Psalm 91, and let's read the whole Psalm together. As we read it let's think of our title: 'Getting through Life', let's keep that at the forefront of our mind as we read the words that the Psalmist has to say. Verse 1: "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust. Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee. Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked. Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet. Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name. He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him. With long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation".
In Job chapter 5 and verse 7 we read these words: "Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward". One of the greatest problems that we all face is suffering and trouble, and one of the truest statements ever made was that statement by Job. It is a problem that we all face now or, if not now, that we will face at some time. It is inevitable, it is as clear and plain as the law of gravity, that we will face trouble in this lifetime. But what perhaps is not so clear, and even not clear to some believers, is how we will face that problem, how we will face the trouble that we will enter into. The question begs, in the light of Scripture, in the light of this testimony that we are to have of the hope that is within us: how do we, as believers, get through life? How do we get through the trouble? How do we survive the perplexities, the illnesses, the mental and physical and spiritual trials that face us day by day?
Many believers are confused as to how to react to problems. What do we do? What do we seek when we are in problems? Do we seek, and is it right to seek, to be delivered out of our problems? Some go to the extreme lengths of a health and wealth gospel that says that not only are you to be delivered out of your problems, but if you're in problems you're not spiritual - and you've to seek a lifestyle that is rich and perfectly healthy, and if you don't have that you're not pleasing God in your life. They say you should never experience suffering!
Perhaps this confusion of how believers ought to react in the face of trouble explains the way believers, the differing ways, in which we do face problems. Perhaps the way we face trouble indicates something of our value system. Some people unconsciously seem to adhere to a philosophy that life is only going well, life is only full, life is only satisfying, when it's healthy and when it's prosperous. You may not sign the card of doctrinal faith of the health and wealth gospel, but perhaps in the deep subconscious of your mind you do believe that the only life that is worth living is a healthy life and a prosperous life - and, as the saying goes, health is wealth. Now, there is a great danger in that mindset - and we must be very cautious as we come to this subject of suffering.
First of all I want to say that I am not saying that God cannot deliver us out of problems and troubles, and illness and trials - I believe that our God is sovereign, our God is omnipotent, and our God can do anything! God can, and God does, heal - but is it our right to have God deliver us out of our problems? Ought we to ask God to just lift us out of everything that perplexes us and tries us? Yes, He can; yes, He often does - but the big question that, perhaps for many in this gathering today, that is flashing in our minds and in our hearts in fluorescent red lights is: what happens when He doesn't? For perhaps that is the majority of people - not everyone is healed, not everyone is lifted out of a troubling situation. Many people who come to God, and seek God to deliver them, seek God to heal them, are never delivered, are never healed.
So what we do? Do we just say: 'Well, this thing is a farce! This Christianity is counterfeit! Here we have a God who says: 'I'll deliver you, I'll look after you. The pestilence will not come near your door, it'll not touch you. This disease, this war, this famine, whatever it may be, won't come nigh thy dwelling' - and here I am sitting in my dwelling with a disease, with a pestilence - what's wrong?'? Does it not work? Perhaps we ask the question, rhetorically, of the Psalmist: 'Where is thy God?'.
Well, I believe what this Psalm says is simply - the tone right throughout it is: God delivers us in trouble - in trouble, not out of it. The thesis is in verses 1 to 4, that we looked at last week, if you dwell in the secret place of the Most High, if you abide under the shadow of the Almighty, if you put yourself under the wing - verse 4 - of God, under His wings, trusting, and under the shield and buckler of His truth, you can be sure that - even though you go through trouble - God is with you! That is the point: it is to know the presence of God through trouble. It is to know, yes, you will go through trouble, but that particular trouble need not go through you! The proposition that the Psalmist is making is this: dwell in God, trust in God, make God your habitation, make God your daily environment, the actual place that you dwell in - let God dwell in you, by His word in your heart, richly. If you walk in faith like this, it'll not matter what you face: you will be protected! In other words, the central idea is: God is with His trusting people. God is with us! If God is with us, and God is for us, and God is in us, what and who can be against us?
What an affirmation at the beginning of a week. What an affirmation when we know not what the next seven days will hold for us, and when we look back on the last seven days and many unpredictable things happened to us that were out of our mind - not out of the mind of God, but things that we could never conceive of. We know that in an hour our whole lives can be changed, and it's awful! If we have no faith in God we are of all men most miserable! But if we dwell in the secret place of the Most High, and if we concentrate on the great character of our God, and make God our dwelling place, we can know that we are protected - not by being lifted out of our problems, but this is greater, this is far greater than deliverance: this is being in the midst of all hell and knowing that God is with you!
