All Things (Romans 8:26-39)

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Usually when I sit down to write my message each week, I look for something in the text that is visible or tangible, something we can touch or see, that I can use to illustrate the Kingdom of God or the way God is at work in the world. Jesus did it in his parables, so, as a student or disciple of Jesus, I believe that I can learn from his teaching methods. For example, last week Jesus talked about wheat paddocks, the previous week the image was rain from Isaiah, and the week before that was a yoke.

This week’s New Testament reading, Romans 8:26-39, is an amazing passage with so much great news for us. The part that really spoke to me was verse 32 where Paul writes,

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (NIV)

However, this text presented a serious challenge: how can I use to illustrate ‘all things’ visually for my message?

This is an incredible thing for Paul to say. His message is that God loves us so much that he gave up the most precious thing he had to redeem and save us: his only Son. Value is determined by what people are willing to part with to make something their own. The first section of Romans 8:32 tells us that God values each of us so much that he willingly parted with his Son whom he loves, so we can be reconciled to him and restored to a new relationship with him as members of his family. God willingly gave up the most treasured thing he has, his own Son, so that we can live in a new relationship with him as his children.

Paul goes on to ask that, since God loved us enough to give up his Son for us, won’t he also give us ‘all things’ in his grace towards us? Paul is saying that if God hasn’t held back what he treasures most, then is there anything he won’t be willing to give us? If there is nothing that is as precious or valuable to God as his Son, and since he has already given him for us as evidence of his love, then ‘won’t he also give us everything else?’ (v32 NLT)
When I read these words, to be honest, my natural reaction is to start putting limits around God’s grace by thinking about what I don’t think God will give me. We can start to remember the things we have wanted in the past, but we didn’t get. Maybe we can think about things or people who have been taken away from us. Or we can think about things we’d like in the future that we don’t think we will ever have.

A big question to help us understand this text is what does Paul mean by ‘all things’? Do we take that as literally meaning ‘all things’? Because that’s a lot! Or is Paul talking metaphorically, that God will extend his generosity to some point, but will start to decline our requests when we reach a limit?

One thing we can do to help us understand what words or phrases mean in the Bible is to look at other places those words or phrases are used and what they mean in those passages. I looked up where Paul talks about ‘all things’ and I found that he uses it more than 20 times in his letters. For example, in 1 Corinthians 8:6 Paul writes,

… for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. (NIV)

So here ‘all things’ means everything that God has created, which is also the way Ephesians 3:9 and Colossians 1:16 use it. Another place Paul talks about ‘all things’ is in Colossians 1:20 where he says that God reconciled ‘all things’ to himself through Jesus’ blood which was shed on the cross. A third example is 2 Corinthians 9:8 when he writes,

God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (NIV)

This text helps us understand Romans 8:32 better because Paul is also giving us a reason why God would make such an extravagant promise to us. God doesn’t promise to give us ‘all things’ for our own sake, so that we can life safe, comfortable or self-satisfied lives, but so that we can ‘abound in every good work’ and bring the goodness of God into the world.

It is easy for us to hear God’s promise to give us ‘all things’ and think about what we want for ourselves, kind of like children who are looking forward to what they are going to get at their birthday or Christmas. In the faith that God has already given his best for us in the death of Jesus, and for his sake will also give us ‘all things’, God wants us to trust this promise so that we can do good in the world and extend God’s goodness which we find in Jesus to people around us who need his goodness. God doesn’t promise to give us ‘all things’ for our benefit, but for the benefit of others as we follow Jesus in faith and love.

What do we need to do that? Or, more specifically, what do you need from God so that you can ‘abound in every good work’? It might be something to help you with your family or in your work. It could be something with your health or a relationship which might be difficult or challenging. What might happen if we took this promise literally: that God, who gave up his Son for us, will also ‘graciously give us all things’? Sometimes I wonder if we don’t receive good things from God because we don’t trust him enough to ask. If you were to believe what Paul wrote in Romans 8:32, that God will graciously give us ‘all things’ for the sake of Jesus, what would you ask for? What would you hope for from God?

