“In The Shadow Of The Almighty” Psalm 91 March 13, 2011
SI: Please open your Bibles to Psalm 91.
Charles Spurgeon said about Psalm 91:
“In the whole collection there is not a more cheering psalm.”
If you can take this Psalm into your soul, it will cheer you so much,
that nothing can pull you down for very long.
INTRO: Have you ever had anybody cover for you?
You were in a fix and somebody stepped in at just the right time.
People can cover for you in all sorts of ways.
When I was a boy, I was very scared of dogs.
Those of you my age and older remember that in the days before leash laws,
dogs would lurk in front yards and chase cars and boys on bicycles.
I planned my bike route through the neighborhood
based on where I knew certain dogs lived.
One time I was riding bikes with a friend of mine.
He said, Come on, let’s go this way.
I said, No. I’m scared of the black dog that lives on that block.
This friend of mine was what my mother called a husky boy.
That was a polite way of saying he was about three times bigger than me.
He said: Listen, the last time that dog chased me, I kicked it so hard in the ribs
it ran off and hid in the garage. It won’t bother us, I promise. You follow me.
With complete confidence I peddled behind my husky friend—
and sure enough, when the dog saw his bike it stayed in the garage.
People can cover for you for small things—your lunch bill, your phone at work.
They can cover for you in huge things. How many times have you watched
a war movie and one soldier shouts to another—Cover me.
And one sprays the enemy with his machine gun and draws the hostile fire—
so that his buddy can sprint across the open ground.
When you know that someone is covering you how does that affect your spirit?
How does that change your experience of the situation?
It takes away your worry. It gives you a sense of security. It makes you grateful.
You’re able to move ahead in life and do what you have to do.
Psalm 91 is about God covering for us and it’s about our experience of his covering.
It’s about the security, gratitude, and freedom from fear that a believer in
Christ can have when he or she really knows that the Lord is there for him.
Look again at verse one, it’s the theme of the Psalm.
Remember speech class in high school, the three basic rules for writing a speech—
Tell them what you’re going to tell them.
Tell them what you told them.
Verse one is “Tell them what you’re going to tell them.”
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High . . .”
That word the New International Version translates “shelter” in the King James
is “secret place.” Can also be translated hidden place or covered place.
Here’s the idea of being covered in the first theme verse.
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
“will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”
Rest in the sense of calm, security, confidence.
This is a song about the total security and rest that you can have in Christ.
Psalm 91 is not about this or that detail, or this or that specific problem.
It’s about the whole of the Christian life.
And how the Lord’s promises apply to the whole course of your life.
There are so many promises in this Psalm, it’s so rich,
that I’ll tell you before we dig in that we’re going to just scratch the surface.
Numerous sermons have been preached on individual verses in this Psalm.
There was a famous pioneer missionary to Nigeria named Tommie Titcombe.
He faced terrifying dangers and threats.
Once he was on his way to a village where the witch doctors had warned him not to
visit. On the outskirts of the village was a rope across the path with fresh human
heads attached to it. All his guides fled. He fasted and prayed for a night,
and then entered the village and preached the Gospel.
Tommie lived to a ripe old age. And when he was on his deathbed,
Raymond Davis, the Director of Sudan Interior Mission, the mission board he
had worked for in Nigeria all those years was with him. This is what he said:
“Ray, I’ve told you many times that long ago God gave me Psalm 91 as my special portion of Scripture. There are 33 promises in that Psalm and God has fulfilled every one of them for me, most of them many times.”
There’s enough in this Psalm for a lifetime. We’re just going to scratch the surface.
But let’s look at it through this theme of security and apply it to our lives.
1. The need for security
2. The basis of security
3. Two stories about security
MP#1 The need for security
Those of you men who were at the conference we had here a couple weeks ago
got a book called The True Measure of a Man by Richard Simmons.
Richard is a Christian businessman in Birmingham.
He has devoted year to counseling and discipling other businessmen
in their walk with Christ. Telling them about Jesus if they don’t know him,
and helping them know him better if they do.
He wrote this book out of his experiences and observations,
particularly things he has seen since the beginning of recent economic troubles.
