The God Who Provides Refuge
The Reverend Bryn MacPhail / November 21, 2004
As we seek to wade through Psalm 31, I am going to propose a very simple outline. Keeping to our theme of God as our refuge, I would like us to ask, and seek to answer, three questions: When?, How?, and Why?
When is God our refuge? It can be said of God that He is, at all times, a rock, a fortress, a shield, and a place of refuge. But, as you read the Psalms, you find that the psalmists are not interested in merely naming God’s attributes.
The interest of David, and the other psalm writers, is that the God who is like a rock, would be their rock. Their interest is that God would exercise His protective powers on their behalf.
Certainly, this is our interest as well. As impressive a refuge as we imagine God to be, we want Him to be our refuge; we want to know that we can count on Him to help, and protect us in the day of trial.
Now, if we were to read, for example, Psalm 46, we might be tempted to conclude that such help and protection is automatic, but as we begin to survey some of the other Psalms, we soon see that for God to be our refuge there remains something for us to do.
When then, is God our refuge? God is our refuge when we call upon Him in faith.
The first clue, which suggests our involvement, is found in Psalm 31, verse 1, where David confesses: “In Thee, O Lord, I have taken refuge”. A few verses later, in verse 6, David says, “I trust in the Lord”. And, again, in verse 14, “But as for me, I trust in Thee, O Lord”. And, finally, in verse 23, as David closes this Psalm he declares that “the Lord preserves”—who?—“the Lord preserves the faithful”.
In some of the other Psalms, the notion that God becomes our refuge when we faithfully seek Him, becomes manifest when the alternatives are stated. We see this, for example, in Psalm 118, “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to trust in the Lord than to trust in princes” (Ps. 118:8, 9).
And, in Psalm 50, verse 15, we hear the summon from God to call upon Him for assistance. What we learn is that our entreaty is pivotal in securing God’s help and protection. The Lord says, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; (and) I shall rescue you, and you will glorify Me.”
In other words, if you would like the benefit of God being your refuge, you must pray.
The Bible explains that God has ordained prayer as one of the primary means by which He conveys blessings to His people. For this reason, it remains for God’s people to ask Him for help.
So, we ask God for help, we entreat the Lord to be our refuge, but how does the Lord answer such a prayer? How does God act, for us, as a refuge? If David’s petitions in Psalm 31 are any indicator, God becomes our refuge through acts of providence.
Look at the nature of David’s petitions; verse 4, “Thou wilt pull me out of the net which they have secretly laid for me”; verse 15, “My times are in Thy hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies, and from those who persecute me.”
Clearly, David is trusting in the Lord to assert His sovereignty in the midst of particular circumstances; David is trusting that “(the Lord’s) hand” will prevail over “the hand of (his) enemies”. The expectation is that God has the ability to intervene and to change David’s unfavourable circumstances into more favourable times.
Thankfully, there are occasions in our life when the Lord responds in this manner. There are times when God being our refuge does mean that we are rescued from adversity, and protected from harm. But this is not always the case.
If we limit our understanding of what it means for God to be our refuge to simply what we find in Psalm 31, we run the temptation of descending into a type of prosperity gospel. If we are to understand the wider scope of what it means for God to be our refuge, we must consult passages like Psalm 23, and Psalm 46.
In these two Psalms we learn that God being our refuge means obtaining freedom from fear and despair.
King David understands that God being his refuge does not mean exemption from trouble. David rightly understands that God being his refuge means that he will be sufficiently consoled in the midst of trouble. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4).
It’s not as if David expects every enemy to be eliminated, but rather, he expects that in the presence of his enemies a table will be set by his Lord; he expects that his cup will “runneth over” (23:5).
A similar perspective is given in Psalm 46. God is our refuge; our strength; our very present help; in the midst of trouble (46:1). “Therefore”, the psalmist writes, “we will not fear” (46:2).
To say that God is our refuge and strength then, is not to say that we will live a life free from pain. To say that God is our refuge and strength is to say that God’s presence and providence is a sufficient consolation in the midst of difficult circumstances. This is why we can say, "Therefore, we will not fear"(46:2). It's not that mountains being carried into the heart of the sea doesn't scare us, it's just that we understand that our ultimate prosperity—our heavenly prosperity—is never in jeopardy.