So, I hope you see that we do not seek to be transported to a place where there is no suffering - but we actually go through all this life and this experience, and there is the ability, in the Lord Jesus Christ, to survive to the glory of God whose power and whose love can bring us through. That is how we get through life. The first thing I want to leave with you today, from verse 5 right through to verse 13, is: what we will be protected from. Let's look at this, for this is a mighty list of threats - 'Life's Threats', I've called it - the things that life can bring upon us. Look at them, verse 5 and 6: 'Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday'.
Now that's an amazing verse, verse 5: 'Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror'. Look at those two words for a moment: 'afraid for terror' - now that's illogical, isn't it? That is not reasonable, that does not fit in with our natural responses, that when you're in terror - in other words when you find yourself day-dreaming, walking across the road, and you turn around and you see a juggernaut coming towards you, the terror in you makes you afraid and the fear takes you off the road as quick as you can. It's natural, it's our natural response mechanisms - but here we have something not natural, but something spiritual. For the Psalmist says: 'You shall not be afraid for the terror' - very strange, isn't it? I'll tell you, it's very strange in a world that is wrecked with fear, in a church that is absolutely saturated in anxiety and fear, and anxiousness and nervousness of every conceivable kind - yet God is saying: 'In the midst of terror I am ordering you not to be afraid'!
Now why, how on earth can that be possible? This is how it is possible: God is with you, why do you need to be afraid? God is there, and there is no terror that can overtake God - and if you're going through this terrible, terrible thing you ought not to be afraid because God is with you! Yes, you're going through this thing - but the implication is that you ought not to be touched by the fear of it. In Isaiah chapter 43 and verse 2 you find that sentiment in these verses, listen to this: 'When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee'. When you go through, not when you get lifted out you'll not be burnt, not when you get saved by the lifeguard, spiritually speaking, you'll not drown - no! As you actually go through this terrible thing, God will save you in the midst of it.
Are we not told that no weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper? That's a wonderful truth, isn't it? It doesn't say that there'll be no weapon used against us - the weapon used against us will be used, and he will do all in his power as the enemy to use it and use it well, but if we're trusting under the wing of God it shall not prosper! That attitude is embodied by the prophet Habakkuk in chapter 3 and verses 17 and 18, and this is wonderful - how you can take this way of life, this way of thinking, and attitude of heart, and actually personify it in a day by day walk! That's what matters, can you actually channel these thoughts, this philosophy of life, into reality? Does it work, can it work in a world like ours? Well, listen to this: 'Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation'. Now, that is illogical, it is nonsensical, in fact to the world it is absolute idiocy and foolishness - but the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men!
Here you have it: it's not deliverance out of, but it's deliverance in the midst of. What am I talking about? I'm talking about Daniel, look at him being lowered into a den of lions - and what did God do? Did God send lightning down from heaven and burn up, did He fry the lions for Daniel? No. Did He open a trap door in the bottom of the den and let them drop out? No, He didn't. He didn't remove the lions, and in fact Daniel had to go through the lions - but what He did remove was their bite! Do you see it? The three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace, did God deliver them miraculously in the last microsecond just before they went into the fiery furnace? No, He didn't. God let them - yea, in His sovereignty I would say made them - go through the fiery furnace, but what could it not do? Burn them!
Do you see this? To actually go through something like this, something terrible, yet not be afraid - why? Because you're dwelling under the wing, under the shield of God. Now let's be practical about this, verse 6, for the Psalmist actually outlines specific things that we will or may go through. 'The terror by night', verse 5, 'nor for the arrow that flieth by day; nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor the destruction that wasteth in noonday'. So, you have two scenarios there: something that comes in the nighttime, and something that comes in the daytime. There is something that walks in darkness, and there is something that wastes at noonday.
Now, look at the walking in darkness, look at that for a moment. Something in darkness, it is shrouded in mystery - do you know what I believe the Spirit of God is saying here? That this thing in the darkness is shrouded in mystery with regards to its cause and regards to its cure. It's coming in the darkness, it's like a stranger stabbing in the night. You don't know where it's coming from and you can't do anything about it, it has just walked into your life out of darkness and has shrouded you in darkness! What am I talking about? Well, let's be brutally realistic here: men have been studying cancer for decades now, millions upon millions of pounds have been poured into it, and they still don't know what is causing it and they still don't know what to do to cure it. Maybe you're walking through that darkness, isn't it wonderful to know that God is sufficient for cancer? Isn't it? Something shrouded in mystery, something that hits and walks through the richest house, the richest palace, and the poorest shambles in the world - yet God, our God, is able for these things! Foot and mouth [disease] - it's been away from the Sixties, and all of a sudden it just appears out of nowhere. It can be carried in your nostrils, it can be blown across the ocean, no-one knows the cause of it, and farmers today and the government doesn't know the cure of it - yet God is sufficient for these things!
