“The iron bolt which so mysteriously fastens the door of hope and holds our spirits in gloomy prison, needs a heavenly hand to push it back.” Charles Spurgeon
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1)
The Problem: Life is Hard
Despite the way our culture values “authenticity,” most of us rarely feel comfortable enough to speak honestly and personally about the wounds and pains we carry, the weariness and weakness we feel, the dark thoughts we wrestle with, or the disappointment or frustration with life experienced. While it might be okay to admit generalities like “my life is a mess” or “I’m struggling along,” to say how and why we are fragile or broken, to confess our sins, or to share our burdens seems a bit too far. It can be an awkward moment of transparency in a world of surface-level dialogue.
But, life is hard. We become discouraged, weary, overwhelmed, anxious, fearful, lonely, sad, and depressed. Relationships cause pain or lead to frustrations that aren’t easily fixed. And we of all people know how much sin is in our life and the need for change. God doesn’t remove hardships from this life or give an easy button to His children. TV preachers and best-selling books might promise you constant victory and your best life now, but the Bible tells us in this world we will have troubles and sorrows until Jesus returns and finally makes all wrongs right…but not until then.
Pain doesn’t go away after a week or a month or a year. Life can be disappointing as we’re disillusioned by how adulthood seems so different from what we imagined as a teen or college-student. There are ongoing frustrations, fractured relationships that don’t seem to heal, exhaustion from running life’s busy pace, consequences of sin—ours or no fault of our own—we’re forced to live in and suffer from, and regular obstacles knocking us down. Yes, there’s a lot of joy and blessing, but we’re too quick to sugarcoat the brokenness of life rather than pausing to honestly admit some things and some seasons are just hard.
If you learn one thing from working in a local church, it’s that despite how well things seem on the outside, every person comes in on Sunday bearing deep burdens, sorrows, and pains. All are struggling, and many are close to crumbling.
The Hope: God is A Refuge
As a Christian, fully aware of sin’s pervasive effects on the world and on us (mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally, relationally, and every other way we can think of), there are many biblical ways we might try to respond. We can lament. We can seek help and encouragement from those around us. We can pray. We can find comfort in God’s stabilizing and comforting presence. We can trust and give thanks. There’s a lot we can do that keeps us going in the futility and frustrations of life in a broken world. One thing I’ve found helpful is considering, remembering, and banking on the reality that God is our refuge.
I love the pictures and promises throughout the Bible wrapped up in the imagery of God being a refuge we can run to, hide in, and find rest in. However jarring things are around us, however painful or difficult circumstances might be, there is a place we can go to for safety, protection, refreshment, and rest.
Sometimes this language conveys to us that when we go to God, He is our defense from enemies, safety from trouble, protection from evil, and a place to catch our breath. When we are fearful or suffering at the hands of others, we can go to God as our refuge. Other related images describe God as our tower, fortress, stronghold, shield, or shelter.
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” (Psalm 91:1-2)
“The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.” (Proverbs 18:10)
“The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.” (Psalm 9:9-10)
The language of shelter and refuge also connects to verses about God us hiding in His shadow or under His wings. Just like we seek out the cool shade of a large or covered space in hot days, God tells us to draw near to Him and take a seat for refreshment, momentary relief, and rest. When we are worn-down and weary, when weakness sets into our bodies and minds, when things feel overwhelming, there is a safe-haven for strugglers. God is our refuge and shade.
“There will be a booth for shade by day from the heat, and for a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.” (Isaiah 4:6)
“The LORD is your keeper; The LORD is your shade on your right hand.” (Psalm 121:5)
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
The same is true in suffering, sorrow, confusion, or any darkness we might be in. God tells us not to stand in the rain, not to bear the weight of things on our own two shoulders, and to endure it alone. He invites us into His presence as a refuge. Even as sinners, broken by our own failures and unfaithfulness, God woos us back to Himself by His mercy and grace, giving us Jesus as the Rock in whom we find refuge and the righteousness that covers us.
“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken. Affliction will slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.” (Psalm 34:8, 19-22)
“Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.” (Psalm 57:1)
“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. 6 He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. 7 On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.” (Psalm 62:6-7)
The Need: Run to the Refuge
God is Our Refuge, and we experience this by running to Him. I know, that’s easier said than done, or at least easier to say we believe it than to do it. But the Bible encourages us, appeals to us, to seek God out as our refuge in these ways (and more).
We’re told to trust in Him, knowing He is in control and He is working this for our good (Ps. 91:2; 71:1-3; 9:9-10; Rom. 8:28), lean on Him for our strength (Ps. 46:1-2), take refuge or seek out refuge by hiding in Him (Ps. 31:20; 71:1-3; 16:1), delight in and drink deeply from Him (Ps. 34:8; 36:7-9), fix our eyes on Him (Ps. 141:8), run to Him (Prov. 18:10), put our hope in Him and His Word (Ps. 119:114), and to call upon Him (Ps. 18:1-3; 62:8). These are the ways we by faith experience God as Refuge. God is there, promising to shelter and shade us, if we turn to Him and look to Him. It gives us a chance to catch our breath, knowing God will not be knocked down, overpowered, overwhelmed, caught off guard, or outmatched by the storm we’re escaping.
Take the idea of calling upon Him (Ps. 18:1-3; 55:22; 62:8) and consider that God invites us to cast our cares on Him (1 Peter 5:7), to share what’s heavy on our hearts in raw honesty, and to talk to Him as a trusted friend and as the God who can do something about what we’re experiencing. It says we cast our cares on Him because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). He takes thought of us or keeps us in His thoughts (Psalm 40:17). He bends His ears down to us and listens with love (Ps. 116:2; 31:2). He draws near to the broken-hearted and binds up our wounds (Ps. 34:18; 147:3). Motivating us to draw near to God as a refuge is knowing He is my loving, caring, concerned Father, not some distant, unconcerned deity.
Over the years, I’ve probably experienced God as Refuge most, and experienced a nearness, by leaning into Him through honest prayer that tells Him about my struggles. The rest and refreshment isn’t because I’ve vented, informed Him about things He didn’t know, or bent His will to my own, but it’s simply through the presence and friendship of speaking with a Father who loves His children and is present with us. When it seems like I’m all alone, no one understands, everything is hard or broken, He alone can be the one I turn to and trust in.
In hardship and otherwise hopeless circumstances, God alone gives us hope and help. He offers strength to the weak, refreshment to the weary, light in darkness, presence and comfort in pain, friendship in isolation and loneliness, calm in chaos and confusion, power and freedom when we’re enslaved, and rest in our fears and anxieties. These are not spiritual platitudes and pithy sayings, but the firm footing believers stand on and bank on when we run to God rather than resisting Him or running from Him. He does not promise immediate relief from the storms—though it may eventually come—but He does promise to be the refuge we need so we can make it through them. As we turn to God as our Refuge, he covers us with His care, compassion, and steadfast love.
“But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress. 17 O my Strength, I will sing praises to you, for you, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love.” (Psalm 59:16-17)