In the preface he says:
“The purpose of this book is to help men realize that if we are going to be healthy, vibrant people, we must come to terms with the reality that we are not masters of the universe . . . I truly believe we are living in unprecedented times, and as we look out into the future, there is a great deal of uncertainty. Life is quite scary for many of us. As a matter of fact, there is not a man I know who is not wondering what is going to happen next and how it will impact him and his family.”
And then, later in the book, he says that when people face periods of economic
uncertainty, there are two fundamental needs that are threatened—
your need for significance and your need for security.
God intends for every Christian, he intends for you,
to have a solid sense of security in this unsafe and insecure world.
He’s made you that way. Not to be sufficient in yourself, courageous in yourself,
but to find your security in him.
But if you don’t have that sense of security that comes from God,
it will lead to all kinds of problems in your life.
You’ll not only be weak as a person, you’ll be weak as a Christian.
Like what? What are some of the problems that trouble a person without
a sense of security that comes from knowing God? Let me just throw out a few.
The big problem is that you will base your security on something.
You will look to some created thing to give the security that God alone can give.
In Richard Simmons book, he talks a lot about how for men that is often
work and achievement. Of course it could also be your money and standard of
living. Your children, your marriage, your family or position.
There will be something you trust will cover you, keep safe, when things get bad.
And that’s fine for the good times, but what about when something
really traumatic happens that shakes the very thing you are counting on?
It happens all the time. I don’t even have to give you examples—
jobs, marriages, children, wealth—it can all be shaken to foundations.
And what often happens, when a Christian is in that position,
he’s been trusting in that thing so long,
that he has developed a relational distance and remoteness with the Lord.
So not only does he suffer the loss of his security, but it feels to him in that loss
that the Lord himself has abandoned him and let him down.
It’s not true in reality, but it feels that way.
I knew of a minister who admitted he had built his security on the size of his church
and his effectiveness as a pastor. If anything in life troubled him, he just came
back to that. Here’s my big church. Here’s what I’ve done. Calmed worries.
That worked fine until his church split and he was powerless to stop it.
He had the double grief, not only of having his security taken away,
but his years of trusting it had built relational distance with the Lord.
Some other problems.
If you look for security in things and people besides the Lord,
you might be unable to forgive people who wrong you.
In circumstances where you feel out of control and wounded,
you get a false sense of safety by refusing to forgive person who wounded you. Holding on to your hurt and sense of injustice gives you a false sense of security.
And, on the other hand, if your security is not in the Lord,
you might be unable to repent and ask for forgiveness.
You think, If I acknowledge what I’ve done, I’ll be unsafe. I’ll be rejected.
I’m not going to lay myself out there in that vulnerable position.
I’m not going to go to that person I’ve wronged and ask forgiveness.
So live unrepentant because it gives you a false sense of security.
And there are many other problems. The fear of man.
Oh no, if I stand up for what I believe, then I won’t be safe.
I’ve got to go along with the people around me and be like them.
That’s not how the Lord intends for you to live.
He has made you to need something bigger than yourself to trust in.
He has made you a dependent being, needed something firm and secure
that you can count on in this uncertain and dangerous world.
So that when the good things in life that you count on—
whether jobs or money or friends or spouses or health fall to pieces—
you don’t fall to pieces. You grieve but you are not destroyed.
So that when you are wronged, you can forgive.
So that when you sin, you can ask forgiveness.
So that when you have to stand for what is right, brave enough to do so.
That security must be found in the Lord and in his promises.
Leads us to the next point.
MP#2 The basis of security
You security as a Christian must be in the Lord and his promises.
Remember my opening story, my husky friend. He said: I kicked the dog.
Follow me. It won’t chase us. I promise. There is no difference in trusting
him and his word—they are one and the same.
Verses 3-13 make up the heart of Psalm 91. This is one of those passages that is so
rich, you could just park on any one verse. Whole sermons have been preached
on individual verses in this section.
We’re going to take it in six big bites. Six big promises that cover you in life.
If one of them grabs you, make a note, go back this afternoon and meditate.
1. Deliverance from evil. Verse 3.
“Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence”
There are dangers in life that are hidden—a fowler’s snare.
A hidden trap to catch a little bird so it can be eaten.
And there are sudden dangers—a deadly illness that comes on you.
You wake up feeling bad and by end of day, on deathbed.
God promises to save you from those things. Now what’s this about?