There are things that walk in darkness, but there are things that waste at noonday. Do you know what I believe he's saying here? In noonday you can see things, and there are things that enter into our lives and we know the cause of it, we know where they've come from, we know who has brought them, we know all the reasons about them - we maybe even know the cure - but yet we're still going through them. We can't understand how a certain person could do this certain thing to us, how this thing that we've always protected ourselves against could come. In an Old Testament context it could be famine: you know where it's come from, it's come from a lack of rain; you know the cure, you need rain - but the cure's not coming! It could be war in an Old Testament context: you know where it's coming from, it's coming from hate, but yet there's nothing can be done about it.
Whether it is this walking in darkness, a mysterious thing that has come upon your life, or it is this wasting day by day, moment by moment, at noonday - you know where it's coming from, you know how it can be fixed, but it just won't go away - listen! You can be protected by God in that thing! The puritan preachers, I am led to believe, during the plagues of London, when no-one else was doing it, came out of their hiding place to preach mercy and to preach judgement to the dying. You might say: 'Well, they believed they would be free from this thing, didn't they?' - no they didn't! They didn't believe that, they're not foolish enough to believe that they could walk through the plagues and the dirt and not get all those diseases, just like any human being. They were human beings too! But I'll tell you what they did believe: that the worst thing that could happen them was that they contracted the disease, they died, and they went to glory to be with Christ which is far better.
You see? Do you see that eternal perspective? That is what the Psalmist has! He is not looking at temporal things, he is looking at the eternal - and he's looking that the worst thing that can happen to me can never ever destroy my soul. That is why our Lord said: 'Do not fear him that can kill the body, do not fear the disease that can kill the body, do not fear the men who can kill your body - but fear God, who can destroy both body and soul in hell'. The antithesis of that for a believer is this: we ought not - now, I'm not saying I don't fear anything, I fear everything, that's my problem, but I am ministering to myself as I look into this. This is awesome, this is the faith that a believer can have - why? Because his God is so great that He's not just able outside of a problem, but He's able right in the bowels of a problem!
Though cancer may eat your flesh, it cannot eat your soul. Though Alzheimer's may make you forget, God will never forget you. Isn't that where it's at? Isn't it? Not running around healing everybody, that's not where it's at - that is a consumer Christianity. Do you know what that does? It robs some of the richest blessings from the theology of suffering that you find in the word of God. These men are thieves of God's blessings!
In verse 7 he says: '[Because of this] a thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee'. You know, it doesn't say 'a thousand', because it's not a number that's there really in the Hebrew, it's an expression for infinity - but the translators just put down 'a thousand' to give us a concept of what he's talking about. It's really a myriad, a large number that no-one can number, will fall at your side. What does he mean? One commentator put it like this: 'Those that preserve their purity in times of general corruption, may trust God with their safety in times of general desolation'. What does that mean? If you're not just running to God when you get into trouble, but running to God everyday, when the trouble comes you may go through the fires, the awful fires of purification, but God will be with you. Isn't that amazing?
Like Noah, it says in the book of Genesis that Noah was perfect in his generation, do you know what that means? Literally in the Hebrew 'he was without blemish', in other words when all the rest of humanity was corrupting themselves with one another, this man Noah found grace in the eyes of God because he wouldn't be blemished by it - and when the flood came, who was in the Ark? No wonder Martin Luther - and remember he had all of the Roman Catholic Church, and all its hordes of hell against him, and he had the majority of Europe at his back ready for his blood - yet he could write:' Though they kill, God's truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever'. Do we really live like that? Do we really live in the light of eternity? Do we really live as the hymn writer says:
'Our God His chosen people saves,
Amongst the dead, amidst the graves'?
Do we believe that? That though millions around us are falling by our side, like the rebellion of Korah. Remember he kindled strange fire unto the Lord? You remember he was trying to take over from Aaron and from Moses? The Lord opened the ground and swallowed them into the very depths of hell, and then a crowd followed - they didn't see the foolishness of their ways, and walked in their ways the very next day. It says that that great company, from the periphery of that company, started to fall with the plague one by one by one. Imagine if you were in the middle, and all you could see was the heads falling one by one by one! Then Aaron and Moses came before the Lord, and they bowed to the ground and cried - and the plague stopped! Now you imagine, for one moment, that you are standing there and there's dead before you, and living behind you. That would fairly bring it home, wouldn't it? 'A thousand may fall at your side, but it shall not come nigh thee'.
