“I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress:
My God; in him will I trust.”
(Psalm 91:2, KJV)
Psalm 91 was the favorite psalm of General Charles Gordon, a symbol of heroism and chivalry during the Victorian period in Great Britain. His indomitable courage took him to suppress bloody civil wars in China and the Sudan. The psalm is filled with military metaphors, and presents a thundering image of our triumph through God.
Notice that the verse says, “I will say of the Lord.” The psalmist doesn’t just think positive thoughts about God’s help; he says them out loud. It is amazing how much more convincing something feels when we hear ourselves say it. If you want to win, you need to be confident to say you are going to win, not just have it as a thought in your mind. The more you hear yourself say it, the more you will believe it. Saying is believing!
The psalm resounds with a spirit of courage-under-fire, of safety amidst threats and danger. We are safe, for God is our refuge and our fortress. The speaker says,
Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night;
Nor for the arrow that flieth by day.
(Psalm 91:5, KJV)
The “terror by night” is the sleepless night that we have, tossing and turning and overthinking about that problem in our present, that mistake in our past, that anxiety about our future. The “arrow that flieth by day” is the hurtful words of another, the backstabbing deception of a co-worker, that cruel disappointment in your personal life. These are real-life occurrences, and they happen to all of us.
But the speaker tells us to not be afraid, saying that these dangers will not come near us. And why? For one, we have made the Lord our “habitation” (Psalm 91:9, KJV): that means, we have put our faith in him, living in him. And this leads to one of the most reassuring lines in the Bible: “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways” (Psalm 91:11, KJV). We often don’t realize that when we put our faith in God, he puts his team to work. These guardian angels are supernatural, and we cannot see them, but we can trust that they are fighting battles for us. There are indeed demons out there that want to see us suffer, who delight in bringing us pain; and at the same time, when we stay in faith, there are angels to fend off these demons.
While we keep our minds open to the supernatural, let’s also keep our minds open to see God’s goodness in the natural, as shown through others. One of my friends, when he was going through a dark time with work and with family, told me that complete strangers were being very nice to him – holding doors, saying hello, even waving to him and smiling. “They’re not even smiling like normal friends would smile,” he said, “they are smiling at me like I’m their best friend, like they are totally overjoyed to see me.” He was confused by all of this, but I told him, “That’s God’s way of telling you that you are not alone in all this darkness. Those smiles, those waves, are signs that God is watching over you.”
The psalm also shows us that we will come to conquer these terrors that threaten us, not just withstand their onslaught. The imagery in the psalm is rich with creatures that inspire terror: “Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder . . . and the dragon shalt thou trample” (Psalm 91:13, KJV). What could be more terrifying than the deadly trio of a lion, snake, and dragon? Significantly, a dragon is a supernatural being. But God tells us that he and his angels will enable us to trample all attackers, no matter how vicious, and even those that are otherworldly. The ferociousness of the lion, with its teeth and claws; the deceptiveness of the snake, with its sting and venom; and the seeming inescapability of a flying, fire-breathing dragon – all are feeble when we have God on our side. As the Lord says in the final verses,
Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him:
I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.
He shall call upon me, and I will answer him:
I will be with him in trouble.
(Psalm 91:14–15, KJV)
If you enjoyed this article, make sure to check out my new book, Passages for Inner Peace: Finding Joy and Comfort in the Psalms, available in paperback and e-book formats here.