GOD AS A REFUGE
A Sermon by Rev Frederick M ChapinOctober 16, 1994
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Ps 46:1)
Security is one of the most fundamental human needs. Everyone needs a safe place to turn to, especially during troublesome times. We must have security to be productive and useful. We all need some form of a dependable sanctuary, if we are to have the necessary security to lead a productive life. This safe and dependable need can come in the form of another person, like our spouse, family members, or close friends. It may be in a quiet place, like a walk in the desert. Whatever the form or manner, we need someone or somewhere to go to find renewal in facing our challenges and responsibilities.
In the forty-sixth Psalm, which we read for our first lesson, we see that God can be our refuge. The Lord can be our safest and most dependable sanctuary. The Hebrew word for refuge gives the message that the Lord can be our hope, trust, and shelter. The Lord is the source of our security and strength. Regardless of where or to whom we turn for encouragement, the Lord alone is the one that works through the means that brings us comfort.
Strength depends upon the feeling of security. When we have a dependable place to go to when difficulties arise, we are more self-confident in executing the tasks we are called upon to perform. When the Lord is in the center of our lives, we will sense His presence which will make us safe and strong in withstanding the attacks that evil spirits will wage against us. This is why the Psalm states that the Lord is a very present help in the time of trouble. The Lord comes forth when we are weak and vulnerable. The Lord is actually with us when we are attacked or in distress. He does not merely observe our difficulties. He is actually present with us in what we are going through, and leading us to safety.
The idea of the Lord being a refuge came from the concept of the cities of refuge in the Old Testament. When the Children of Israel first entered the land of Canaan, the Lord established six cities that were to be called cities of refuge. These cities were designated as a place that a person could go and find safety if someone was killed accidentally. If the person could flee to a city of refuge before the “avenger” (who usually was the closest relative of the slain person) could catch him, then that person would be safe from any harm. A trial was then held, and if the person was guilty of deliberate murder, that person would be put to death. If however, the person was found innocent by not intentionally killing another person, then he would be absolutely safe as long as he remained within the city of refuge.
These cities of refuge are wonderful images of how the Lord can be our personal refuge. When we are threatened to be overrun by the hells, we can turn and flee to the Lord, in Whom we find complete safety. No harm can come to us so long as we remain within the boundaries of the Lord’s commandments. This is a life that is in compliance with the Lord’s Word. One way we can regard the Word is that it establishes the boundaries that we are to live within in order to be under the Lord’s Divine protection. The Lord can be like a caring parent who a child turns to when he or she is hurt or saddened. It is quite common that when a child is upset or frightened, the child will immediately look for the mother or the father and run into their arms to find comfort. Usually, in a matter of minutes, the hurt is forgotten and the child resumes to play as if nothing had happened. The Lord can be the same source of comfort and support. We can always turn to Him and find comfort and renewed strength, so we can return to our tasks in the world.
We feel the most vulnerable when we are undergoing change. The challenges of going through a change are described in the Psalm as the “mountains shaking and the waters roaring”. While we are going through a change, we do not know for certain what the outcome will be. We then feel as if we are on a shaking mountain and on waters that are roaring. We are the most uncomfortable when we feel less in control of what may happen to us.
It is during these hard times that the Psalm continues to say that “there is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God”. This refers to the stability of truth. Truth never changes. The manner and the form in which it is presented may vary from generation to generation, but the basic message will always remain the same. The same pattern of living that gives us a refuge gave countless others throughout history the power to have victory over injustices and temptations. Likewise, we can be assured that as we face a difficulty, we have a stable force that can sustain us. The Lord has created each one of us to have His truth work in our lives. The more we apply truth in all our situations the more we are in the Lord’s city of refuge where we are safe and secure from our enemies.
If we are spiritually growing, it is inevitable that we will undergo a process of deep personal changes. We are in the process of changing our former loves into new heavenly loves from the Lord. Many of these times can be frightening. We are giving up that which we find enjoyment in and in which we identify our very humanity. We may sense that we are becoming a new person, and it may seem that we are not in control. However, if we remain in truth, we will be assured of victory in the end. Change can be very difficult to accept, even if we recognize the need for it. For example, we may recognize that we need to remove a bad habit. Yet, how often do we struggle to make the necessary changes despite the benefits that we may acknowledge at the end. All change is hard, and it is during these times that we need the Lord to be our refuge.
The most fundamental change that a spiritual person will constantly undergo is making the love of self serve the love to the Lord and to the neighbor. The removal of the love of self as our highest love is referred to in the Psalm as the mountains being in the sea. Our very person is being threatened and there will always be the temptation to do things our own way.
Yet, if we remain faithful to the truths that are revealed in the Lord’s Word, we will have a sense of the Lord’s continual presence in our lives. The “break of the dawn” will come, as the Psalm promises. The dawn breaks when we are able to recognize, from within, the Lord’s help. The Lord has always been there, but now His presence is more visible to us. We have emerged with the confidence that the Lord’s commandments are indeed the best way to handle any situation or difficulty. There are two basic commandments that embody the Lord’s truth: “to love the Lord with all our heart and to love our neighbor as ourselves.” If this is our fundamental approach in dealing with our personal challenges, we will eventually see the breaking of the dawn. We will recognize the Lord’s presence by enduring our turmoil. We endure our turmoil by never relinquishing our devotion to the Lord’s teachings in His Word.
When the dawn breaks, peace will come. The Psalm refers to peace as the Lord making wars to cease and in being exalted among the nations. The weapons that are waged against us now become useless. All they can do is afflict our externals, they can not touch our internal loves and principles. The Word teaches us how to have our internal loves of the Lord be more important than our external loves or needs. When this becomes the case in our lives we are in the most secure peace that we can possibly be in. It is not difficult to conceive that when internal principles of honoring the Lord is more important than our external pleasures and status, we will become a very secure and confident person. Job pictures such a person. His steadfast faith in the Lord allowed him to persevere all the heartaches and traumas he was called upon to endure. Likewise a person who has deeply held convictions that he or she will remain true to the Lord’s Word no matter what the obstacles, will sense many personal moments of being safe in the Lord’s hands. Such a person is described in the passage of the Arcana Coelestia, which we read for our third lesson,
…unruffled is their spirit whether they obtain of their
desire, or not; and they do not grieve over the loss of
them, being content with their lot. They know that for
those who trust in the Divine all things advance toward
a happy state to eternity, and that whatever befalls them
in time is still conducive thereto. (AC 8478)
When we are in this state, or this is the condition of our lives, we are at peace.
Finally, the Psalm concludes with astounding words that our lives can exalt the name of the Lord. When the Lord is our most fundamental refuge, our lives will be able to exalt His presence. Those that are around us will see the presence of the Lord in the conduct of our lives. And when our internal principles govern our external behaviors, we will exalt the name of the Lord. And when we value the internal condition of our lives as more vital than our external conditions, we will have more confidence and understanding in these words from the Lord, “My Father, Who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My hand” (Jn 10:29)