As I sit and write this message, I’m still struggling with what I can use as a visible, tangible example of the ‘all things’ Paul is talking about. This is a massive promise, one that’s hard for us to get our heads around, let alone trust it enough to live like it is true. But that’s what faith is – trusting that God gave up his own Son for us because he loves us that much. If he gave up his most precious Son, then he will also give us ‘all things’ for his sake.

What might that mean for you?

More to think about & discuss:

  • What do you think of when you hear the words ‘all things’? What do you think Paul may have meant when you hear him write about ‘all things’ in Romans 8:32?
  • When you read 1 Corinthians 8:6, how do you understand ‘all things’ in this passage? What do you think it might mean in Colossians 1:20? What about in 2 Corinthians 9:8? How can the way Paul uses the words ‘all things’ in these passages help us understand what Paul means by them in Romans 8:32?
  • What do you find difficult about Paul saying that God will ‘graciously give us all things’ (NIV)? In what ways can this be a hard promise to trust?
  • If you were to take ‘all things’ literally, what are some of the things that might include? How might this promise make a difference in your life or help you in some way?
  • What is something you need most in your life right now? How could God giving you what you need help you to ‘abound in every good work’ (2 Corinthians 9:8)?
  • What are some other ‘all things’ from God you hope for? How might they make a difference in your life and help you ‘abound in every good work’?

If you would like to watch a video version of this message, you can go to https://youtu.be/jhNmgEdKtc0

God bless!

Looking at the Heart (1 Samuel 16:1-13)

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My message for this Sunday changed significantly since the start of the week. I was going to look at 1 Samuel 16:1-13, exploring the differences between outward appearances and what lies at the heart, the external and internal, in regards to people and what we focus on.

Then things started changing with growing concerns around the spreading of the COVID-19 coronavirus in Australia, and in particular the ban on indoor gatherings of 100 people or more.

Many congregations that I’m aware of are cancelling most or even all forms of ministry that involve personal contact, including regular worship, in order to prevent the spread of the virus. I understand the need to be careful and responsible in our contact with each other to minimize the spread of the virus as an act of love. What is sitting rather uncomfortably with me, though, is the way ‘doing church online’ seems to have become the Christian church’s default option without exploring other ways of connecting together as sisters and brothers in the faith.

If there’s one thing we need right now as we face the threat of the virus is to be building each other up in faith and love so that fear and isolation don’t overwhelm us.

That’s where I start to hear the story of Samuel anointing David in 1 Samuel 16:1-13 speaking into our circumstances. I believe that we have had a superficial perspective of church for far too long. In the culture of my particular church organization, our understanding of church has revolved largely around attendance at Sunday worship, being a member of a congregation and maybe being involved in some committees, rosters or activities in the congregation. When I listen to what Samuel says in v7, I can’t help but view these activities as the outward appearance or function of church.

What God looks at, of course, is at the heart. This includes the heart of what it means to be church.

There are lots of ways people define what it means to be ‘church’ and there is usually something good we can find in most of them. My favourite definition is one that Martin Luther wrote about five hundred years ago, that the church consists of ‘holy believers … who hear the voice of their Shepherd’ whose ‘holiness exists in the Word of God and true faith’ (Smalcald Articles, Part III, Article 13). The way I read this is that whenever God’s people gather around his Word in faith, that is the church.

This sits well with what is written in Hebrews 10:23-25 which says,

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. (NLT)

If there’s one thing our world needs right now to combat and overcome the fear people are experiencing about the COVID-19 virus, it is hope. As the people of God who trust in the life-giving promises of Jesus, we have hope to offer all who need it. The challenge I face pastorally is how to help the people of our church grow in the hope which comes through faith so we can be people of hope, bringing hope to people who have none. Part of God’s solution, according to Hebrews 10:23-25, is to keep meeting together.

Exactly how we are going to do that in these days of limits and requirements of how many and where we can meet will a challenge, but not an insurmountable one. We can meet together around God’s word in faith in family groups, in a few families getting together, in our regular small groups, with a friend or two, or in larger worshiping groups, and so on. Maybe we need to be offering more services which cater for groups of smaller numbers of people meeting together in worship at different times, not only on Sundays but even during the week. How we will do this belongs to the ‘outward appearance’ or the externals that Samuel talks about. Why we gather together, to encourage and build each other so our hearts are full of faith, hope and love, becomes the more important question.

