sent out a servant to seek a bride for Isaac, Abraham was told, "My angel will go before him and show him Rebecca." The Lord God promised Moses that the angel would go before him in the Exodus. In Second Kings, Elisha's servant was fearful of the gathering army so Elisha prayed that God would open his eyes. Suddenly Elisha saw the chariots of the host of heaven. The birth of our Lord was announced by angels and then attended by them. Christ was ministered to by angels in the wilderness and in the Garden of Gethsemane. And angels were in His empty tomb, announcing His resurrection. Hebrews 1:14 promises that by angelic protection God leads His children along.
The evidence is there. But what do they do? This psalm seems to indicate that they exercise vigilance, guarding us in all our ways. When Satan used part of this reference to angels to tempt Jesus, he omitted those last words—"guard you in all your ways."
It still seems hard to believe, doesn't it? But the promise is that as long as you walk in the way of duty and fidelity to God, until your "race is run and your testimony done," He will, even by angelic interposition, guard you. And the psalmist goes on to say that not only will angels guard you, they'll also lift you up. The original Hebrew literally says, lift you up "on their hands"—lifting you up over the impediments and difficulties of life.
I believe this happens. I can cite many true stories that support my belief. I think about one in particular. A prominent nineteenth century clergyman had gone to catch a train in New York on his way to a speaking engagement. He said he stood on the train platform, tranquil, anticipating the ride. Yet as the train pulled up, he said he was absolutely riveted to where he was standing. He tried to lift a leg to get on the train, but could not move a muscle. "I was conscious of an overwhelming force forbidding me and hindering me to move," he explained. As he stood there stupefied, the train pulled out. Two miles down the track, the famous Revere train accident happened. Scores of people on that very train he could not board were killed instantly. The only way he could explain it was that he was conscious of an angelic force in his life because his work in this life wasn't done.
In his book Angels: God's Secret Agents, Billy Graham recounts many such instances of secret, spiritual forces giving protection. One story he told I had heard personally from some of the people involved in it. One tragic night in China, bandits had surrounded one of the mission compounds that sheltered hundreds of women and children. On the previous night, one of the missionaries, a Miss Monsen, had been confined to bed with a malaria attack. She worried herself all night long with questions such as, "What will you do when the looters begin firing on the compound? What about the promise you've been trusting in and the witness to these people you're trying to win to Christ?"
So Miss Monsen prayed, "Lord, I've been teaching these young people all these years that Your promises are true. And if they fail now, my mouth will be forever closed and I must go home."
Throughout the next night, she was up and about, ministering to and encouraging the frightened refugees and orphans. And though fearful things happened all around the mission compound, the bandits left the compound untouched. In the morning, people from three different neighborhood families asked Miss Monsen who the four people were, three sitting and one standing, on the top of her roof the night before. Miss Monsen told them that no one had been on the housetop, that in fact, it wasn't even accessible. But the neighboring families refused to believe it. They said they had seen these strange beings with their own eyes.
Of course, you can draw your own conclusion. But the conclusion the missionaries came to was that in this remarkable situation where the Christian faith of weak, young believers stood at risk, God interceded in a remarkable way.
The Names and Nature of God
In whatever way God chooses, He wants us to have that ultimate assurance of protection. And we can be sure of it for one very good reason—because of His nature. That's the ultimate reason why we can believe in it. In the first two verses of Psalm 91 there are no less than four names given for God. The psalmist speaks of God as the "Most High." He is a God who is inaccessible in His height above all difficulty and danger, yet He is there for His children. Let everything rage that can rage on earth beneath. God is Most High.
Second, the psalmist speaks of God who is Almighty—His great Hebrew name is El Shaddai. It's the name on which Abraham leaned as he walked into the unknown. Nothing is powerful enough to overcome Him because He is God Almighty.
Third, He is called Jehovah. That is His covenant name, the one that means "I Am That I Am" or "I Will Be What I Will Be." "I can outlast anything that threatens My people," the name is saying. And that's an amazing promise.
God is also described by the psalmist using the personal pronoun, "he." At this point theology moves into testimony. Instead of talking about an impersonal God, the psalmist moves into personal confession. "He is my refuge, my fortress, my God, in Him I will trust."
It will do you little good to read these words about a God who gives His people protection and then set the Book down and go on. Just reading it is not enough. What leashes us to that protection is the act of "cleaving" to it, leaning on it in trust, saying not just that there is a God, but that He is "My God, my refuge, my fortress. In Him I trust." When theology becomes testimony, when observation becomes confession, that's when we can have the experience this psalmist did.
Delivered from Danger
But we spoke of danger earlier. How does this protection keep us from the danger we feel all around?
