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By Mark Chen

Preached at / Published YAF Retreat, 2004-11-27

Text: Psalm 91

We saw previously how God by nature is a caring God. And this is because he is the creator of all things, and hence the possessor of all things, with the power to provide for all, because he is the lover of all. Furthermore, he is a refuge, a fortress, and a shadow from which believers may seek comfort. He is able to deliver and will deliver us in trouble, he covers us, and assures us with his truth. And because of these things, the saint of God, the child of God really has nothing to fear. 

Hence, he would be fearless at the expected troubles - he knows what is ahead even though he may not know what to do; he would be fearless at the unexpected troubles. And the saint can be fearless even when all around him there is destruction and danger. A thousand on his side, and a lot a lot more on his right hand. Because he knows that the Lord will lead him in his troubles. His word of truth is his assurance. Also he has a confident hope. The reign of trouble and those who cause trouble will not be forever. It is temporary, and the wicked will have their reward. 

Jonathan Edwards said, "God's people, whenever they are scorched by afflictions as by hot sun-beams, may resort to him, who is as a shadow of a great rock, and be effectually sheltered, and sweetly refreshed." But in order to have any comfort, to experience any of these things, his people must go to him.

These truths, however, are often times hard to translate from mere head knowledge to heart knowledge. And hence we must learn to live in the spirit of this Psalm. But that takes action and obedience on our part.

In order to have this comfort, we must decide that we want it. We must do that which is necessary to obtain it. Now, this comfort from restlessness and troubles, this confidence; they are not just for anyone. They are reserved for the believer who sets his will on God - to make that decision for God. 

Comfort Comes by Dwelling

"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." Psalm 91:9-10

This divine comfort is reserved for those who dwell in him. And to make God one's habitation (verse 9) is really to dwell in the secret place of the Most High (verse 1). This tells us something very important. The rest in God is only meant for those who firstly make God their habitation - for those who dwell in him. To dwell and to abide really mean to live, to stay, to linger, to revel, to enjoy, to rest, to sit down. Many people in biblical times were nomads. They would pitch their tent in a certain place, but will not stay there for long. They would have to move to greener pastures, on which their flock would graze. There weren't many places where they could settle, and many places which were lush and green would have already been settled into. And hence finding a spot in an oasis where one could permanently pitch one's tent gives the sense of the word 'dwell.' 

And the place we are to dwell in is the secret place. And this reminds of the Tabernacle and the Holy of Holies. The secret place refers to the awesome intimate presence of God that was found in the Holy of Holies. They were to look to him and rely on him; but how could they come into his presence and live? How could they behold the glory of God and not be utterly consumed? 

In the Old Testament church, God made a way, where once a year, the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies with the blood of the sin-offering and sprinkle it on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant. And he would represent all the people and atone for all their sins. And all the people found entrance into this secret place, this Holy place through the high priest. But he could only stay shortly. 

But in the New Testament age, we look to Jesus to depend on him for our salvation. He has entered into the Holy of Holies with the blood of the sin-offering, not of animals, but of himself - his precious blood. And we are commanded to dwell in Christ, to make him our habitation. The primary step to ever experiencing all that God wants us to have, is to firstly be saved. Without salvation, there is no hope.

And hence, to dwell in that secret place, to make God our habitation is to live and to finally be at home under that wondrous shadow of Christ, eating the fruit from the tree of life. To be marvelously saved. But more than just being saved, we must make the Lord our refuge if we are to have comfort. Indeed, the first step is salvation, but special benefits await those who walk closely with God -to make him their refuge. 

Comfort Comes by Obeying

"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." Psalm 91:11-12

And God does not leave us helpless as we look to him. He grants us help, and we need to accept his help in order to obtain this comfort. We are told he sends unto us angels to protect us. But on a less mystical note, God also sends other agents our way. His messengers - his ministers. They tell us how to live according to God's Word. And the instruction taught, and the admonition given are words of much wisdom. And to reject the knowledge that is brought forth by them, provided the knowledge is in truth biblical, is to leave ourselves open for danger. Indeed, the Word of God is to cause us to walk circumspectly. This is what we are told in Ephesians 5:15 - that we ought to walk circumspectly not as fools but as wise. The word 'circumspect' means to look around and to keep ourselves within a certain area. The sense of this is given in our passage. God sends his angels, his ministers, his messengers unto us, that they might keep us in all our ways. Keep means to hedge, to keep us within a certain area. 

The Word of God tells us the way of wisdom. It tells us where we should tread and where we ought not to. The Word of God tells us to separate from evil and from wickedness. But when we refuse to do so, to submit to the teachings thereof, we lead ourselves into danger. We are told, are we not, week after week in our Sabbath worship, to follow Christ and to seek his kingdom and his righteousness. But yet we seek vocational success. We are told to remain content with whatsoever he has given unto us. But yet we seek to hoard more and more. We are told by God's ministers to be devotionally obedient to his Word. But yet we reject the admonition over and over again. The hedge that God so lovingly sets before us for our good that we might remain safe, we so haughtily ignore. Ultimately the reason why we refuse help, or rather why we reject help is because of the self. 

