This Summer we are doing “Summer in the Psalms” for our Wednesday night studies. In late June and the month of July we will not meet in person, So…each Wednesday I will post a devotional study from a selected Psalm. Today, Psalm 91.
The RC/Moon Pie 10-mile race is a pretty challenging event. They advertise that it is “gently rolling hills punctuated by one severe hill at mile 4.” Not true, it is 9 miles of energy-draining, leg-killing up and down slopes broken only by one tortuous, steep incline stretching from mile 4 to mile 5. Oh, and it is HOT. Starting at 7 AM in late June in middle Tennessee seems reasonable but by 7:30 the sun is beaming at about 75 degrees and by 8:30 the temperature is above 80. Add the 20 degrees that running raises your core temp and you are pouring sweat after the first half-mile. Sounds like fun doesn’t it?
I sat on a curb at the start line sizing up the thousand or so other runners and trying to find my place. Really I was hoping to find someone that would make me think I would not finish dead last, or dead. These were serious, hard-core runners. Flat-bellied, iron-calved runners wearing shirts from The Big Sur, Boston, and the Santa Monica Triathlon. And I was trying to suck in my gut under my Philippians 4:13 shirt, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Then I found a little hope. There was a guy who was pretty overweight having a pre-race moon pie and a chocolate milk. I saw a lady in her mid-seventies with a wrap on her knee. And there was a young mom holding the hand of her 7 year old daughter. Good, surely I can beat one of those guys. I won’t be dead last. I don’t know a lot about racing but I do know that when the police car is driving slowly behind you with his lights flashing, holding back a whole line of traffic, well, that’s not a good thing.
I felt so much better. It was going to be a good day after all I could beat the heavy guy or the old lady. I might even be able to reel in the 7-year-old at the end. I am a runner.
I confess that most of my spiritual journey has been just like that. I look around at the “saints” in the church and I feel outclassed. They pray too much. They raise their hands higher than I do. They are so Godly. I can never measure up. And I start believing that God’s protection of me is based on my performance. So, I start looking to find a few that make me feel better. There is an usher that I know drinks a little too much. There is a lady in the choir that has been divorced. My Sunday School teacher smells like cigarette smoke. I know I can beat those guys.
I am quick to compare us to us. When I stand up next to you I look pretty good. (No offense of course.) But Paul says in Philippians, “Let your example be that of Christ Jesus.” And Hebrews says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus.” I am never supposed to compare me to others. In fact, I am not supposed to compare me to Him. I am to look at Him, at His goodness, and grace, and love, and then to take that on myself. In other words, I just let Him live His life in me and I leave the results to the Father. “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live. And the life I live I live in the Son of God.” Galatians 2:20. “There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1. And His love for me is not attached to my place in the race.
Psalm 91 is the great equalizer. The midrash tells us Moses wrote this as he was hiking up Mt. Sinai, on his way to meet God face to face. That will help you get your eyes off everybody else. He is shrouded in the cloud of God’s presence that has been hovering over the mountain for some time now. I imagine, like me at the beginning of the RC, he is trying to find some reason to believe he is going to get out of this thing alive. He begins to recite, maybe out of false bravado, maybe sheer terror, “Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the Shadow of the Almighty.” It is not about being good enough, or worthy enough, or saintly enough; you can smell like cigarettes and not even know where your Jesus Saves lapel pin is, and still be sure of His protection. All that’s required is “living in the shelter of the Most High.”
It’s not a coincidence that this verse is 9-1-1. When the going gets tough, when the sun is beating down, when everybody else has taken off and left you in the dust, you can be sure of His protection and provision. You can “rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”
As the RC race progressed, I watched an interesting thing. All the runners were bunched up and drifting from side to side on this Tennessee country road. I observed from my spot, (somewhere near the back of the pack,) that they were running through the shady spots on the asphalt road. A huge oak tree would be hanging over one side and we’d all run there; a stand of Ponderosa pines would shade the other side and we’d run there. As Moses is climbing the mountain he is drifting from side to side in the shade of God’s care.
Vs 2 “He alone is my refuge, my place of safety.”
Vs 4 “He will cover you with His feathers. He will shelter you with His wings.”
Vs 11 “He will order His angels to protect you wherever you are.”
I run along through the tough stuff of life, and I need a refuge, drift over there. The next week, I need His wings over me to keep the storms away, drift there. Sometimes, the enemies are out to get me, and I need a bunch of angels to fight on my behalf, drift there. I don’t earn it. I can’t work for it. I am pretty sure I don’t deserve it, but in my hardest, hottest races, He shadows and protects me, whether I am in first place or bringing up the rear.
The Psalm is full of His goodness, His faithfulness, and His power. All of this is based only on my love for Him and His love for me. Troubles, pressures, pain, and heat, He is always a refuge and a safe place. Listen to the promises of the last 3 verses:
Verse 14 “I will rescue him…”
“I will protect him…”
Verse 15 “I will answer…”
“I will be there…”
“I will honor…”
Verse 16 “I will reward with long life…”
“I will give them salvation…”
Not because he is faster than everyone else but because I love Him. That should give you a boost if you’re just starting the race, struggling to keep up, or trying to hold on to the finish line. All of His promises are not merit-based. Psalm 91 is for ALL of u.
So, I quit looking around at others to see how I am doing. I even quit looking at Him as some ruler to whack me over the knuckles. But I watch Him with delight as He, day by day lives out His life and His love in me. I don’t have to outrun other people. I don’t have to outperform other Christians. I just keep running in His shade and knowing that “His faithful promises are my armor and protection.” I am trying to learn to rely ONLY on Him and His protection and not on my own “running” abilities.
Now please excuse me. There’s an old man with a cane. I think I can pass him on the next hill. Mike