The Divine Refuge
I marvel at the images the psalmist used to convey his relationship with God. One of those images depicts God as a refuge.
Thinking of God as a refuge conjures certain pictures in my mind. I can see myself running into a cave for protection. Or I think of a sanctuary, which brings to mind a medieval cathedral enclosure, a place of safety. In that era, churches were more than just a place of worship. People came there for sanctuary, begging, "Help me. My life is in danger."
I asked my wife Shirley what "refuge" meant to her. At first, she thought of being safe on a large rock with violent waves below her. Then she said, "I also think of refuge as the wings of a mother hen-the place where baby chicks run when frightened or in danger."
Members of my Sunday school class added: a place of peace, an escape, a place to hide, a place to turn when troubled, protection, security, contentment, a place to get away so you can get yourself together, being away from voice-mail, phones ringing, and demands for your time.
Refuge is a powerful word. It resonates a place of safety and peace, a place to run. The danger may be nothing more than being the object of gossip, the personal ire of a coworker, facing the loss of a job, or an illness.
These may not seem momentous to an outsider. It's not the events themselves that make them dangerous, but our responses to them. If people gossip against us and it tears us up emotionally, that's serious. Others may shrug or laugh and say, "Consider where it originated." But even petty gossip spread about us can make us want to retreat from our normal way of life, to seek safety, to seek a place where we're understood, loved, and cared for.
Ideally, that's the Church-that is, the people of God. The Church represents refuge for us as we retreat from overwhelming odds and threatening defeats. At its best, the Church wraps its arms around us, soothes us, and tends our wounds until we're ready to return to battle again. When we return to the world again, we're strengthened because we know we have God, as well as human allies, at our side.
Of course, I could easily point out where the Church has failed-and all of us know that only too well. We know it because we're part of the Church. If we're honest with ourselves, we sense that we've failed all too often. In fact, many of us tend to concentrate on the downside, especially when the people of God haven't provided the refuge we crave.
Yet the Church hasn't always failed. Why not look at those times when the Church has provided refuge? Those moments when God's people have embraced the pain-ridden, the guilt-laden, the discouraged, and the grieving?
I recall an African who walked more than seventy miles to come to a convention because someone told him, "God is in that place." He came and found his refuge there.
I think of George, who lost his wife through divorce, his job as a pastor through being fired by the deacons, and his friends by not living the "committed Christian life." (If he had lived a committed life, they reasoned, his wife wouldn't have left him and the deacons wouldn't have fired him.)
One day, a downtrodden George came to our church. Susie and Skip Cothran welcomed him and asked him to sit with them. After the service, they introduced him to their friends.
"I didn't think anyone would love me," George said later, "not if they really knew me." Over a period of three or four months, George found refuge in the church. Then strengthened and spiritually fortified, he took a job and had to move away.
George wrote a letter in which he said, "I was the frog and you people kissed me and turned me into a prince."
George had found sanctuary.
But the secret is not just finding refuge in God's people, but refuge in God. The best we can do is point to the Great Refuge. People hold us, encourage us, love us, but none of those actions or attitudes can provide permanent refuge. When we're tired of fighting, when we've battled our own problems and we wail, "Help me, God, I'm exhausted, I can't make it anymore," we need the Divine Refuge.
I recall a time when I felt so low that I didn't think I'd ever pass out of the valley of the shadow of death. I knew I'd survive physically, but I was at my spiritual end. Because I'm primarily a visual person, as I prayed, I saw myself lying before a stone wall. I saw a door, but it was locked. I cried for help, but no one came. I was ready to give up. Then the door opened, but I felt too exhausted to move. Someone picked me up and carried me inside.
In essence, I had faced a spiritual crisis. Finally, I surrendered to God, and when that happened, the door of God's refuge opened to me. The Divine Refuge carried me inside where I could lie quietly and have my wounds cared for. Then it was as if the voice said, "Be strong. Be of good cheer. I am with you always."
Then I was ready to leave the place of refuge.
I left, but I knew its location. I could always return.
That's what makes the Divine Refuge so meaningful. It's not a place to live. It's not a lifelong escape from the world or the troubles of humanity. It's a temporary place to receive peace, to feel safe, and to be strengthened until we have been fortified inwardly. Then we go out again.
We don't have to go down into the treacherous waves or shoot the rapids. When we leave our place of refuge, we have a new direction. "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, a light unto my path," reads Psalms 119:105.
So even when we are away from the refuge, the Word of God, the presence of divine love, and the fellowship of other believers remind us that the victory is ours.
God...is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. --PSALMS 62:7b-8, NIV
God of Refuge, God of Sanctuary,
some days I feel totally alone:
That's when I run to you.
You are there to protect me from the onslaught of my enemies,
as well as the hurts from my friends.
God, thank you for giving me refuge in all my times of trouble.
For more from Cec, please visit www.cecilmurphey.com.
Cecil Murphey has written more than one hundred books on a variety of topics with an emphasis on Spiritual Growth, Christian Living, Caregiving, and Heaven. He enjoys preaching in churches and speaking and teaching at conferences around the world. To book Cec for your next event, please contact Twila Belk at 563-332-1622.