It is the self that refuses to obey. It is the self that desires to feed its lusts than to continue the work of sanctification. But with obedience comes comfort and care.

Hence to experience this care, we need salvation - to dwell in him, we need to walk close to God, and we need to accept the help he so readily offers by obeying. But above all here, to the Christian, the hardest thing to do, in my opinion, is to exercise faith. 

Comfort Comes by Exercising Faith

"Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet." Psalm 91:13

After being saved, walking close to God, believing his word and being obedient to him, trusting in his promise that he will be unto you a refuge and fortress, the next thing to do is really to exercise your faith and go through your trials; to face your difficulties with a renewed vigour. It is not the time to shrink away. God gives us refuge but he also gives us a renewed spirit - we are to be overcomers - we have victory in Christ. Armed with the knowledge of this, the Christian should with confidence be able to tread on and over anything. 

Here we see two categories of danger. The first one is only menacing - it seems dangerous but if we know what to do, we can avoid the danger. The second one is malicious - we need great wisdom as to how we may overcome them. The lion that we see here is a roaring lion. That is the sense we get from the Hebrew word. It is perhaps past its prime and can only appear to be ferocious through its roar. The adder is a curled up snake, ready to strike. It hasn't struck yet and although the danger is imminent, it hasn't come. And so, we exercise faith in times like these, where the degree of danger although real, is still only a threat. We face such fears with courage, clad in our buckler, with our armour, we move forward walking over them, knowing that God is with us. 

The young lion is a lion with a full grown mane - representing a lion at its prime, a cunning hunter which is powerful and deadly. He makes no sound, he stealthily moves in on his prey. The dragon is a deadly and poisonous serpent - a sea monster, as some commentaries have it. Both of these animals are deadly and dangerous - far more than the lion or the adder. But even the Christian here is able to trample them underfoot - he is able to traverse through them. 

You see, if you have appropriated this Psalm and believe it, once you walk closely with the Lord and have much wisdom in you, there won't be anything you can't face with his help. That is victory. Spurgeon said it remarkably when he asserted, "Give me the support of God, and I can easily bear the insults of men. Let me lay my head on the chest of Jesus, and I will not fear the interruptions of care and trouble. If my God will forever give me the light of His smile, and a glimpse of His blessing - it is enough. Come on enemies, persecutors, demons, yes, the Devil himself, for 'the Lord God is my sun and shield.- Gather, you clouds, and surround me, I carry a Sun within me; blow, wind of the frozen north, I have a fire of living coal within me; yes, death, kill me, but I have another life - a life in the light of God's countenance." When we set our will on him, and obey, we will live like a Christian in full-blossomed victory. 

Comfort Comes with Love

"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 honor him. With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation." Psalm 91:14-16

But the truth of the matter is this - how many of us can truly say that we have often had this experience of victory? What kind of life does the average Christian live in the world today? I dare say it is a life that experiences little victory. The truth about our experience is that we fail to live at the level of holiness that we know is fitting for a follower of Christ - we do not set our will on him. And that is why we don't frequently experience such victory. I dare say that many of us are living in or at one point or another have lived in a state of perpetual limbo -never fully grasping true joy and victory in our Christian lives; but yet never falling so low. We know that victory is within our grasp - that true exuberant Christian living is accessible, but we do not experience it.

What a horrible Christian life to live. It is a life without victory because it is a life without decision. But at the same time, it is a life without affection either. Where is our passion for Christ? Hence, it is a love for Christ that is vitally important. We must delight in him.

"To set [our] love", is not the usual Hebrew word for love. It is a different word and has more meaning than just the affection. It is a picture word. It literally means to hold close. You see a child who had been separated from his father for a long time, afraid for his life in a crowded place, not knowing where his dear father was. And once he finds him, he rushes to him and immediately grips hold of him, with a grip that will never let go. And the father too, who loves his son, grips him close, so much so that the onlooker doesn't know who is holding on to whom tighter. This is the kind of affection we must have.

But how do we delight in him? How do we gain this kind of affection? There is no other profound answer than to spend times devoted to knowing Christ through the Scripture and prayer. Simple. Meditate more on him. Think more about his death. Bring our minds into a deeper study of what he has done for us. That is why we have the Lord's Supper - it is not an ordinance we do for fun - it has a very deep result on our soul if we do it correctly. We remember Christ crucified. 

You will never love Christ more, if you do not know about him. That is what we must do - study the Lord Jesus to love him more, to delight in him. This, along with obedience, the exercise of faith, and the trusting of God, brings comfort to the saint. 

True experiential comfort comes only by this manner - a trust in God that he is a caring God who will deliver us - this ought to cause us to trust in him and to be fearless despite the circumstances, knowing that the evil will not always reign. But this quiet confidence comes not by knowledge alone of what God can do; it comes to the Christian who walks closely to God, who obeys him, and exercises his faith. And it comes to the Christian who loves him and is wholly satisfied in him.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25