Read Psalm 28
What does it look like to find refuge in the Lord?
The Psalms repeatedly describe God as refuge, rock, shelter, fortress, shield and sanctuary. In my article on Psalm 34 we saw the psalm’s honest expectation of affliction, sorrow, and struggle and then we are invited to taste and see the goodness of the Lord. The question is how? Psalm 28 gets us started.
You don’t have because you don’t ask
Psalm 28, like many Psalms, begins with a cry for help.
“To you, O Lord, I call, My rock, be not deaf to me.
Lest, if you be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit.
Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, When I cry for you to help,
When I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary” (vs. 1-2).
Finding refuge begins with prayer. Prayer, by definition, requires humility. Prayer that is real prayer is the recognition that the circumstances of your life are often beyond you.
In times of flourishing the humble acknowledge all good gifts come from the Father of lights.
In times of suffering and sorrow the humble cry out in desperation because they recognize that they have very little control of anything.
When the Psalmist here describes the wicked (vs. 3) the overarching characteristic is this: “they do not regard the works of the Lord, or the work of his hands” (vs. 5). How many hours of the day, or days of the week, or weeks of the year do we go through life without regarding the works of the Lord?
Our prayer life reveals what we believe about God. The Psalmist here believes that if God won’t listen then he has no hope, nothing else provides security – “if you be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit” (vs. 1). Many of us have a tendency not to turn to the Lord in times of affliction but instead we become quick to question and blame. “Why me?” “Why this?” “Why didn’t you?” It is certainly true the Psalms often declare “How long?” But it seems to me that “how long?” comes from a different starting point than “How could you?” “How long?” comes from a perspective that recognizes God has made promises and God always keeps his promises. And so the cry “how long?” even in times of utter desperation (see Psalm 13) is still grounded in steadfast hope in the faithfulness of the Lord.
Give me an undivided heart
Martin Lloyd-Jones describes it this way:
“I commend to you the reading of biographies of men who have been used by God in the church throughout the centuries, especially in revival. And you will find this same holy boldness, this argumentation, this reasoning, this putting the case to God, pleading His own promises. Oh, that is the whole secret of prayer, I sometimes think.
Thomas Goodwin uses a wonderful term. He says, ‘Sue Him for it, sue Him for it.’ Do not leave Him alone. Pester Him, as it were, with His own promise. Quote the Scripture to Him. And, you know, God delights to hear us doing it, as a Father likes to see this element in His own child who has obviously been listening to what his Father has been saying.”
God promises to be our refuge. Sue him for it. Plead with him. God cannot tire of us coming to him to find rest because he knows nothing else will do.
In John 6 Jesus describes himself as the bread that God has sent from heaven and that in order to have life we must eat his flesh and drink his blood. This is symbolic language for sure, and yet it still requires radical commitment about who we believe Jesus is and so “many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (Jn. 6:66). Jesus then turns to his twelve disciples and says, “Are you going to leave too?” To which Peter famously responds: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn. 6:68).
To whom shall we go? That is ultimately the question. I realize this is simple stuff – if God is to be our refuge we must turn to Him. But do you?
One of the clearest signs of growing up in the faith is noticing how we handle life’s little slings and arrows. When you feel slighted at work, or ignored by people’s whose opinions matter most to you, or that sense of shame that comes when you feel most of your day was spent yelling at your kids, or everyone else seems to be more successful or more happy or more on top of things. Where do you go? Do you whittle away the day imagining better outcomes? Do you wallow in self-pity? Do you shut down?
Early on in ministry as a pastor I constructed a fairly ornate idol that was a mixture of outward success, arrogance in my own abilities and importance, the opinion of others, and false expectations that certainly didn’t match the reality of my circumstances. All in all, this was a fairly typical web of heart issues. It has taken years of God’s grace, a loving wife, good friends and deeper understanding of the gospel to untangle. But, here is what growing health looks like.
When a member would innocently mention that we needed a few more volunteers to help with a building project or the Sunday gathering was sparser than normal or I came home from another meeting that did not go well I would go through all the typical emotions – anger, frustration, anxiety, failure, questioning whether this was the right job, etc. But, instead of turning to the Lord for refuge I would typically spend time in self-pity, day dream about greener pastures, blame others, blame myself, write out resignation letters in my head and watch football for six hours straight. I was a bit self-absorbed to say the least. And then slowly but surely God disciplined me, usually gently, until I began to see this tangled mess. And over time one day I noticed that after a less than inspiring congregational meeting I went through all the typical emotions (frustration, anxiety, self-doubt) but that afternoon I opened up my Bible to read a Psalm, prayed, reminded myself of who God is, what he has done for me in Christ, who I am because of this and I realized that evening, “O, so that is what it means to find refuge in the Lord.” And in his mercy Jesus spared me and my family the bad fruit that used to come when I turned to other things. Self-absorption makes it impossible to love God and love others.
This is what it means to repent and believe – to turn from sin and turn to a gracious God. This is what Psalm 28 means when it says, “The Lord is my strength and my shield, in him my heart trusts, and I am helped” (28:7).
The Shepherd who carries his people forever
The beginning of finding refuge is turning to the Lord in prayer. And we turn to the Lord in prayer when we remember who God really is:
The LORD is the strength of his people;
He is the saving refuge of his anointed.
Oh, save your people and bless your heritage!
Be their shepherd and carry them forever. (vs. 8-9)
Jesus is the good Shepherd. He knows his sheep by name, he calls them and leads them (John 10:3). Thieves come only to steal and kill and destroy. He has come to give life. Like sheep we all turn away and stray. But the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). Turn to him. To whom else would we go?