Imagine the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, and Egypt behind them, they're going through the middle and they get to the shore. It seems that the chariots - remember they weren't in chariots - are gaining ground on them and they fear for their lives. Let's put this into reality: they fear for their children and their grandchildren. There they are, and God closes the clefts of the sea and drowns them! 'A thousand shall fall at thy side, but this will not come nigh thee', verse 8, 'only with your eyes you'll see it'. You mightn't see deliverance out of it, but God promises, my friend, if you trust Him you can see deliverance in it. The righteous are saved from disaster, they are made to be only spectators, they're made to see their deliverance in the midst of a situation. Your own safety, your own complete security, the perfect justice of God in the very midst of a terrible situation, that enables you not to fear.
Then in verse 9 to 12 the Psalmist reflects as if to make sure that in the midst of all these promises of how God will protect you right in the middle of trouble, just in case you forget that there is a condition. That condition of all these promises is verse 1 to 4, and he reminds us in verse 9: 'Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation'. Now I'm not talking about eternal salvation here, don't get this into your head. I am talking about your heart, day by day, not being touched by fear, not being touched by anxiety and the stresses and strains and nervous complaints of life - that's what I'm talking about. Let me say from the word of God that if you are not dwelling under the shadow of the Almighty, if you are not under His wings, if you're not making the Most High God our refuge your habitation, don't think you'll be protected in trouble - don't think it!
This is how the Christian stands firm. This is how, when the world goes to pieces, the Christian can stand - and just as we've been studying in Ephesians chapter 6, when all the smoke and the blood and the stench of battle drops, he is left standing. I'll finish with verse 10, there is much more to go on with but we'll take it into next week again. He says: 'There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling'. 'No evil befall thee' - does that not say that it won't touch you? Does that not say that you'll not go through these things? No, it doesn't. If you look down at verse 15: 'He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble'. The inference is 'I will deliver him in trouble' - so you're in the trouble, but the evil thing shall not touch you.
What the Psalmist is talking about here is not safety in a safe world. You hear some Christians, and you would think that they were walking around in this little cocoon of safety and nothing could touch them, nothing could come near them, and everywhere they move they just push all troubles and trials away from their presence. It's not like that! 'As you go through the waters I will be with you', that's the sense of the Psalm. Not safety in a safe world, but what it does mean - it's not no afflictions, but no evil! No evil shall befall thee! If afflictions touch the flesh, evil touches the spirit.
Isn't this wonderful? The miracle of it all is: it's at your very door. 'No evil...shall come nigh thy dwelling'. As we close let's, for one moment, make this very practical. This is something that is real for 21st century living. It is real for your dwelling, your home - yes, home! When you go home now, and you get the Sunday dinner, and all the facade of your Christianity falls, and you go into real life with the children, and you go into real life with the pressures of family members, and all the trials and illnesses that you face - when you go home right now, this promise, this protection of God can be with you in your home! Isn't that wonderful? In your workplace, in your environment - see where they're all swearing, the dirty jokes, all the things that you have to put up with, all the double-dealing, the ducking and diving, all the pushing of the rules to the furthest extreme - in the midst of that, and you're suffering, perhaps, because you're taking your stand for God, God can be with you in that! Don't look for Him to lift you out! It is greater glory for Him if you stay in it and stand in it!
It's official, it's personal, and it's constant - He shall give thee protection over thee in all thy ways. Let's bow our heads, and there are no exceptions here today to trouble, problems. If we are not facing them red hot now, we will some time. So it's not a question of whether it will happen, but how we will face it when it does happen. Will you trust Him? I'm not asking you not to cry, the Psalmist isn't asking you not to be heartbroken - he's not asking for those things. He's not asking for the stiff upper stoic lip, that's not what he's saying. He's saying this: 'Trust Me in it, and the damage that comes to people that don't trust in Me will not come to you. You'll have pain, you'll have heartache, you'll have hurt - but I will see you through. I will be there with you, if you put Me as your habitation'. Do you know what that word 'habitation' means? 'To lodge in' - an overnight stay, in other words just resting in God. Now, please, while we're in the quietness step into faith with God and take Him as your habitation.
Father, we pray that You will help all of us to trust You. Lord, it is so hard - the terrors are terrible, but yet it is possible to not be afraid if we're resting under Thy shadow, and under Thy wing. Lord, none of us could claim to have totally attained any of this, but we long to know more for one reason - not that we get an easy ride, for we know that we will go through the waters, we will go through the fire - but what we long for is that in the very worst of our times, that Thy great name may be glorified, that people may look at our broken lives and say: 'God has brought him or her through'. So help us Lord, Amen.
Don't miss Part 3 of 'The Only Safe Place': “God's Guardians And Guarantees”
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the second tape in his 'Psalm 91' series, titled "Getting Through Life" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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