I've been thinking a lot these last few months about what it means practically to take refuge in God. Refuge isn't a term we use often personally. On a political level we may think of refugees, and the place they go to flee the danger in their homeland as a place of refuge. But for the Christian, the idea of God being a refuge should be very real, personal and practical.
Christians are not at home with the ways of this world. We feel like foreigners here. We don't have the same desires we used to have. We once partied like the world, were greedy like the world, sought self above all like the world, and hid from the pain and brokenness in this life in various ways. Those ways were once our refuge. Before Christ shone on our hearts and broke our chains we hid from the suffering of death, betrayal, loss and pain in people, temporary pleasures, mind-altering substances, sleep, money, withdrawal, food... and many other various cotton-candy hiding places. In those days, we found that hiding in those places gave us an escape from one pain only to be bound by the chains of another. Since Christ has come into our lives, we know that only he can truly hide us in times of trouble. We fail many times, running back to old hiding places that can't shelter us from the storms of this life. But ultimately, it is Christ that we run to, because as our brother quick-fall-Peter said, who else is there to go to? Only Christ has the words of life.
But what does it look like to hide in Christ? What does it look like to run to God as refuge?
The Psalms are full of declarations that God is the psalmist's refuge. The psalmist runs to God when he's betrayed, when he's chased, when he's surrounded, when he's found in sin, when he's sick, when he's in pain, when he's depressed, he even runs to God for refuge when he feel like God has forgotten him. Why? And how?
There's definitely more than one blog post worth writing on this subject. Just taking the time to read through the Psalms and notice how often the writer calls on God as a refuge could be a devotional for a year. I want to focus on one particular Psalm and think about how we as Christians take refuge in God.
Psalm 57 has a small title under it in my Bible that says, "To the choirmaster: according to Do Not Destroy. A Miktam of David, when he fled from Saul, in the cave."
David wrote this psalm when he fled from Saul in a cave it says. Saul was the king of Israel God had told was no longer going to be king. He was loosing his mind and was murderously chasing David to kill him, knowing David was to be the king in his place. Now that's a situation to feel like one might need to find refuge somewhere. I've never had to flee physical danger, but like David, I know the feeling that my soul is "bowed down", or "in the midst of lions."
As I read through this Psalm I find three practical ways to run to God for refuge:
1) Call on God's mercy
2) Remember God's sovereignty
3) Expect God's faithfulness
Call on God's Mercy
"Be merciful to me O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge. In the shadow of your wings I take refuge 'til the storms of destruction pass by." -Psalm 57:1
God is not a big, fluffy teddy bear to run to when you need to throw a tantrum. He's not a neutral zone where anyone can come and get away from trouble. He's almighty and holy. He's a righteous judge and knows the heart of every man. He's unable to be OK with sin in any amount or kind. He's perfect. He is to be feared. And anyone who might try to stand before him would find themselves toast without the means he has provided to cause none of that righteous anger against sin to be aimed at them. And that means is Christ. Christ is the propitiation (big, church word) for us who believe in him, that is, he takes all the condemnation aimed at us from God. To say it another way, Christ satisfies the need for God to destroy sin and sinner. If God were to ignore sin he would not be a good God or a just God. God's perfect justice demands the destruction of sin and the sinner. Otherwise the malignancy of sin (which we all see everyday in our broken world and in our own lives) would spread unchecked, and God would not be sovereign or good. But God is not only perfectly just he is also gloriously gracious and merciful. He is love. Therefore he humbled himself to be what we could not be and do what we could not do. That is mercy. And for the Christian, calling on God's mercy as displayed in Christ, is to call on the only power strong enough to shield our souls from the lies and traps and chains we so easily believe and turn to. We call on this mercy in our prayers every day. We call on this mercy when we face our failures once again. We call on this mercy when we feel the threat of fears that we were once controlled by. In calling on God's mercy we remind our souls to hope in the God who died for our sins so that we could be in friendship with him and no longer fear his judgement.
Remember God's Sovereignty
"I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me." - Psalm 57:2
Whatever we flee to for refuge must be more powerful than the situations we're fleeing from. Only God can be that. I don't claim to understand the workings of God's sovereignty or the whys. But I know that when I face the sting of death, or the fear of rejection, or the terror of an enemy, or the betrayal of a companion or any other hard and painful suffering, there is only One who can do anything about it. The Creator of the universe. It's in knowing that the very God I run to for refuge is the God who has designed this suffering in my life to purify my faith and make me more like Christ that I find a true place to hide. He may not take away the pain of this suffering, but he's the only one who can. And one day he will take it away. It may not be now. But it will be. In the mean time, I run to the One who rules over it and trust him to use it as a tool in my life for my good. He cares. He hears. He loves. And He will rescue. In remembering God's sovereignty I hide my soul from the lies that God is punishing or God has forgotten or God is helpless. He rules over what hurts me and he uses it to fulfill his good purposes for me.
Expect God's Faithfulness
"He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!" Psalm 57:3
Knowing God's faithfulness requires a history with God. If you don't have much of a history with him, look to the book of his-story, and look to his people both living and dead. The God of the Bible has a long history of unbroken promises and faithfulness to unfaithful people. As the psalms say so often, his faithfulness reaches to the skies! If I were to try to write out the zillions of ways God has shown he is faithful there wouldn't be enough atmosphere to contain the words! But when we find ourselves in the midst of the storms of destruction God's faithfulness comes into question in our minds. Has he forgotten us? Is he even there? Does he care? This is where the Bible points us to a cloud of witness who say: God is faithful! He will not abandon! Hebrews 11 is famous for being the hall of faith, calling to account the names and stories of the people of old who have lived by faith. But as you read through these stories and names it is not the faith of these people so much that encourages ours, but the faithfulness of the One they had faith in. Noah built an ark from faith, believing what God warned him. But it was God who saved Noah and his family from the storm of destruction that came on the whole world! Abraham ultimately believed God when his body was as good as dead despite his failed attempt to fulfill God's promise for him. But it was God who did the miracle of giving Abraham and Sarah Isaac despite their dying bodies. And I could go on and on to recount how God was faithful to Joseph even in the betrayal of his brothers and the lies that landed him in Pharaoh's prison. And how God did not forget his people in Egypt but prepared and sent Moses, hearing their cries for deliverance from slavery even though they were a stiff-necked people. And how God heard the humble confession of a prostitute in a wall of a city he was about to destroy and saved Rahab. Not to mention Ruth and Noami or Esther or Daniel or Paul or the many who have died as a result of their faith and who's deaths have been the seed through which a harvest of souls were faithfully rescued by God. I remember God's faithfulness as I read my Bible, look to the lives of Christians throughout history and in my life today and look back at my life as I've imperfectly walked with him. He is faithful! Remembering this is sure refuge for my tired soul.
I may not be able to see my soul like I see my body, but just as my body would run to a strong structure to hide from a destroying storm, my soul runs to God to hide from the destructions that threaten when I face pain, death, betrayal, temptations, my sin, weariness, anxiety and many other soul-storms. My soul runs when I open my mouth and call on his mercy, when I recall God's power over all things, and when I open my Bible and remember his faithfulness.