We can look for ways of gathering together in the freedom the gospel gives. It’s significant that when Samuel met David, he saw that David ‘was dark and handsome, with beautiful eyes’ (v12 NLT). God didn’t accept him because he was good-looking, but he didn’t reject him for being attractive either. God was interested in David’s heart and that he trusted in God. Likewise, in our current situation, how we meet together really is an external thing. Why we meet together – to hold on to the hope Jesus gives us, to motivate each other to love and good works, and to encourage each other in difficult times – this is the heart of what it means to be church and what is really vital.

My plan at the time of writing is to ask our congregation who will worship on Sunday how we might be able to gather together in the future. We need to accept that different people will be looking for different ways to connect together around God’s word in faith, according to their circumstances, and to give people the freedom and the opportunities to do that. God is looking beyond the externals to see our hearts, and wants to fill them with faith, hope and love through his Holy Spirit. We will find these as we gather as his church around his Word in faith. Then we will have real hope to bring to the world.

If you have any thoughts about how we can be helping you to gather around God’s word while we watch and wait for further developments as the virus takes its course, please let me know. I really see this as an opportunity to get past what can often be superficial, external appearances of church to really get to the heart of what it means to be the people of God in the world, living with hearts full of faith, hope and love, to bring God’s blessings to everyone we meet.

More to think about & discuss:

  • In what ways do you see people focussing more on the outward appearance than what lies at the heart, or, in other words, on what something looks like instead of what it really is?
  • In what ways might we do that as church?
  • Why do you think God is more interested in what’s at the heart instead of the outward appearance?
  • How might your life be different if you focussed more on other people’s hearts than on how they look or what they do?
  • How might your life be different if you focussed more on your heart trusting God than on what people see?
  • How can our congregation help you through this time to:
    • gather with others around God’s word?
    • hold on to the hope we have in Jesus?
    • motivate one another to love and good works?
    • encourage one another to trust in Jesus?

Loved Sinners (Romans 5:1-11)

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How do you show someone that you love them?

There are probably more ways to show people that we love them than I can count. Some of these ways might be romantic gestures such as giving flowers, a card, chocolates or jewellery. We can show love to the people around us in very ordinary ways such as taking out the rubbish, doing the dishes after a meal, or cleaning the toilet. We can also show love in a deep commitment to other people, sticking with them in difficult times and supporting them when they really need it.

However you might show love to others, can you imagine showing that same kind of love to someone who doesn’t deserve it or who has hurt you in some way? It can be hard enough loving people you get along with, but have you ever tried loving someone who has wronged you, or has wounded you, or doesn’t deserve your love for any reason.

If we can imagine how difficult it would be to love someone who has wronged or hurt us, then we begin to get a glimpse of what Paul was thinking when he wrote Romans 5:6-8. It can be easy for us to talk about how God loves all people. However, Paul doesn’t just settle for a nice platitude when he talks to the early Christians in Rome about the love of God that he encountered in Jesus. Paul’s message was that God doesn’t love people because we do good, or we are nice, or even if we are in church on Sunday. Paul sees the love of God as so great because God loves people who are hard to love, who don’t deserve to be loved, but who need his love.

God showed how massive his love is in the death of Jesus for all of us who have wronged God.

No matter how nice or good we think we might be, we all do wrong. Jesus left us with just one command: to love (see Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28; John 13:34). We have all failed to love God and love other people in the way God wants us to. Our natural tendency is to think more about ourselves than God or others. We prioritise ourselves and our wants more than the needs of the people around us. We all have the desire to be at the centre of our own little universe, expecting others and even God to revolve around us. Humanism likes to tell us how good we are, but in the end we all carry flaws, failures and the brokenness that comes with being human.