It’s not a promise that you won’t ever have accidents or get illnesses.
Even though the Lord does keep many things away from our bodies,
and often answers prayers for safety and physical healing.
It’s a promise that while you are running the bases, God is going to deliver
you from evil. Nothing will happen to you that will harm your soul.
The snare and the pestilence are symbols of Satan’s temptations.
So no matter what happens, you can know, this will not ultimately harm me.
2. Comfort and assurance. Verse 4
“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”
Two images of comfort and assurance. The first one is of a mother hen gathering
her chicks under her soft feathers. The second one is of strong, hard armor.
Think about it, at different times you need different kinds of comfort and assurance.
Sometimes you need a hug.
Sometimes you need a good lock on the door, or a tornado shelter.
One comfort is soft and the other is hard. Lord comforts with both.
The softness and maternal comfort of his presence and the firm truth of Word.
3. Deliverance from the fear of evil. Verses 5-7
“You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that
stalks at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will
not come near you.”
You know there is no shortage of things to fear in life.
You can find things to be afraid of day and night.
You know how debilitating fear can be. It can sap you of all your energy.
Lord says: Here’s what I promise you if you trust me. Deliverance from fear.
Know that in the battle of life I’ve got my eye on you like one a thousand,
one in ten thousand.
Then, before next three promises, is verse 8, sort of a time out—7th inning stretch.
It’s for when a believer says: These are great promises, but is there really any
difference between God’s people and the people of the world? Psalmist says:
“You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.”
Just keep your eyes open. You will see that there are big differences.
The things that fall on believers and unbelievers may look the same on the
outside, but one is for punishment and wrath, the other part of God’s perfect plan.
An old Scottish pastor said: “Here are two partners in business, the one a Christian man, and the other is not. A common disaster overwhelms them. They become bankrupts. Is insolvency the same to one as it is to the other. Here are two men on board a ship, the one putting his trust in God, the other thinking it all nonsense to trust anything but himself. They are both drowned. Is drowning the same to the two?”
The answer is no. One is for judgment. The other is for blessing.
As a Christian if you open your eyes you will see that.
Now, the last three promises quickly.
4. Certainty of a good outcome. Verse 9-10.
If you make the Most High your dwelling—even the LORD, who is my refuge—
then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent.
This is Romans 8:28 in Old Testament form. “All things work together for good
for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
Not that all things are good, but they will be turned for good, not evil in lives.
5. Supernatural protection. Verses 11-12.
“For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”
Angels. We don’t talk much about angels or even think of them.
But somehow, in some way, they are here to help us in life.
This was the verse the Devil used to tempt Christ. Throw yourself off Temple.
God has promised to send his angels to catch you.
Jesus said: You shall not tempt the Lord your God.
Don’t use the promises of God as an excuse to disobey God.
God will forgive me so I’ll go ahead and sin.
6. Victory over temptation. Verse 13.
“You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.”
The Devil didn’t get around to quoting the next verse. He doesn’t like this one.
The roaring lion and the lying serpent are references to him.
Here’s the promise: If you resist the Devil, he will flee from you.
And with every temptation there is a means of escape that he provides.
And in the end, even if there are besetting sins in your life that you wrestle with
all your days, you will keep fighting them, and even the fighting is victory.
What’s the overall impression of these great promises?
God is covering you. His is your shelter and shadow, your refuge and fortress.
You can go through life free from fear, knowing that nothing will destroy you.
Here’s what you have to do.
You have to take these promises—specific ones—and claim them.
Let’s look at how that is done . . .
MP#3 Two stories about security
The first story is from a book I read a few years ago called Evidence Not Seen.
It was recommended to me by Caroline Lunsford.
I’ve told you about this book before, so you may remember this story.
Written by an American woman named Darlene Deibler Rose.
In 1938 she and her husband Russell went at newlyweds to New Guinea as
missionaries. Two years later, they were imprisoned by the Japanese,
along with other Americans, British and Dutch civilians.
Men and women were separated into different prison camps—
so Darlene and Russell said goodbye and several months later
she learned that he had died.
She was in the prison camp for four years, and conditions were terrible—
but the lowest point of all was when the Japanese secret police took her and two
other American women away for interrogation—accusing them of being spies.
She was in a tiny cell, sick and emaciated.
