God’s good plans for us begin early. “A-n-t-a-g-o-n-i-s-t.” I spoke slowly, waiting until I heard Tammy murmur “Okay” then I continued even more slowly. “The person who opposes the protagonist”. I knew it would take her a while to write the definition. Whereas she wrote slowly, struggling to understand and take notes during the hour Mr. Porter devoted to literature, I wrote fast and also had an aptitude for English and writing. So, Tammy and I had talked an hour each afternoon while I filled in gaps in her notes, genuinely feeling, for once, admired by a classmate.
I wound the phone cord around my fingers as I watched as Mother peel potatoes at the sink, feeling privileged to sprawl on the green corduroy couch in the midst of supper preparations. Knowing she heard each word offended my fifth-grade independence, but a smile softened her features. My difficulty in making friends had begun even then and, reflecting back, I believe she smiled, even though she was doing without my potato-peeling, carrot-scraping, table-setting assistance, because I was talking on the phone with a friend.
In seventh grade, we changed teachers and classrooms for each subject, and I could no longer sustain the accidental friendships, like that with Tammy, that had blossomed from being with the same group of kids all day. No, by then, I considered myself a loner. However, compliments on my writing from Mrs. Loftin, the seventh- and eighth-grade English teacher, watered a heart thirsty for approval and self-esteem, feelings that seldom came from my more socially-adept peers who were busy cementing in-crowd friendships that would endure until and, for some of them, beyond high school .
Mr. Porter, Mrs. Loftin and other beloved teachers imparted good study, writing, and thinking skills as well as a love of learning. Those skills gave me confidence to seek out knowledge on my own which also brought joy and engendered a measure of confidence. That confidence that I could study and write and understand things all by myself sustained me through a painfully shy adolescence and young adulthood, all according to God’s purposes for my individual life, long before I gave Him my heart. (“But God shows and clearly proves His [own] love for us by the fact that while we were still sinners Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, died for us.” (Romans 5:8, AMPC).
“To each is given. . . “ (I Corinthians 12:7) Now, many years later, it is a pleasure to use those skills in Bible study. Often, when I study and outline a Bible passage, I see Mr. Porter, in the center of his classroom, perched against one of the student desks he had arranged in a what was then a most unconventional circle, or I see Ms. Loftin, silver-framed reading glasses dangling on a a beaded chain around her neck, ever-present sweater buttoned around her slim form, walking along rows of desks, handing out graded papers, our grade and her carefully-considered comments neatly written in red ink above our names.
How good God is to give each of us abilities so that we can find pleasure as we use them for His kingdom! Whatever gifts God has given you (Romans 12:6, I Peter 4:10), I pray you find joy in developing and using them for the Kingdom. As for me and my work for God, as I sit here, reading and re-reading Psalm 91, seeking to understand what God is saying, I am grateful once again for teachers who trained me to outline, to group together similar thoughts so as to grasp and find words for things implied but not stated.
“Line upon line, precept upon precept” (Isaiah 28:10) In the previous two blog posts about this treasured psalm, I said I believe the simplest outline and fundamental message of Psalm 91 is: if we make God our home and confidently trust Him, He will take care of us—no matter what!
While pondering Psalm 91 the last two weeks, in reading the whole psalm over and over, another outline that is instructive for me has emerged.
- V 1-2–If we make God our home, and confidently trust Him THEN
- V 3-4–He will deliver us and cover us, thus enabling us to find true refuge. THEN
- V 5-9–From our chosen position within that secret place:
> We will not fear (v. 5 and 6) and
> We will be protected (v. 7 and 8) AND
- V 9-13–As we obey and serve God, His angels will protect us and we will do exploits. (God repeats and explains the messages of verses 1 through 8 , giving details that reassure us.) AND
- V 14-16–Because we love God deeply and serve Him, He gives us a peaceful, victorious, overcoming, satisfying and long life.
Two HUGE promises for us from God about being in the secret place. In verses 5 and 6, God gives us two promises about what happens when we dwell habitually in the secret place:
We will not fear, and we will be protected.
In the secret place, we will not fear. “You shall not be afraid of the terror of the night, nor of the arrow (the evil plots and slanders of the wicked) that flies by day, nor of the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor of the destruction and sudden death that surprise and lay waste at noonday.[Then] . . . (verses 5 and 6)
In verses 5 and 6, God reassures us about things that might frighten us at night or by day and He uses the same pattern in verse 6, telling us we will not be afraid of any danger or destruction in darkness or at noonday. I believe that is another way of saying that He is keeping guard over us every moment, night and day. He is with us as He was with Abraham, and in Genesis 28:15 He promised Abraham “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land.” (NIV) This promise in the AMPC reads
“And behold, I am with you and will keep watch over you with care, take notice of) you wherever you may go and I will bring you back to this land, for I will not leave you until I have done all of which I have told you.” (AMPC
Notice: Notice God says wherever you go, He says He will watch over you with care, and He will notice you. What little child doesn’t say, “Watch me!” to Mama or Papa as they hang upside down on the monkey bars or ride a bike without training wheels for the first time.