I don’t say this to make people feel bad about ourselves. Instead, in order to comprehend the magnitude of God’s love for us in Jesus, we need to recognize and acknowledge our limitations and our inability to love in the way Jesus taught us. Loving someone who is easy to love is no big deal. However, loving someone who is difficult to love, who doesn’t deserve it, or who has done wrong, is something very special.

I don’t believe that Paul wrote Romans 5:6-8 to make his readers feel bad about themselves either. Paul knew what it was like to do wrong. What changed his life, however, was the love of a gracious God who knew Paul’s wrongs but still loved him. Paul found that love in the cross of Jesus. His words in Romans 5 are focused on pointing people to that same love so we can know and trust in Jesus’ life-changing love. I understand that we can see evidence of God’s love in nature, in the trees and sunshine and rainbows, and in the nice or beautiful things of this world. Nature has a dark side, however, so we need to also recognise that it is hard to see God’s love in storms, earthquakes, pandemics and other natural disasters. Paul points us to the way that God showed us his love by giving the most precious thing he had for us – the life of his own Son.

We can also see God’s love most clearly in the person of Jesus. He doesn’t just give us flowers or chocolate or jewellery to show us he loves us. Jesus doesn’t just take out our rubbish, wash our dishes or clean our toilets, although he does wash feet (see John 13:1-5). The way Jesus shows his love for us is by giving us his all. In dying for us in the cross Jesus gave everything he has for us and to us. Jesus held nothing back when he went to the cross and sacrificed everything out of love for us so that we can know what it is like to receive infinite and perfect love. Jesus knows all our flaws and failures, all our weaknesses and brokenness, and he still gives his all for us and to us because that’s how epic and crazy his love is for us.

Knowing and trusting in the love of Jesus can make a big difference in our lives. I learned that in my teenage years when discovering the love of Jesus gave me a new sense of who I am and what I’m worth. Decades later, I’m still working out how this love is shaping me and my relationships. That’s what it means to be a disciple or follower of Jesus – to be continually learning how Gods’ love for us in Jesus can shape our identity and our relationships, our belonging and our purpose. I’ve also seen how the love of God in Jesus can make a huge difference in other people’s lives. When the Holy Spirit pours the miracle of God’s love into us, it can give us a whole new perspective on who we are, where we fit and what we’re here for. For example, as Paul writes in Romans 5:3-5, knowing and trusting this love can produce endurance in us when we are suffering, character from endurance, and hope from this character which does not disappoint us. All this is from God’s love for us in Jesus which the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts through the good news of Jesus.

How do you show someone that you love them? Would you be able to do that for someone who has wronged you? If your answer is no, don’t feel bad – that’s our shared human condition. But it also shows us something about God’s love. God loves us in a way that we can’t. But when we know and trust his love for us in Jesus, the love that gives everything to the people who deserve it the least but need it the most, then we can live in the reality of a love that can change our lives. Then, by God’s grace, this same love which the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts can and will overflow from us into the lives of the people around us (see John 4:13-14).

What God Is Looking For (Micah 6:1-8)

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What do you look for in a good breakfast?

When it comes to the meal that starts the day, which some people consider to be the most important meal of the day, some people look for a breakfast that’s healthy with all the latest superfoods to give their day a balanced start. Others look for a breakfast that tastes good, with all the artificial colours and additives that help to kick the day off with a sugar-fuelled bang. There have been people I’ve known who have looked for a coffee and cigarette to start the day, while others prefer to skip the meal all together.

What we look for can also be thought of as the things that we require. They might be what we have for breakfast, but also for just about anything – for example the possessions we buy, relationships we might hope for, our paid or unpaid work, the church we belong to or attend, and so on. When we are looking for something, we usually have a set of requirements that help us determine whether or not they are what we want or hope for.

What do you think God looks for in us and in our lives? Sometimes when I hear people talk about grace it can almost sound like God doesn’t have any requirements of us at all. If we have our own requirements of something as simple as our breakfast, however, it makes sense that God would also have requirements of what he’s looking for in us and in our lives.