It is for this reason that Horatio Spafford can write a hymn like ‘It is Well’ in the midst of great personal tragedy. Having just lost all four of his daughters, Spafford penned the words:
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate, and has shed His own blood for my soul.
And finally, we move to the “why”—Why does God act as our refuge? Simply put, God is our refuge for His own glory.
David identifies this principle in Psalm 31, verse 3, “For Thou art my rock and my fortress; for Thy name’s sake Thou wilt lead me and guide me.” And, again, in Psalm 23, verse 3, David declares, “He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”
And, perhaps the most clear example of this principle is the verse we have already referenced; Psalm 50:15: “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; (and) I shall rescue you, and you will glorify Me.”
Now, when we assert that God acts as our refuge for His own glory, we should also note that we have not yet exhausted the answer to the question, ‘Why?’
Even in a brief survey of the Psalms, it is difficult to miss the notion that God delights in being our refuge. It is a wonderful, and encouraging truth, to learn that God derives pleasure from being pursued by us, as we seek to take refuge in Him.
It is important that we not treat God being our refuge as just another peg on His all-impressive resume. It is not as if the Bible is merely a brochure of the services God provides. When God presents Himself as our refuge He does not do so reluctantly; He does not do so because He is obligated to; God presents Himself to us as our refuge because it delights Him to do so.
Throughout the Psalms, the sense that God is eager to bless those who turn to Him is almost palpable. Listen again to what David says in Psalm 31:19, “How great is Thy goodness, which Thou has stored up for those who fear Thee, which Thou hast wrought for those who take refuge in Thee”.
And also, Psalm 147, verses 10 and 11, “(The Lord) does not delight in the strength of the horse; He takes no pleasure in the legs of man. The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His mercy.”
As I thought about the notion that our Heavenly Father takes pleasure in being our refuge, I thought a lot about what brings me the most pleasure as a parent. For my two year-old daughter I am able to do a number of things. By God’s grace, I am able to provide Anya with sufficient food to eat. I am able to buy her toys and books that please her. Virtually, every day, I am able to help her with tasks that would be too difficult for her to do on her own. But, as I considered what has brought me the most satisfaction as a parent thus far, I realized that it has been none of these things.
I don’t know if you will find it strange, or whether your experience as a parent has been the same, but the thing that has brought me the most pleasure as a parent have been those occasions when I have been able to rescue my daughter from anxiety and distress. What has brought me the most pleasure have been those times when I have been able to calm my daughter’s fears with a hug; a hug that communicated to her that she was safe and secure.
Anya is now at the stage where she has nightmares from time to time. I suspect that the sharks in “Finding Nemo” are too much for her to bear. She awakens in the middle of the night crying, and yelling, ‘Papa!’. And so I greet Anya in the hallway, I pick her up, and I hold her in my arms, and immediately, her crying stops. Her fear is gone, and she is practically asleep by the time I lay her head back down on her pillow.
I don’t know if good parenting requires that I be startled by my daughter screaming from a nightmare. But rather than respond to my daughter’s screaming with alarm, I head to the hallway with delight because I know that I possess the ability to allay her fears.
Beloved, the testimony of Scripture is that our Heavenly Father moves into our adversity with delight, because He possesses the ability to allay our fears.
Even more notably, our Heavenly Father intends on “causing all things to work together for (our) good” (Rom. 8:28).
You must not imagine that you can overcome the challenges of life by your own power and strength. As Charles Spurgeon has said, "If we look to ourselves for courage we shall fail in the hour of trial".
As Martin Luther has written in the hymn, "Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing".
We need something bigger than ourselves if we are to survive the day of trial. We need to seek out that Mighty Fortress. We need to retreat to that Great Refuge, that Bulwark never failing.
If we do this, the Lord promises to help us. If we pray for Divine assistance, we can count on God’s provision and promise: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness” (2Cor. 12:9).
Knowing that such a Great Refuge is available to you, why would you ever delay your prayer for help?
I implore you: Do not delay your prayer for help. Cry out to Him, “and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the Lord” (31:24).