We can divide everything that threatens us into two big groups: obvious dangers (those we can see approaching) and unexpected dangers (those that blindside us). One thing about this psalm is that the psalmist does not leave God's protection generalized. He becomes very specific about it. He says God can protect you from open, obvious, manifest danger as well as the hidden, secret, insidious type. "Surely He will save you from the fowler's snare," the psalmist exclaims. "You will tread on the cobra and you will trample on the serpent."
The fowler's snare was a kind of net set up to catch unsuspecting birds. This and the poisonous cobra waiting to strike are, of course, metaphors for all the traps waiting secretly for us. He, El Shaddai, the Most High God, Jehovah, can keep us from those secret snares.
And then the psalmist says, "You will tread upon the great lion and trample upon the serpent." For the Hebrews, the ravenous lion was an open, obvious threat. But we're no different. We live with our own kind of "leaping lion." Psychology Today tells of an emerging epidemic in which middle-aged people suddenly are simply afraid to drive. Even though they've gotten up and driven to work for years, these same people cannot face the open places where they have to drive anymore. Drunken driving, widespread abuse of speed limits, smaller and smaller cars, and larger and larger transport trucks have made them feel the odds are stacked against them.
But the psalmist says, "You will not fear the terror of night." We won't feel the kind of nocturnal dread that comes from sudden attack.
Then he speaks of the arrow that flies by day and the plagues that destroy at midday. These are open, obvious, manifest attacks.
"But a thousand shall fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you." God's people, the psalmist is saying, should not fear danger. As long as their duty is not done, until God's plan for them is completed, they will stand unscathed. It's like the passover in Egypt when the death angel passed them by—or the Red Sea when the waters piled high for them and flooded back down on Pharaoh's army. The psalmist assures us that this is not just an Old Testament truth, it is God's truth for everyone who deposits faith in the Most High.
This reminds me of a story about General Douglas MacArthur. Over and over, believing himself a man of destiny, MacArthur demonstrated his ability to stand while others cowered around him. In 1943, a naval admiral assigned to MacArthur to work with amphibious warfare thought the general arrogant and didn't like him very much.
One day MacArthur invited the admiral to join with him in the first wave of an assault. The naval admiral knew he must go, but he wasn't prepared for MacArthur. As they stood on the beach, the admiral could not take his eyes off the general—uniform resplendent, khakis sharply creased, brass polished—standing there straight-backed with shells bursting all around him. Then, MacArthur asked the admiral to stand beside him in a picture he wanted taken. The admiral couldn't believe it, but he stood for the picture with MacArthur. Just as the picture was taken, a shell fell a few yards away and everybody hit the sand—almost everyone, that is. The admiral, the photographers, and everyone else looked up from the smoke to see General MacArthur still standing erect. "Why are you all on the ground?!" MacArthur asked.
We cannot help but admire people with that kind of courage! But few of us have that quality.
The average American, according to U.S. News and World Report (Dec. 12, 1983, p. 72), runs a higher risk of being a victim of a violent crime than of being hurt in an auto accident. I read and reread that statistic. While you are reading these words, 690 serious crimes will take place (U.S. News and World Report, Oct. 27, 1980, pp. 58f.). During a thirty-minute period, 375 thefts, 180 burglaries, 66 violent crimes, 25 robberies, 4 rapes, and 1 murder will take place. The survey said that Americans are paralyzed by fear of one another. And I think we are all coming to understand that there are not enough security systems available, not enough money to hire police, not enough locks to put on our doors to keep away every kind of threat that can come our way.
If we do not learn how to dwell in the secret place of the Most High, to abide in the shadow of the Almighty, the years to come are going to fill our hearts with increasing fear.
Yet questions still haunt us. What about the accidents and the illnesses and the pain that Christians must endure every day? What about the deaths of fine Christians we all know about? I want to give you the answer that John Calvin always gave to such questions. He said, "When we look back on our life, from the perspective of eternity, we're going to see that the power of Satan was so great, that the weakness of our flesh was so feeble, and that the hostility of the world was so strong, that every day of our life—if God had not intervened—we would never have made it through a day" (Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 5).
We have God's protecting providence every breath we take. It is a promise offered to us, but it is up to us to believe it and live it. Sometimes it seems that trust cannot hold out, that we cannot hold out. The psalmist closes with just that thought. God is telling us that we don't have to hold out. He's saying, in effect, "I'm the one who holds out, and My very Name is at stake here." El Shaddai, Jehovah, the Most High—He is powerful, above all dangers, and is the God of covenants that He keeps.
Our security does not rest in our weak, feeble, timid, fragile, finite humanit—not for a moment. Our security is in clinging to a God who takes care of those who take the conscious step of faith to believe.
Growing Pains of the Soul.