Micah 6:1-8 gives us a good indication of what God is looking for in our lives. Micah reminds his readers of the good God had done for the Jewish people by bringing them out of slavery in Egypt and giving them the Promised Land. As signs of their thanks for what God had given them, Micah explains that God doesn’t want empty religious rituals like sacrifices. Instead, Micah tells us that what God requires of his people and what he is looking for in our lives is ‘to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God’ (Micah 6:8b NLT).

How does that sound to you? Does this sound like a good way to live?

On the one hand, having three requirements, three things that God is looking for in our lives, might sound simple. When we start digging into these ideas, though, there is a lot to them.

To begin with, ‘To do what is right’ as the NLT translates it, can also be translated as to ‘act justly’ (NIV). Justice is firstly about making sure that we are doing what is right by other people, not just for ourselves, so it includes a focus on others and their wellbeing. It also includes working for others so they experience justice in their own lives. We can look to the Book of Judges in the Old Testament for how ancient people sought justice. God sent people to liberate those who were being oppressed and to right the wrongs that they were experiencing. Acting justly isn’t just about having a moral compass that helps us to decide what is right or wrong for us. It is doing what we can to make the wrong things in this world right again and helping others find justice when they are wronged in any way.

‘Mercy’ can be understood as showing kindness and goodness to others. To ‘love mercy’ then is to have our hearts set on being kind and doing good for all the people in our lives. What makes mercy even more challenging is that it is reserved for people who don’t deserve it but who still need it. Mercy is often interpreted as ‘undeserved kindness’ and so it’s about treating people better than they deserve, or than we might think they deserve, and doing good for others no matter who they are or what they have done. We can think of ‘mercy’ as indiscriminate kindness to all people, including those who deserve it the least but need it the most.

‘To walk humbly with our God’ means that we are constantly in step with God in every aspect of our lives, reflecting the goodness and character of God in everything we say and do. Sometimes when I hear people talk about God walking with them I wonder if we think that gives us permission to go in any direction in our lives that we want and expect God to follow us. Let’s face it, sometimes we can act like children who run away from their parents, not because we’re being vindictive or spiteful, but just because something has grabbed our attention and it is a lot more important to us than the parent or adult who is with us. ‘To walk humbly with our God’ means to remember who we are in God’s presence, that we get things wrong, that we need him in our lives, and to learn from God a new and different way to live our lives which is faithful to him and in step with who he is (see Galatians 5:25).

When we start exploring these three requirements which Micah gives us, we can see that there is a lot of depth to them. However, we don’t need to feel daunted or overwhelmed by them. One explanation of grace that I’ve come across is that God supplies us with what he requires of us. When we explore God’s grace to us in Jesus, we can find what God is looking for in our relationship with Jesus. God acts justly in our lives as he makes what’s wrong in us right again by forgiving us through Jesus’ death and resurrection for us. God loves mercy by treating us better than we deserve, showing us unlimited kindness and goodness for Jesus’ sake even though we don’t deserve it but we desperately need it. God walks in humility with us throughout our lives in Jesus who came to us from his heavenly home to become one of us, take on our humanity, serve us by suffering and dying for us, and to journey with us throughout our lives in all of our joys, successes, difficulties, suffering and uncertainties. In Jesus we encounter our God who does what is right for us, who loves to show us mercy, who walks in humility with us, and who gives us everything he is looking for as a gift through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

How might your week look if you were to commit to live in the ways God is looking for? How might you be able to do what is right, not just for yourself but also for others around you, and to act justly in everything you do? How might you be able to show mercy, undeserved kindness, to people who might not deserve it but who still need it? And how might you be able to walk humbly with your God, not just going your own way and expecting him to keep up, but learning a new way as you walk in step with Jesus as his disciple?

Learning to Pray (1 Timothy 2:1-7)

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Good communication is vital for any healthy relationship. If our connections with each other are going to be constructive and life-giving, we need to be communicating well. This means both talking and listening to each other.

Our relationship with God works the same way. If we are going to live as God’s children and find life in our relationship with him, we need to be communicating with him. This happens in two ways: by listening to what God says to us in the words of the Bible and by talking with him in prayer. That is why these are the two most basic spiritual disciplines for disciples of Jesus: learning to listen to what he says to us through his Word and talking with him in prayer.

