Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.” (Ps 91:1-2)
I have faced difficult times when my plans have unraveled and fallen apart around me. I remember one time I sat alone, feeling abandoned. Where was God, I wondered? I reached out in desperation but couldn't find him. The thought struck me that he had wandered away, that he didn't care about what I was facing. I wanted to pray but it seemed like a waste of time. It was easier to panic and try to regain control of the circumstances that confronted me or to pour myself a drink of something strong enough to take the edge off my anxiety. My mind was racing. I couldn't stop thinking and planning, afraid of what the future held.
It's tempting in those moments to treat God like a genie to call upon when things are desperate and you're at the end of your rope. You rub the bottle and hope for the best, but you don't really expect much. That's what prayer becomes when we treat God like a helper—a long-shot, at best. We want to hope for an answer, but we suspect it's an empty gesture and that we're ultimately on our own. We often blame God in those times, or, at least, consider him remote and uncaring.
Life is filled with difficulties, disappointments, and hardship. You might even face opposition—people who want to hurt or destroy you. It's only a matter of time until something goes wrong. When it does, it's hard to think clearly, and it's hard, in a time of desperation, to reach for a solution you've wandered away from. What I've learned is that I need to prepare for the next disaster by remaining close to the solution. It's never been the case that God hasn't cared for me or been willing to help. It's simply that I moved so far from him that I couldn't find him when I needed him most.
In Psalm 91, the author talks about the solution to our fear. It's not encouragement or forgetfulness, but dwelling in the presence of the one who is all-powerful and can save us from any harm or disaster. “If you say, 'The Lord is my refuge,' and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you” (Ps 91:9-10). God's not a genie; he's a fortress and a shelter. A fortress isn't something you call upon when you're desperate; a fortress is a place you go in order to be secure. A shelter is always there, ready to protect you. The question is not whether God has wandered from us but how far we have wandered from him.
One of the ways we wander is by refusing to live in a manner keeping with his holiness. He is a holy God, and cannot abide with sin. We create distance from him in order to indulge our needs and pursue our own selfish plans. You can enter into his presence with sin, but only if you're willing to let it go. The reason life comes crashing down is often that we've abandoned the guidance of his Spirit in the first place. If we don't want to be stranded and on our own, the way we can best prepare is to set aside our sinful plans and submit to his perfect will in all the encounters of life.
In v. 1 the author of the psalm writes, “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” There is very little peace out in the world, especially when disaster hits. But in the presence of God, there is rest. We have the calm assurance that the Creator of the universe loves us and won't leave us. He is our refuge against the worst that life can throw at us. If you pursue your sinful plans and dreams, you will find yourself stranded and at the mercy of life's hardships. You'll wonder what went wrong and desperately try to make things better. But if you rest in the shadow of the Almighty, you don't have to wonder about anything. You don't have to ask where God is or if he loves you. If you're resting in his shadow, you only need to look up.