Lately my life has been comprised of:
Situations that are painful.
Sins that needs to be killed.
Temptations that must be extinguished.
Unmet and unfulfilled longings.
Pangs of loneliness.
Fears that spin like a cyclone in tornado alley.
Situations that are wonderful.
Gifts that are overwhelmingly great.
Good things I’m scared to enjoy.
Explosions of joy.
Grace upon grace.
Truth that sets the heart free.
And through it all, two realities have surfaced:
I need a refuge. And I have one.
The last part of Nehemiah 8:10 is pretty familiar:
“…for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
But what isn’t obvious at first glance is the meaning of the Hebrew word used here for strength. Contrary to what one might think, this isn’t human energy (like the Hebrew word used for strength in Isaiah 40:31), but something altogether different and altogether surprising for me.
ma`owz = place or means of safety, protection, refuge, stronghold
- place of safety, fastness, harbour, stronghold
- refuge (of God)
- human protection
I don’t know about you, but, when I read those words in the Hebrew lexicon, approximately 29 lightbulbs went off and 52 layers of self-protection crashed down.
The joy of the Lord is our place of refuge.
This is so counterintuitive to my heart that wants to stiff-arm joy and all good things for fear of loss or idolatry. Joy as a place of protection?! But what about self-protection?! What about all my fears?! What about this situation or that person?! What about…?! Fill in the blank. You’ll discover it’s all covered by the Refuge.
In his exceptional book God’s Grace in Your Suffering, David Powlison picks up on this theme, when he says:
“You have taken refuge in the Lord. You are a ‘refugee.’ You fled for your life, and have found every sort of aid and protection in Jesus. … People fleeing disaster have no safe place, are vulnerable, and depend absolutely on outside mercies. But you have found all you need and more than you could ever imagine in the Lord, the only true refuge.”
When life is hard (or when we’re scared because it’s so unfathomably good), as believers in Christ, we have a safe place.
You want to run because things are tough? Run to the Refuge.
You want to run from good things for fear they’ll be removed? Run to the Refuge.
You want to run in the midst of darkness and despair? Run to the Refuge.
Run (to Him) and stay (present where He’s placed you). Sorrow and rejoice. Grieve and hope.
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
(The rest of Psalm 91 is filled with references to our Safe Place and how we either choose to make the Lord our dwelling place—our refuge—or not.)
The joy of the Lord—the Gospel—is our guard.
Because of Christ’s death, the dividing walls of hostility separating us from God—walls built by the bricks of our sin—have been torn down. Jesus took the wrath, we get a refuge. We who once ran from God can now run to Him in freedom and with confidence of sure acceptance.
We don’t have to run from our sins, our circumstances, or our fears. We can lean into all God has for us in Christ because He is our safe place.
Jesus Himself is the harbour of our souls. The joy of our salvation. The rock and refuge of our minds. The sure and steady anchor in the storm.
“God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.”
His sovereignty is a refuge.
His goodness is a refuge.
His mercy, grace, and love—refuges.
But this is not like taking our pick from different hotel chains and choosing which one to tuck away in until a storm passes. God cannot be separated into divided sections. He is one whole and holy God and He calls us to find our safety, protection, and stability in Himself and all that He is (which our minds can’t even comprehend) always. Not just in a storm.
The need for a refuge reminds our hearts this world is broken.
All the hard things of this life, all the unmet longings, even all the fears of loss, whisper with a deeper longing for the day when all the wrong will be made right, all the pain will be eclipsed by joy, and all the sad things will come untrue.
But there is Hope now. A sure and steady Anchor for our souls now. We don’t have to wait until heaven to experience the stabilizing presence of its King.
In His wounds we have refuge. In His joy is our strength, our fuel, our safety, our protection.
May we abide (take refuge) in Him always.
“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. … abide in Me… Abide in My love…” -Jesus, John 15:4, 7, 9
“Christ the sure and steady anchor,
In the fury of the storm;
When the winds of doubt blow through me,
And my sails have all been torn.
In the suffering, in the sorrow,
When my sinking hopes are few;
I will hold fast to the anchor,
It will never be removed.”
-Matt Boswell, Matt Papa