Unfortunately, we haven’t always learned healthy ways of talking with God in the church. For example, as a young person growing up in the church, the main ways of praying I witnessed were formal, pre-prepared pieces of writing which were read by the pastor in church or by our Dad at home. I understand that there is a time and place for a more formal way of praying, but when Jesus talks about God as our loving heavenly Dad, there is also room for us to talk with God like our Dad in heaven who just wants to listen to what’s going on in our lives.

When the Apostle Paul wrote his first letter to the young Pastor Timothy, he urged him to make prayer his first priority. That’s why he says, ‘I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people’ (v1 NLT). Prayer might be the first of a number of concerns that Paul is addressing in his letter to Timothy, kind of like the first thing on a list of things to talk about. However, these words can also mean that praying for all people is to be at the top of Timothy’s pastoral to-do list. It would be like Paul writing, ‘I urge you, most importantly of all, to pray for all people.’ This interpretation would show that Paul also regarded prayer as one of the most important things that Jesus’ followers can do. As we ask God to help us and other people, as we intercede for others, speaking to God on their behalf, and as we give thanks for all the expressions of God’s grace in our lives, we will grow in our relationship with God and bring his blessings to the people we pray for, our nation and its leaders, and the world in which we live.

One of the most important ways that we learn anything is by watching others do it. As we see other people modelling behaviours, actions and practices, we learn by watching them and how they do them. In particular, young people learn more from what we do than from what we say. If our actions are not consistent with our words, then they will learn more from what we do than the words we use.

When it comes to prayer, then, young people in particular, but also other Christians, will be learning about the importance of prayer in our lives and how to pray from the ways in which we pray. This is one of the reasons why it is important for us to be praying together as members of God’s family. Prayer is not just an individual thing. If we take that kind of approach to prayer, then other people might miss out on an important part of our relationships with our heavenly Father and each other. However, when we are praying together, we will be more like a family getting together to talk with their Dad in heaven. When we pray together in our homes, in small groups, and in our corporate worship, we will be teaching two really important things to the young in age and the young in faith. Firstly, we will be modelling that talking with our Dad in heaven is an important part of our relationship with him. Secondly, we will also be modelling good, healthy, life-giving ways to pray in which we are praying for all people, asking for God’s help, interceding for others and thanking him for all the good things he gives to us every day of our lives (1 Timothy 2:1).

Talking with God isn’t about getting the words right. I hope my children will see that just talking with me is more important than using the right words, and I believe God thinks the same when it comes to the ways we talk with him. Our first priority, then, as God’s children whom he loves and with whom he is pleased, and as followers in the way of Jesus, is to pray. God wants to be hearing what’s going on in our lives and in the lives of others. God wants us to trust him with everything that’s happening in our lives and in the lives of others. If you don’t know how to do that, or if you’re not comfortable in doing that, part of our church’s Discipling Plan is to help us grow as praying people.

Who can you be praying for this week? Try praying for a different person each day. Ask God to help them with what’s going on in their lives. Intercede for them by speaking up for them before God. Thank God for them being in your life and for the good God is giving to them and to you through them. We’ve actually stuck the four parts of 1 Timothy 2:1 – Pray for all people, Ask God to help, Intercede and Thank God – on our fridge to remind us. Maybe you could do something similar to help you develop the spiritual discipline of prayer.

However you do it, just talk with God, because it’s a vital part of our relationship with him and God loves it when his kids take the time to talk with him.

Refuge (Psalm 91:1,2,9-16)

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During this season of Lent, we are focussing on learning to listen to the voice of Jesus, as we heard in the story of Jesus’ transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36). This is an art we need to be learning as Jesus’ followers because sometimes God’s word is easy to understand, sometimes it can be more cryptic, and at other times it seems to run completely contrary to our human experience.

For example, the psalm for the First Sunday in Lent is Psalm 91:1,2,9-16. It makes some extraordinary promises about God keeping us safe and nothing harming us when we make God our refuge and shelter. The psalmist writes,

If you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter,
no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home.
For he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go.
They will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.
You will trample upon lions and cobras; you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet! (vv 9-12 NLT)

On the one hand, the promises God gives us in this text sound fantastic! As a lifelong motorcyclist, I love the idea that God’s angels will protect me whenever I’m riding. An initial reading might seem like this psalm is promising us the assurance of a problem-free life where everything goes well and we are never going to suffer in any way.

