God Is Our Refuge

December 31, 2000 / No. 3026

Dear radio friends,

     We are in the very last moments of the calendar year 2000.  I’m sure that the thoughts of many, if not all of us, are reflecting on the fact that, so far as men count time, we stand in a most momentous moment — the end of a century and decade and millennium.

     It is a very sobering thing to reflect on the fact that a thousand years has past.  A sizable block of time has passed away in the will of God.  How long will it be ere we hear the sound of the trumpets and see the Lord descending with all of His saints?

     Another year is past.  That is a sizable part of our lives — a year which has been used of God to shape us for eternity.  In a very real sense, time is with us forever; for every day, every year, every decade is the hand of God molding and preparing for eternity.

     We look ahead tonight.  We cannot avoid that.  But we do not look forward to the coming year with rude impiety to predict.  We look forward with sincere trust in the plan and will of God.  There are many who sense ominous clouds ahead.  What will the new year bring?  We know from the Scriptures that there will be a fulfillment of the signs of the end of the world of which Jesus spoke.  There shall be more unsettling among the nations, a growth in sin, and the place of the true church and believer on earth will become yet more narrow.

     Because of all of this, God has laid it upon my heart to direct your attention to a very beautiful psalm, Psalm 46, in order that we might not lose our spiritual bearings in such times as these in which God has called us to glorify Him.  Psalm 46 has been given various themes by those who have drunk from its fountains with great joy.  Some have called it a song of faith in troublous times.  Some have given it the title “Luther’s Psalm,” for this psalm was so precious to Martin Luther in the period of the Reformation.  When his co-laborer, Melanchthon, would bare his heart to Luther and express his fears and worries, Luther would say, “Come now, Philip, let us sing the forty-sixth psalm.”  So Luther arranged from Psalm 46 the great Christian hymn:  “Our Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

     The psalm is one that we must learn.  We must learn to sing it with the spirit of understanding and confidence in God.  It begins this way:  “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.  Selah.”

     Now if we are to understand these words and take them home to our heart with holy confidence, let us spend a moment on the setting and the structure of Psalm 46.   I trust you have your Bible open.

     The setting.  I remind you that the psalms were not written in a vacuum, but in the crucible of the lives of God’s people.  Psalms are not detached, theological reflections.  They are the groanings of real believers in the midst of a real world with real problems in which they were called to glorify God.  We do not know the exact time or setting of Psalm 46, whether it was a psalm of David or a psalm of Jehoshaphat.  But this much is clear:  this psalm came from a situation in which God’s people found themselves in great trouble.  The words which we read made that clear:  “God is our refuge, our help in trouble.  We will not fear though the earth be removed.”  Further, we read that there was opposition to the church.  In verses 4-6 we read that the heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved against Zion.  It was a time in which the nations were at war.  We read in verse 9, “He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth.”

     Whatever the exact circumstances might have been, it was a time which could be described in the words “upheaval, uncertainty, tumults, rumors, natural calamities, and great opposition to the church of God.”  That is what is going to happen this year, too.

     As far as the structure is concerned, the psalm is divided into three parts.  If you have your Bible open, see verses 1-3, 4-7, 8-11.  All end with that word “Selah.”  You ask, “What does that word selah mean?”  Bible scholars are not agreed.  But most probably it is a word indicating a pause:  reflect upon these significant statements, stop and think.  The word “Selah” reminds me of Jesus’ words to His disciples:  “Let these words sink down into your ears.”

     Those divisions are important.  Verses 1-3 is a statement that God is the protector of His people in all of their troubles:  “God is our refuge and our strength.”  Verses 4-7 are a statement that God is the protector of the church in the face of all or any opposition.  “There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, … God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved.”  Then, in verses 8-11, God is shown to be the victor over His enemies.  Verse 8, “What desolations he hath made in the earth.”  Verse 10, “I will be exalted among the heathen.”  In other words, the psalm is the answer to the three most burning questions which a thoughtful child of God is going to ask when we see the year 2000 fall into the past and begin the year 2001.  Those three questions are:  “What will happen to me as a believer in this year?”  “What will happen to the church in this year?”  “What will happen in the world in this year?”  Psalm 46 answers.  No, it does not tell us whether the year 2001 will bring economic recession, health or death, crippling disease or heartache.  But it does tell us all we need to know as a child of God in order to face every circumstance in faith and with a vision of God’s glory.

     Child of God, do not listen today to the professional prognosticators who optimistically say that man is going to patch it all together again for another year.  Do not listen to the pessimist who says that everything will crumble.  But listen to the voice of God and stand with Him and lay it to heart and say, “God is our refuge and our strength.”  God’s work in the church shall prevail, and His victory over the nations, in the gathering of the church and in the bringing of the day of Jesus Christ, shall be advanced in this year.