This is what happened to her:
“Gradually I drifted into the spiritually unprofitable game of ‘suppose’! Suppose the Japanese do win the war, what then? That I’ll never believe! But none of us believed Hong Kong of Singapore would fall. Suppose my brothers Donald and Ray are here somewhere in the South Pacific, facing the kind of enemy who would use flame throwers on nurses hidden in a cave, the kind of people who would do what these men have done to Philoma and Margaret, innocent missionaries (other two American women). Suppose Don and Ray are killed, what of their families? What of mother and dad? Suppose none of us make it home?”
So for the first time she really gave in to fear. This is what she says about it:
“There is nothing that will plunge a person into despair more quickly than to suppose what could happen. This was another example of the worries of tomorrow that never come, robbing us of the joys of today.”
The Lord didn’t leave her in this condition.
She overheard someone singing in Indonesian a Christian song:
“Precious is Your name, a shelter that is secure.”
That sounds like Psalm 91, doesn’t it?
And as those words sank in, and she thought about them—she began to pray:
“O Lord,” I cried, “forgive me. It isn’t a game of ‘suppose.’ I live in the sure knowledge that
‘the name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous run into it and are safe.’”
And God took away her worry and gave her incredible peace.
The second story is a lot closer to home. It’s a Cullman story.
My preaching professor in seminary warned us not to use too many missionary
stories in our sermons. Because he said that even though they are inspiring,
the people in your congregation aren’t facing witch doctors and cannibals.
They need to hear stories of faith from people like them.
That’s good advice.
So here’s my Cullman story of finding security in the promises of God.
When we moved here 14 years ago, there was an older couple who were members.
I’m sure a number of you remember Woody and Elizabeth Wood.
It was a second marriage for both of them.
They had a good time a travelled a lot.
One thing I always appreciated about Woody was that whenever they headed out
on a vacation he would always stop by the church before they left town and
leave his offering check. He would say something like:
“Preacher, we’re not going to be here, but the work of the church must go on!”
And those of you who remember Elizabeth know what a gracious person she was.
Woody passed away, and later Elizabeth moved to Birmingham to be with her kids.
During that time before she moved, some weeks or months after the funeral
I visited Elizabeth and before I left, asked her if she had a Bible passage she
wanted me to read. She said, Read Psalm 91.
Then she told me that there was a time when she was a young woman,
a single mother, she had suffered some very difficult things,
she had all sorts of fears for herself and her children—in that time, Psalm 91
became her Psalm.
She related to me how in all the decades since that time, not only had the Lord
been with her and covered her, but she was sure of it.
She knew it in her head and in her heart.
The result was that she had an amazing confidence and sense of security,
even in a sad and unsettled time.
Whether it’s Darlene Rose, Elizabeth Wood or whoever—
Here’s what you must do. Take the promises of God, read them, claim them,
turn to them in the hard times, and know the security that comes only from Christ.
Are you doing that?
Now there’s one more thing I need to say.
Maybe I should have said it at the beginning, but now’s a good time.
Who are these promises for?
They are only for those of you who know the Lord Jesus Christ personally.
None of these promises are for unbelievers.
The only promise you have if you are outside of Christ is the promise of
punishment that fits the crime on the day of judgment.
Look at verse 2.
This verse stands out because this is the only place the Psalm writer speaks
in the first person. This is the only time he says I and my. It’s very deliberate.
He draws attention to it by putting it at the beginning and making it different
from the rest of the Psalm.
“I will say of the LORD, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
I will say of the LORD . . . my refuge, my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.
My security starts with this, I know the Lord. He’s my God.
And I will testify that he is my refuge and fortress.
The only way God will cover for you in life, and the only way you will have
any assurance of being covered is if he is your God.
If you have committed yourself personally to him and his promises.
This is the believer stepping up to home plate at the foundation of the Christian
life and saying: In him will I trust. He’s my God.
I am committed to him and to his promises.
So this is the question: Who is Jesus Christ to you?
Is he only the Son of God who died on the cross to save the world?
Or is he my Savior who died for me?
Can you say, do you say “my God” “my refuge” “my fortress”?
Is Jesus Christ your Lord and God? Are you trusting in him personally?
If you aren’t you must. Today. During Communion, pray.
Tell Lord you want to know him, you want all these promises to be yours.