Most of us know, however, that this isn’t always the case. The often harsh realities of human existence in this world can make it hard to believe what God seems to be saying to us in Scriptures like this. We can start asking questions like, are we suffering because we’re bad people or we’ve done something wrong? Can we really trust God’s promises to us? What is Jesus trying to say to us when our experience doesn’t match up with what we seem to be reading in the Bible?

In order to try to make sense of these words from Psalm 91 I would like to listen to them through two stories of Jesus – in his temptation and then in his crucifixion.

When the devil tempted Jesus, we read that he took Jesus to the highest point of the Temple in Jerusalem and told him to jump (Matthew 4:5-7; Luke 4:9-12). The devil used Psalm 91:11,12 to try to convince Jesus that if he did, then God would keep him save and he wouldn’t get hurt. Jesus replied by telling the devil not to test the Lord (Deuteronomy 6:16). There is a way, then, in which the devil can use words like these to tempt us to test God rather than to trust him.

I think of it this way: I could theoretically ride my motorbike without a helmet, exceed the speed limit, run red lights and ignore the road rules, and say that Psalm 91 tells me that I can do whatever I like because God is going to protect me. That would be like Jesus jumping from the highest point of the Temple in Jerusalem. It is taking unnecessary risks, challenging God to prove himself. Jesus shows us that Psalm 91 does not give us an excuse to be irresponsible or reckless and expect God to keep us safe. God has given us the sanctified common sense to be able to work out what is reasonable and responsible and to be able to do it. So on the one hand, the promises of Psalm 91 do not give us permission to test God by behaving irresponsibly or recklessly.

The other way I would like to hear the words of this psalm is through Jesus’ crucifixion. I wonder, given his experience with the devil tempting him with these words, whether Jesus thought of them in the six hours he was hanging on the cross. Obviously we don’t know, but I wonder if Jesus thought about the verses from the psalm and the promises God was making to his Son through them.

When we view these verses through the lens of Jesus’ crucifixion, they could seem empty and false. How could God let this happen to his Son when the psalm promises that is angels would protect him? However, they can also be heard as words of hope. When we hear these verses in times of suffering, pain or loss, they can remind us that even though we are struggling or hurting, we can still find protection and refuge in God through Jesus. Sometimes this is what faith is about: trusting that God’s word is true even though our experience tells us something different. Faith is trusting that we can find refuge in God even when we’re hurting. Faith is believing that we can find shelter in God even when we’re struggling. Faith is hoping that we can find protection in God even when everything is falling apart. Faith is relying on God who is bigger than all of our pain, stronger than our suffering, who enters our human experience in Jesus and gives us something better in his resurrection. Faith isn’t believing that life is going to be perfect and pain-free as a Christian. Faith is trusting that God will give us shelter, rest and refuge even when everything is going wrong.

That’s why Psalm 91 ends with these words:

The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name.
When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble.
I will rescue and honour them.
I will reward them with a long life and give them my salvation.” (vv 13-16 NLT)

These words assume that bad things will be happening in the lives of God’s people. We wouldn’t need rescuing if everything was good. We wouldn’t need protection if everything was easy. God’s promise is that when trouble comes we can call on God who will rescue us, honour us as his children, reward us with a life that is stronger than death, and gift us with the salvation Jesus won for us in his death and resurrection.

I understand that these words can be hard to hear, especially when we are suffering, grieving or in pain. Life isn’t free of troubles, but our troubles don’t mean that God has forgotten us or can’t be trusted. When we listen to words like Psalm 91, they remind us that our troubles are not the final word in our lives. They don’t give us permission to be reckless and irresponsible, like jumping from a high place without a parachute or bungy cord. However, in all the ups and downs of life, we have a God who can be trusted to protect us and keep us safe, even when we’re suffering, because that’s what he did for his Son.