(part 1 of 3)
Amid the global pandemic known as COVID-19, many are experiencing feelings of panic, anxiety, and fear. Often for Christians, these feelings are followed by feelings of guilt and shame – because after all, people of faith shouldn’t feel these things, right? Well, yes and no.
Panic, fear, and anxiety are actually a physiological manifestation of the “fight or flight” response happening in our brain. God created humans to have a natural “antenna” which goes up in the event a person feels threatened. This “antenna” is a release of a hormone called cortisol. This hormone comes from your adrenal glands (near the kidneys) and works with your brain to control mood, fear, etc. and motivates you to do what you should do next. Instead of being critical of ourselves, if you experience this “fight or flight” response to the current condition of our world, then you should be glad your body is working as it was intended!
Being physically, emotionally, or mentally unhealthy is whenever this “fight or flight” response becomes unreasonable. The manifestation of an unreasonable response is panic, fear, and anxiety. When this happens, Christians should look to the inspired revelation of God in His written word (the Bible) for comfort. My hope is that a deep dive into Psalm 91 will comfort your heart and calm your mind (as it does mine, nightly these days).
Have you ever been eligible to win a prize, only to learn you must be present to win? Over the years, I’ve had the privilege to play in fundraising golf tournaments. It never fails. When the organization or non-profit waits until the end of the day, after the round of golf, to share its vision and ask for support, there is hardly anyone who has stayed to listen. A wise tournament host will save door prizes and giveaways until after they share their vision and only if the golfer is present can he or she win.
The same is true of spiritual experiences as described in Psalm 91. In order to truly experience the blessing of God, one must be close with God. “He who dwells in the shelter…” This means, you should not dwell in the shelter of information or self-assurance. Being prepared is always a good idea. Being capable is admirable. However, it is incredibly easy to become overwhelmed by the news and all forms of media. It is arrogant to believe God is only there if you need Him. The person who will experience the blessings described in Psalm 91 must be a person who seeks God first, the person who casts his cares on God, and trusts the sayings of God – even in the face of upsetting information. What is your ratio of time spent consuming news media versus time spent meditating on Bible passages? Are you a Christian who wallows in information or who dwells in the presence of God’s revealed truth?
For a Christian to dwell in Christ, means he or she willfully gives up the attempt to work. In a similar way to dwell, Jesus describes abiding in Him as like a branch on a vine. We are the branch which grows from the vine. Not of its own doing does a branch grown. Instead, the branch of a tree must rely on the life-giving nutrients of the vine in order to bear fruit. A Christ-follower will never be able to experience the sweet taste of spiritual fruit whenever you attempt to do work that is only God’s to do. Are you feasting on the bitter fruits of uncertainty and anxiety? Abide in Christ and be blessed by His faithful fruit.
The responsibility of protecting, caring, and providing for yourself or your family is not yours to do alone. While you do have the opportunity to participate in these things, the role of the Christian is to dwell in Christ as He acts and supernaturally provides you with the wisdom and ability needed.
Often, we can make the Bible more difficult than it should be. For example, there is a very clear call to action here in verse two. “I will say to the Lord…” Many times, panic, fear, and anxiety can build up like steam under pressure. One of the healthiest ways to relieve anxiety is to worship God. This may mean singing songs out loud. Or it could mean reading scripture out loud. Men and women of strong faith throughout the Bible (Isaiah, David, Paul and Silas, etc. had a practice of verbally praising God. This exercise is not for the purpose of conjuring up an emotional experience; rather, it is the chance to physically express truth your mind may not mentally feel. Singing or speaking theological truth is a way of combatting feeling with facts.
Consider the word refuge. The basic definition of the word is, “a place that provides shelter or protection.” But how do we find refuge in a God we cannot see, touch, or hear? Our faith-based relationship is one which finds its refuge in the truth of who God is. In a time of panic, fear, and anxiety, your mind can find shelter and protection in God’s promises fulfilled. This includes the promises of God as fulfilled in scripture. Yet still, this could be looking back on your own life to see the ways and means by which God fulfilled His promises to you personally.