     Look at that wonderful declaration.  Let it ring in your heart today, the last day of this year.  God is our refuge and strength!  The psalmist declares it.  He does not seek to prove it, but he simply declares the reality of the being of God.  God is.  When contemplating all the possible calamities that may befall the people of God in this world, or may come to God’s church; when thinking of all the upheaval yet to be seen upon this earth before the Lord comes; the psalmist begins with the one changeless truth:  God is.

     What will be in the new year?  We do not know.  We may guess, we may surmise, we may listen to the political analyzers and the economic forecasts.  There certainly will be change.  But, child of God, if you fill your mind with all the possible fears and dangers and conceivable hardships, you will never sing this psalm with holy confidence.  The thing that must fill your vision right now and which must hold the center of your contemplation, is this declaration:  God is our refuge.  Though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea, God, who made them and in whose hand they abide, is.  God is.  That is the language of faith.

     You know Hebrews 11:6?   “But without faith it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is.”  That is it.  Faith confesses the present God, God who made me, God who is, God who is the Judge, God who is eternal, almighty, Lord over all, totally self-sufficient, independently glorious.  Not a man, caught up in fear, but the eternal God.  See also Psalm 2:   “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh,” upon the vain attempts of sinful man.  When puny man rages against Him and says that he is going to tear God from His throne and stop God’s purposes, God laughs.

     You see, the problem with our fearful hearts is that they do not reckon with a present God.  Do you remember Israel, when they were brought out of Egypt?  They did not deny that it was God who brought them out.  They said, “Would that God had not brought us out into this desert.”  To them God was the great “I was.”  What was their problem in their fears and troubles?  Right now, when they were hungry and thirsty and the Egyptians were at their back and the Red Sea in front of them, their problem was that they had no present God.  He was the great “I was.”  And, maybe, He would be the great “I shall be.”  But, you see, faith is the confession of the great “I am.”  God is!

     With that declaration we close this year and enter into the coming year and, by faith, we declare that all that He ever was and shall be, He is now for us.  All may change in this coming year.  The greatest catastrophes may come upon us.  Great opposition to the church, sorrow and difficulty, but to the glory of God, God is.  God shall be and is now our refuge and strength.  You see, the doctrine of the immutability (the unchangeableness) of God is no theological abstraction.  It is a practical necessity in our life.  Repeatedly the Bible emphasizes that when we are being pressed and despairing and ready to be swallowed up, repeatedly the Scripture emphasizes the truth:  God abides the same.  Malachi 3:6, “For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.”  Do not allow anything to rob you of the confidence which you as a child of God may have as you come to the new year:  God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

     So the psalmist, having given to us the declaration of the reality of God, goes on to describe the wonderful relationship that God has towards His people in troublous times.  He does not say, “God is a refuge and strength.”  He says, “God is our refuge and strength.”  That is what He is to us — to us who, by His grace, have been brought to Him in a covenant of fellowship whereby we may call Him “Abba, Father,” my Father, a relationship that He sustains by His faithful grace.

     The psalmist does not intend to give a comprehensive and thorough treatment of God’s relationship to us.  From the Scriptures we know that His relationship to us is rich and full.  But the psalmist would rather give a description of those facets of God’s relationship to His people most necessary for us to remember in troublous times.  God is a present help in times of trouble.  You see, the psalmist is not thinking of God’s relationship to us in general, but in particular, in troublous times.

     The word “trouble” is very powerful here.  It is a word repeatedly used in Scripture to describe tribulation of the people of God.  Always the way of the child of God is trouble.  Do not be fooled by ease if you have it.  You must remember that ease is really not the reality of our existence.  Do not be fooled.  The Bible teaches us that when God’s people walk with God and when they serve God from their heart and confess Him, there will be trouble.

     This psalm is not meant to be dragged out just on special moments of great calamity.  No, this is the continuous situation of the people of God in this world.  So the Scriptures say, Psalm 50, “Call upon me in the day of trouble,” that is, every day, “and I will answer thee.”  Psalm 77:   “In the day of trouble I sought the Lord.”  What, just one day?  No.  All his life he sought the Lord.  Psalm 91:   “He shall call upon me and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble.”  Just a few times in his life?  No, every day, because every day, for the child of God, is a day of testing and trial and trouble.  If you think that you are going to be brought up into heaven all wrapped up like a Christmas package without any stress or struggle in your spiritual life, you do not know the Scriptures.  God says, “I will bring you through the fire, I will drag you through the rivers, I will subject you to troublous times.”  So much is trouble a part and parcel of the Christian life that the apostle John on the island of Patmos addresses the church in these words, “Your brother in tribulation.”  The vanity of this present life coming upon the child of God and the trials of faith, that will be the road that we follow in this year.

