GOD IS OUR REFUGE — Pete Bauer
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on August 21st, 2011. To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click on this link – Ps 46.
God is Our Refuge and Strength.
God is Our Refuge: This refrain is used three times in the Psalm. Most of the time we think of a refuge as a place – a safe place to go – a shelter. So what does the Psalmist mean when he says that God is our refuge? How is God a refuge?
We need a safe place to go when something terrible has happened, when we are overwhelmed by a situation, when we are afraid, because our health is failing, or water polluted with nuclear radiation is pouring into the sea, or millions of gallons of oil, or when we don’t know how we are going to make it financially, or when someone is trying to harm us, or our family or our business. When these things happen we need to feel safe. But what does safety look like in these situations?
When the world seems to be out of control and dangerous, we need someone to whom we can go who will assure us that there is hope and that we will be ok. We need a place where we can stop looking at what is awful and destructive and painful – where we can see what is good and peaceful and hopeful. God tells us that he is the one we can go to – the one who will tell us how everything is going to work out – whose hopeful words we can believe.
God is Our Strength: People talk all the time about God being their strength, but what do they mean? What does the Psalmist mean? How is God our strength? Sometimes people mean that God, somehow, is making them a strong person. However, this is contrary to Scripture where Paul says, “His strength is made perfect in weakness” – (2 Corinthians 12:9).
So what does it mean that God is our strength? The Psalmist is saying that God is strong, and God delivers us. God can heal our illnesses. God does not give us superpowers, God Himself is strong.. God can deliver us – God can give us calm or wisdom in a difficult situation – God can preserve us in danger – God can change our enemy’s heart.
God is Near: The psalmist tells us God is an always present help when we are in trouble. What do most people do when they are in trouble and they have no way out? They pray. Why, because, on some level we know that God is accessible through prayer – we actually believe that God is present, that he sees us and can act in our world to help us. This is what the psalmist says about God – God is near – God is accessible – God is responsive.
Therefore We Will Not Fear.
Everything I just said, you probably knew already. The sermon is not full of new information. The psalmist isn’t breaking new ground here. Actually, this Psalm is mostly about application – about putting what we know into practice. Look at where the psalmist goes in the next vs…
Therefore, We Will Not Fear! Pay attention and notice that he doesn’t say, “We will not ever be afraid”. Being afraid is part of human experience. But it is a different matter to say, “We will not fear”. In other words, we will not rehearse in our minds every horrible outcome of the things that make us afraid. We will not build up a situation in our mind to its worst outcome and dread that. Instead we will choose to look at our God and we will say things like, I am very afraid of this situation and what it may mean for my family, my health, my job – but God is wise enough and strong enough to care for me – and he is near – and I can tell him about this right now. He will hear me and he will help me because he is in control.
In other words, we will choose not to feed our fear and rehearse our fear – and we will learn to look at who God is and remember what he is like.
Even When The Worst Happens: “Even though the mountains may fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging”. For a Jew, the mountain is where God is worshipped – it was a place of strength. In the Ancient Near East, mountains were where the holy places were. So if the mountains were to fall into the heart of the sea, the Temple would be gone – the city of Jerusalem would be gone.
What would that mean? The psalmist is saying that even if it looks like God has abandoned us – or failed – I refuse to believe fear. Even if the things that make me feel safe and secure (the Temple) are utterly lost, I refuse to stop believing that God is strong – that God is in control – that God is near.
Because Our Hope Cannot Fail: The Psalm shifts direction in vs.4-5 for a moment and begins to talk about this idyllic river-city. The imagery is a picture of the Garden of Eden. The psalmist is drawing our attention to this hope that is waiting for those who belong to the Lord. There is something else! “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High lives. God is within her and she will not fail…” .
The Hope of Joy – Notice, there is a river that actually fills those who live in the city of God with joy. Why? The river is a picture of cleansing. This is a foreshadowing of the River of Life mentioned in Rev. 22:1-2. That river is for the cleansing of the nations – it washes away our sin, our sorrows, our scars, our enslavements. This is a river that makes us free in the presence of God. The presence of God is itself joyful.
This hope cannot fail because it is not subject to the brokenness and evil of this world. In fact, this hope is what we long for – a desire that makes worldly attachments and joys seem secondary. This doesn’t mean that we no longer care about what happens to us in this life, but it does mean that our hope should be bigger, greater than all that we hope for in this life.
Because God Is Overcoming the World: vs.6-9 get down to the relevant fears of the psalmist… warfare. He lived in a world where nations came to power and started to attack those around them. Warfare was a constant threat. How does he address this fear?
He looks at the fear that he is dealing with and he exercises his faith by thinking about how God is going to address the situation. He thinks about what God is doing – God’s plan for the nations. He thinks about God’s power – notice, all God needs to do is raise his voice (the voice that created all things), and wars cease – and warfare is no longer even possible.
He turns his fear into a faith statement – as though the issue were already settled. He doesn’t say – I hope God will do this – he says – “Come and see the works of the Lord…” as though God had already done it – as though the conflict were settled. He says, look what God is doing/ has done… “He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire”. This is a faith statement – it hasn’t already happened – but it is what God will do. He recites this. He wrote it down as a worship song for others to sing so that it would shape the way his community thought.
Be Still and Know That God Is!
So how do we address our fears? Not the usual denial that the worst can’t happen… but by slowing ourselves down and exercising our faith. So, two things…
Be Still in the Presence of God: The psalmist tells us to be still. Fear feeds on a restless mind. Fear is like a garden that we cultivate. We hear about a terrible event or someone else’s suffering – and a seed is planted. Then we water that seed with our imagination by developing the story, making it worse and worse. We grow our own fears until they are large enough to begin to dictate what we do and how we think.
But the psalmist tells us to be still… to stop and actually be physically still in the presence of God. This is the place he tells us to go – the refuge. In God’s presence we begin to consider how God has taken hold of our lives to be involved with us – to bring about blessing for us – to give meaning and glory to our lives – and not to abandon us and allow our fears to swallow us. God is our refuge where we can stop looking at the terrible and hear that we have hope and a future.
Know that God Will Be Exalted in Your Fears: The psalmist recognizes that God is going to be exalted – even though the nations are in turmoil. In other words, God is going to display his power and his goodness even in the fearful things that are happening – and ultimately bring the nations to peace.
How do we apply that same understanding to our lives? We have fears that we have grown in our lives. How does God want us to display his power and goodness in those fears? What would it mean for God to be exalted in your fears?
This morning God is calling us to come to him as a refuge… to be still and to know Him as the present, loving, active God. God is calling us to think about how he has promised to be exalted in our lives.