A fortress is a large, permanent fortification. These words about God are priceless during a uncertainty and anxiety. On days when it seems like information changes by the hour, Christians can find hope and comfort in a God who is unmoving. The trading floor of the NYSE seems like absolute pandemonium in these past few weeks. Our hearts and minds can feel the exact same way. The truth about God is that He is on His throne when we wake up at the beginning of the day and when we lay down at the end. No matter what news has broken or what the latest headline reads, our response can be that of the classic hymn, “there is no shadow of turning with Thee Thou changest not Thy compassions they fail not, as Thou hast been Thou forever will be.”
I can scarcely imagine a religion which boasts an impersonal, unreachable God. Nor do I want to imagine a world where there is no God and I am left to fend for myself. Thankfully, neither scenario is true about our God. This Old Testament us of repetition (creating emphasis) is of great comfort, “He…Himself…” Though God could send a thousand angels or deploy an army of celestial beings, He chooses to personally be present in our lives. He could give us the best of what He has or snap His fingers from His throne in heaven. But this would not be the personal God that He is. The Bible reminds us that He is not only Immanuel, God with us, at Christmas, but every day – and especially during our greatest needs.
A true sign of spiritual maturity is when a person realizes that they were never promised by God to be free from peril. In fact, the Bible teaches that though Jesus has overcome the world, we who are still in the world will experience the effects of sin. Just because you have needs or find yourself in a perilous situation does not mean God does not love you or care for you. The Bible promises that God will deliver you. This means you may find yourself in need of saving. You may find yourself in the midst of panic, fear, and anxiety. But there is hope. Though the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the sea, you will still be delivered. Though you fear, you will still be rescued.
If you grew up in Arkansas like I did you are no stranger to duck hunting. It’s an incredible season in the Natural State. More ducks are shot in the state of Arkansas each year than any other state in the Mississippi Flyway. Even if you are not a duck hunter, chances are you’ve seen an impressive mount on the way forever frozen into life-like position. A bird’s wing is an impressive piece of anatomy. Mother birds have the ability to completely cover their ducklings in the safety and protection of their wing. Each wing extends from the body of the bird to where the tip touches the ground. Shelter which actually draws the babies close to an intimate place, next to the mother’s warm body, next to her beating heart.
The imagery in verse four is no exception. Whenever God covers you, He draws you in close. He doesn’t leave you out on a limb or in risk of danger. His protection is not on-again, off-again. Psalm 89 tell us that’s God’s steadfast love and faithfulness are for all generations. And that this love goes before us. Psalm 139 is another beautiful reminder that He, “hems us in, behind and before.” If you are united in Christ by salvation, praise God His cover is over you when you don’t realize it and when you think about it least. But in anxious days, praise God His cover is over you when you cry out for it. And when you do, He draws you in, close to His heart.
In addition to the picture of a mother bird drawing a ducking into her chest, David creates a powerful image – that of a protective shield. Whether in grand, history changing wars or during wrestle-mania in the family living room, it is human nature to find something by which you can protect yourself. Psalm 91:4 comforts us by declaring our God’s faithfulness is a protective shield. It seems this faithfulness is two-fold. He is faithful to save anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord (Romans 10 – spiritual protection) and He is faithful to strengthen us in times of our weakness (2 Thessalonians 3 – physical protection). Neither our spiritual protection nor our physical protection is ours to uphold. Yes, our relationship with God is to be active and yes, our lives should be lived with active efforts for safety. But the scriptures teach it is not by our work that we are protected. It is by God’s faithfulness to us that we are secure. The question is, do you hide behind this shield? A shield is only good if you use it. King Saul tried to give David his shield before David’s battle with Goliath. But for the shepherd boy of faith, this was not the right shield. In the same way, is it possible you are trying to hide behind a shield that is something other than God’s faithfulness? Psalm 20:7 declares some trust in horses and some trust in chariots, rather than the name of God. During all of our days, but especially during a time of panic, anxiety, and fear, may we be found hidden behind the protective shield of God’s faithfulness. His spiritual and physical protection is unfailing.
*The scripture used for this series is the HCSB Digital Text Edition. I did not necessarily use this version intentionally, it was simply the version I happen to have on my Kindle.