     But in the midst of that we confess that God is our refuge.  The word “refuge” is a safe and protective retreat.  It is a place of quietness and protection.  Again and again, and often in the prophecies of Isaiah, we have this holy imagery of God as a refuge, a fortified structure, a hiding-place in the rocks, into which we enter by faith and we are safe.  There is a gathering storm, there are icy winds blowing, there is bitter cold and piercing chill and strong foes.  But then there is a refuge, a warm, safe, and quiet place of protection.  God is our refuge.  The Almighty is our protector.

     And He is our strength.  The word is used broadly throughout the Old Testament.  It can refer to a stronghold.  But the word can also mean the ability to perform, strength to accomplish or do something.  That is the idea.  God is our power to perform, our ability to do.  As the apostle says inPhilippians 4, “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me.”  His strength, says Paul, funnels into me by faith.  He makes me strong unto every day and every task and every moment, in times of sunshine, but also darkness.  When I am spent, He is the One who strengthens me.

     Therefore, God is a very present help in trouble.  And that is wonderful.  In other words, the psalmist looks back on the past and he feels the intensified distress of the present and he says, “God has always given aid and assistance.  He has always given help.”

     When you cry for help, what are you asking for?  Are you asking for sympathy?  Are you asking for advice?  No!  You are asking for power, you are asking for aid.  Your child is drowning.  Help me!  He is looking to you for your strength.  In trouble, God has been thoroughly proven to be the strength and refuge of His people.  With swift and mighty movement of His grace He swoops down and sustains the faith that He has planted in our hearts.  Name the time, name the moment that He failed even one of the lowliest of His children.  Name the moment when God was not sufficient for the challenge.  You see, God is not a spectator to our troubles.  That is what many think that He is.  No, His promises are proven.  He never has forsaken, He never will forsake, and He cannot forsake those whom He has brought to trust in Him.  Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth be removed and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea, though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.

     Faith is not mindless of what may happen.  Faith is not a mere subjective feeling.  But faith is an understanding, and it has its formulas, just like there are mathematical formulas:  1 and 1 equals 2.  So God is, God is our refuge, therefore, will not we fear.  We will not jump at every shadow.  We will not be swallowed by every fear.  We will not be crippled in our walk.  We will not be driven into a corner.  We will not be seized by fear.  We will not fall apart at every drop in the stock market, every time things become a little uncertain in our lives, every time news comes of the forces of evil set against us.  We will say, “God is our refuge.”  And then we will not fear.  We will not be gripped by the fear of unbelief.  Fear!  That is all that the world can have apart from Jesus Christ.

     I have often thought that all the parties and all the debauchery of a New Year’s night are the expressions of horrible fear, a desperate attempt of man to get away from reality.  For if man would consider what the close of a year means, then he would not find a reason for merriment.  No, his merriment is a disguise.  He is running away from reality.  But he cannot do it.  Man is just like Belshazzar in the days of Daniel, who, when his kingdom was about to be destroyed, had a big party trying to escape reality.

     So, the Lord says concerning the end of the world and concerning those of unbelief ( Luke 21), men’s hearts failing them for fear and looking after those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.  But Jesus said, “Fear not ye.”

     The psalmist considers the most terrifying thing that could ever happen:  the destruction of the earth itself.  “Therefore, though the earth be removed and the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.”  Imagine that!  Mountains being cast into the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  Then he says, “Though the sea roar and be troubled and mountains shake with the swelling thereof.”  All of this refers to that which is most permanent in the world — the land, the sea, the mountains.  We walk on the land.  Generations have trod upon the same land.  We look to the mountains and they are stable.  We talk about the Atlantic and the Pacific, the Himalayans and the Andes.  These are permanent things.  But the psalmist is saying that if the most permanent of all things be destroyed and thrown into chaos, I will not fear.  Why?  Because not one thing of God has changed.  God is my God.  Let the mountains be cast into the sea.  Not simply a geological fault or earthquake, but let them be flung into the sea creating a tidal wave sweeping the continent.  Let skyscrapers topple over.  Let mighty waves dash against the shore and erode and crumple entire cities.  I will not fear.  God is still God, our God in Jesus Christ, the God who keeps the mountains standing and keeps the oceans full and keeps the ground under your feet.  He is the One who does all these things.  He is our refuge through Jesus Christ.

     Listen.  The time is coming when all of those things will happen, when earth will be removed and mountains shall be cast into the sea and waters shall rise up and the ground under your feet will be broken — the Old Year’s night of earth, when Jesus comes to judge the earth and make all things new.  Are you ready?  Are you ready now?  Repent and flee from your sins.

     May God make this our song tonight and may we sing it all the days of our life until our journey is complete:  God is our refuge and our strength, a helper ever near us.  We will not fear though earth be removed.  Our mighty God will hear us.  Hallelujah.

     Let us pray.

     Father, we thank Thee for Thy word.  Amen.