praise

1 In you, O Lord, do I take refuge;
    let me never be put to shame!
In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;
    incline your ear to me, and save me!
Be to me a rock of refuge,
    to which I may continually come;
you have given the command to save me,
    for you are my rock and my fortress.

Psalm 71:1-3

In the ancient world, villages, peoples, and armies sought protection in a refuge or a fortress. If you’ve read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, or seen the movies, think Helm’s Deep. The fortress was a place of retreat and defense. It was a shelter.

The psalmist affirms here that the Lord is our refuge, our rock, our fortress.

It is easy for our circumstances and situations in life to overwhelm us. Cancer, covid, catastrophes, raising teenagers, job difficulties, death, disease, interpersonal conflicts, or any number of other events and circumstances can trouble us.

In David’s case, he spent years wandering from rock to cave hiding out from King Saul who wanted to take his life. And David sought the Lord’s protection, and the Lord protected David. Time and again David trusted in the Lord, and the Lord delivered.

Whatever your frustration or concern, your worry or fear, your enemy or your challenge, take refuge in the Lord. But how can we seek refuge in the Lord?

  • Seek refuge in the Lord’s Words. When you make time to read, study, meditate, memorize, and apply God’s Word, you are taking in God’s thoughts. Much of our frustration, worry, and fear derive from a worried mind and burdened thoughts. So dwell on God’s thoughts. Think on his promises. Find refuge in his Words.
  • Seek refuge in the Lord’s presence. Many of us like to solve problems. We like the challenge of navigating a situation, figuring out the next steps, and planning for success. But often we remain stressed and frustrated because we are seeking refuge in our own answers. Pray. Bring your situations to the Lord specifically and intentionally. Seek his presence through prayer.
  • Seek refuge in the the Lord’s people. While our final and ultimate hope cannot be in others and must be in God alone, God did not create us to be alone. God created us for community. He created us to encourage and support one another. Find a friend you trust who is spiritually maturing and share your burden with them. Just someone else aware of your burden and praying for you can aid you in finding refuge in the Lord. Also, intercessory prayer for each other is a heavenly means of experiencing refuge in the Lord.

When we are in need, we need to find refuge in the Lord. Our situations and burdens are not for us alone. God grants them to us or allows us to experience them precisely because he wants us to seek refuge in him. He also wants to use our experience of seeking refuge in the Lord as a means of testimony to others.

Note how the psalmist closes this hymn:

17O God, from my youth you have taught me,
    and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
18 So even to old age and gray hairs,
    O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation,
    your power to all those to come.

19 Your righteousness, O God,
    reaches the high heavens.
You who have done great things,
    O God, who is like you?
20 You who have made me see many troubles and calamities
    will revive me again;
from the depths of the earth
    you will bring me up again.
21 You will increase my greatness
    and comfort me again.
22 I will also praise you with the harp
    for your faithfulness, O my God;
I will sing praises to you with the lyre,
    O Holy One of Israel.

23 My lips will shout for joy,
    when I sing praises to you;
    my soul also, which you have redeemed.

24 And my tongue will talk of your righteous help all the day long,
for they have been put to shame and disappointed
    who sought to do me hurt.

Psalm 71:17-24 (emphasis mine)

After David sought refuge in the Lord, he promised to testify of the Lord’s goodness to the next generation (v. 18), to praise the Lord’s faithfulness (v. 22), to respond with praise and song (v. 23), and to tell of the Lord’s righteous help “all day long” (v. 24).

When God comes through, we don’t need to remain silent. This is another important reason for God’s people to be apart of our search for refuge. They are witnesses to our situations as well as witnesses to God’s provisions. God’s people are also part of our audience for declaring his praises and his interventions.

So, think back to how God has been your refuge. Share that praise with someone! And by all means, seek the Lord for refuge today.

Let me make a confession to you. Nearly everyday as a pastor, I face a consistent temptation. The temptation is to build my name and my reputation.

In recent weeks, I’ve attended our SBC annual meeting, followed numerous social media conversations, and interacted with church members on a regular basis. We’ve discussed what’s going on in the convention. We’ve discussed the inordinate amount of time some pastors and denominational leaders spend on social media serving as critics of others. In many of these conversations, I’ve found myself tempted to think I have the answers. In evaluating these conversations, I’ve found myself tempted to seek more influence. In thinking about ministry in general, I’m tempted to perceive ministry responsibilities and opportunities as a means to build my own name and reputation.

In short, I’m tempted way too often to promote myself.

In light of these temptations, God reminded me what is primary. He reminded me that I serve his kingdom, not my own.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:3

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

Matthew 5:9-10

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Matthew 6:33

My life is not about me. Ministry opportunities, influence, responsibilities, blessings, and privileges are not for me.

According to Jesus, I must remember that I am poverty-stricken, spiritually bankrupt, offering nothing to the Lord that he needs.

According to Jesus, I must remember that the Father’s kingdom and the Father’s will is what matters, not my own.

According to Jesus, I must remember to seek the Father’s kingdom and his righteousness in my own life, not the glory of my own name.

In thinking on my temptations and reflecting on these truths, here are a few reminders I’m trying to practice in order to focus on God’s kingdom and not my own.

  1. Remind myself everyday that I am spiritually impoverished on my own. I am not doing God a favor by serving him in ministry. He doesn’t need me. If I get to experience the kingdom of heaven and serve him, it is all by grace.
  2. Acknowledge the greatness and grace of the Lord in all my ways. Our Father is holy and great, merciful and majestic, full of glory and full of grace. Beginning our prayers and daily activities with the greatness, glory, and grace of God properly resets my perspective on whose kingdom matters.
  3. Seek the kingdom of God by evaluating actions and activities in light of God’s redemptive mission in the world. One way we are tempted to emphasize our own kingdoms over God’s kingdom is simply by determining our moments by what best suits us. As I think, pray, and discern over God’s mission, it is far easier for me to properly submit my plans to God’s plans.
  4. Confess regularly my self-absorption. Our age of social media influencers, followers, friends, likes, hearts, and connections tempts us to consider our interactions in light of ourselves. Instead of checking on my feeds, God is teaching me to confess and repent of my obsession with myself.
  5. Return praise and thanks to God for what he’s doing. When God uses you or me through our gifts, talents, abilities, and availability, we must remember that he is the One who is indispensable. He’s used fish, a plant and a worm (Jonah), donkeys (Balaam’s donkey), ants (Proverbs 6), birds (feeding Elijah), and nature (storms on the Sea of Galilee) to accomplish his purposes. He doesn’t need you or me. So, let’s thank God when he uses us and return the praise to him that he is due.

Whose kingdom are you trying to build? For me too often, I’m focused on my own. But my own kingdom is built on sand with straw. It is sure to fold and not last.

But the kingdom of Jesus? Well, that kingdom will last. Have a read in Daniel 2 and the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7. That’s the kingdom, the story, the mission, that will truly last. And in abundant grace, God invites us to participate in the building of his kingdom.