Children who are afraid of the dark are comforted by the presence of their parents and often want Mama or Papa to lie down in bed with them and snuggled them close. They may know Papa is in the other room, but sometimes they need to be in his arms and to feel him next to them. Although we know God will protect us, sometimes we need extra awareness of that truth. God gives that to us here when He repeats His promises. Just knowing Papa will come if he cries out helps a child who is afraid of the dark settle down and go to sleep. Even so, just knowing that we have a place in God where fear will stop helps us calm down.
Life in this world overflows with potential woes and worries, like sickness, disease and hurt from others. However, if we love and obey God, He will work it all out for our good (Romans 8:28 and Genesis 50:20) and it will not harm us (John 16:33). When beset by fresh troubles, I am finding it powerful to repeat to myself, “God will keep me safe in the secret place as I seek Him. I will be at peace and will be protected from anything and everything.”
In the secret place, we will be protected. “A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand, but it shall not come near you. Only a spectator shall you be [yourself inaccessible in the secret place of the Most High] as you witness the reward of the wicked.” (verses 7 and 8)
If a place is secret, it means that the place is hidden from view, that it is inaccessible to others, and other people cannot find it. In the spiritual realm that must mean that the enemy of our souls cannot find where we are and cannot hurt us when we are in the secret place. It would be like a fawn, camouflaged by its coloring and the spots on its back, lying still and motionless, watching danger pass right by.
Two other psalms talk about God keeping us save in the shelter we create in our hearts when we are aware of His presence. Psalm 27:5 says, “For in the day of trouble He will hide me in His shelter; in the secret place of His tent will He hide me; He will set me high upon a rock.” (AMPC) Reading the entire psalm shows that the author, David, is dwelling in the secret place and he makes that his priority (verse 4)because he knows God will keep him “safe in His dwelling”. And where is God’s dwelling? That place in our hearts that we talked about in earlier blogs about Psalm 91.
And Psalm 31:20 explains “In the secret place of Your presence You hide them from the plots of men; You keep them secretly in Your pavilion from the strife of tongues.‘(AMPC) In Psalm 31, David is writing from the secret place. Notice he says “In You, O Lord, I have taken refuge. . . “ (Psalm 31:1, NIV) Throughout the psalm, David is asking for God’s mercy and talking with God about his troubles but David also repeatedly reassures his own soul that God IS his refuge and source of strength (verse 3), that God has not handed him over to his enemies (verse 8), that God has stored up abundant goodness for those who fear Him (verse 19), and that God will hide such a one and keep that one safe “in the shelter of His presence (verse 20). David ends this song of trust in God by recalling a time when God heard him in a seemingly impossible situation (verse 22). David concludes by affirming that “the LORD preserves the faithful.” (verse 23)
Keep seeking the One who loves you so! Beloved, if we run to the secret place and pour out our hearts to God, we will find peace and safety and fresh hope. The secret is dwelling in the secret place.
Keep seeking God! Keep pressing in and pressing on! As Paul said in Philippians 2:12-14, keep working out your own salvation, with deep reverence for God, knowing it is God who is working in you. And follow Paul’s example in Philippians 3:13-14–forget your past and “press on toward the goal to win the [supreme and heavenly] prize to which God in Christ is calling us upward.” The rewards of pursuing God are far greater than we can imagine! God urges us on when He says:
“. . . as the Scripture says, What eye has not seen and ear has not heard and has not entered into the heart of man [all that] God has prepared (made and keeps ready) for those who love Him, who hold Him in affectionate reverence, promptly obeying Him and gratefully recognizing the benefits He has bestowed]. Yet to us God has unveiled and revealed them by and through His Spirit, for the [Holy] Spirit searches diligently, exploring and examining everything, even sounding the profound and bottomless things of God [the divine counsels and things hidden and beyond man’s scrutiny]. (I Corinthians 2:9-10, AMPC)
Please reread this verse and notice how God describes the ones for whom He has prepared those things. He says those things we humans cannot even imagine are prepared for “those who love Him, who hold Him in affectionate reverence, promptly obeying Him and gratefully recognizing the benefits He has bestowed.” May we truly love our indescribable Lord that way!