Everyone who walks with Jesus has a verse or two that either got them started or keeps them going. When I was going through the conversion process, one of the passages that convicted me and caused me to go to great length was found in the words of Jesus in Matt 6:33:
"But seek first the kingdom of God in His righteousness and all these things will be added to you."
You might also remember from the Ten Commandments, God telling the Israelites (Exodus 20:2-3)
"I am the Lord your God... You shall have no other gods before me."
In both of these passages, God commands us to put Him first. Psalm 91 is a promise to those who seek to walk with the Lord. This psalm is telling us what it means to God when we put Him first and foremost in our lives. We serve an awesome God. Yet there is one thing that God cannot do. It is impossible for God to lie. The Bible says this. God makes promises to us in order to give us peace. It can be easy when things are absolutely horrifying to start wondering if this promise given us in this psalm was written for us or not. Sometimes it may seem like we have no hope left when a loved one dies or we get a bad diagnosis. When we suffer a great tragedy, it might be easiest to simple believe this promise is not written with us in mind.
Today we are going o discuss God's love for His chosen. First, what does it mean to put God first, to make the Lord our dwelling place. Second, what does it mean that God blesses all those who walk with Him, protecting them specifically - verse 1:
"Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High, will rest in the shadow of the Almighty."
This is the theme of this psalm. Live your life in intimacy with God, and He will guard you. God will protect those who consistently serve Him. This psalm starts by telling us that God protects His own. So, what does it mean to dwell with the Most High? In the Book of James we read that faith without works is dead. Every time one of Scripture's heroes stood up for God, they were choosing to dwell in the shelter of the Most High. Obedience and faith go hand in hand. We cannot dwell in the shelter of the Most High and refuse to do the Will of God. So what does it mean to dwell with God? For each of those Old Testament saints it meant something different. God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, even onto forever. We, however, are very different from each other. Going to Church by itself, that's not what it means to dwell in the shadow of the Most High, though it does accompany it. Praying every day and reading Scripture are both excellent practices, but they aren't always it either. Service to God necessarily includes those things, but reading Scripture and praying can certainly substitute for a relationship with Him. Consider Islam. They pray five times a day. Do you think they're dwelling with the Most High God? Many Bible scholars read the Bible every day, but some of them have totally missed the God who wrote the Bible, and whose Son the Scriptures embody. There's a whole market for clever ideas that do violence to Scripture. If you are clever enough, it doesn't matter if you don't believe in Jesus, you can indeed earn a living by studying the Bible. In the 1800s it became popular to shatter fundamental Christian beliefs with what is often called "higher criticism." Unfortunately, it is still in style today. What's missing from these Bible critics who look at Scripture as a target for clever arguments? Verse 14 says:
"Because he has loved Me, therefore, I will deliver him."
If we hold fast to God intellectually, that's not enough. What about holding fast to God out of fear of punishment? No, that's not it either. You have to hold fast to God in love. God is love. That is what it means to dwell with the Most High, to be in a love relationship with God. The turning point in every struggle in my life came when I gave up trying to do it on my own and brought it before the Lord. I had never believed that God desired my good. When I chose to live, it was with the faintest hope that God would be real, and would eventually get me through. God accepted it. Romans says that God works for the good of those who love Him. The true biblical interpretation of this principle is alien to most non-Christians. Those unbelievers who believe things will work out, they are not basing it on the promises of God but on wishful thinking. This psalm isn't meant to challenge you in any harsh or bad way. In fact, this is the psalm you read when things have gone hardly awry. Anyone whose life is God is already under His mighty protection. That is the message of this psalm.
I know it in my head that God has my back. How do I know it in my heard? Well for starters, it's written in God's Word. I can agree in my brain that the Bible is true. The Word of God is infallible. Apply the scientific method. Test, record, and apply the results. If you give God His due portion, then God will bless you. That's a promise of Scripture. Now you have to work that out for yourself what is His due portion. There are ways to test God that don't involve doing bad things. Test Him by doing good things, not by doing evil.
I also know in my head that God has me under His protection by making a simple comparison. What my was life like then, and what my life is like now. How many of you can see a marked difference in your lives? God has shown me recently that, the very moment I started praying to Him with a sincere heart, He began to move heaven and earth. Read in our Psalm, verse 15:
"He will call upon me and I will answer Him. I will be with Him in trouble; I will rescue Him and honor Him."
What does it mean that God blesses him who walks with him? What does it mean that we are under His protection? Verses 4 says:
"He will cover you with His pinions. And under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark."
This is not a psalm teaching us what to do. It is a psalm that teaches us what God will do. It's a promise to those who desire to serve God. The best way to get ahead in this world is to serve God. it's not the quickest way, or the easiest way. It is the only way to be sure that you will truly be better off in the end than you were at the beginning. You will increase in all the ways that matter. It's not about having more than the next guy, but about being at peace with God, and truly being blessed by those things you have, because they are gifts right from the hands of God. Our psalm says a few things about our blessings and protection Our psalm says in verses 5-8:
"You will not be afraid of the terror by night, or of the arrow that flies by day: Of the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or of the destruction that lays waste at noon. A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it shall not approach you. You will only look on with your eyes; and see the recompense of the wicked."
Those who are delivered from destruction in this life are delivered by the hand of God. Even the wicked when they are delivered, look back and say, "You know, God was with me all along." Prophecy usually has an immediate fulfillment. For instance, Isaiah gave a prophesy for that day that the men all saw and said, "Yes, that describes our situation." But it also sees fulfillment ultimately in the future. Isaiah 53 details the death of Jesus on the cross very well 500 years before He was born. It has lead many Bible-believing Jews to Christ.
Every single promise of God is a prophecy. If you read over our psalm, you will see many things that are true to the earthly life of all believers throughout history. Many Christians died of pestilence during the Black Plague. Does this mean God is a liar because He didn't protect His own from immediate death? No. What did Jesus say about the poor in spirit? (Matt 5:3)
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
If you are not poor in spirit, then the kingdom of heaven does not belong to you. Our pain and hardship is pain and hardship for God. Scripture says explicitly that God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked. If God does not take delight in the the death of those who are our enemies, then how much less would He take delight in our suffering. God wants to see each of us prospering and filled with joy. That is why He redeemed us on the cross. Jesus bought us so that we could spend eternity with Him in heaven, in perfect joy and in perfect peace. Our blood is precious to God, our pain and our hardship. But He allows these things to enter into our lives to fulfill His greater purposes. Romans 8:28 says:
"And we know that God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."
The promises from our psalm will be fulfilled for each of us on judgment day. God uses all the hardship and pain that He abhors to bring about a good result in the end. The problem of pain is a big thing in atheistic circles. If God is good and created all things, why is sin in the world? Many atheists firmly believe that this is a mark against a loving God. When someone accuses God of evil because children are good and people suffer, if atheism is true, then God is evil. In atheism, there is no God, no justice, no punishment for the wicked, or mercy for the righteous. We simply cease to exist. If temporal suffering is the only suffering, and temporal joy the only joy, then this life is truly unjust and horrific. Yet, there is a God. I don't believe there is no God. If you are serving God, you don't believe that either. God preserves us ultimate through the cross. Through the cross was every promise of God fulfilled. When Christ shields us from judgment, we will know the promises of God in their fullest context.
How are the promises of God relevant to me today? Remember David and Goliath. Goliath made a huge mistake. Goliath called out God's holy people. Goliath challenged God to one-on-one combat. He was no better than a wild animal. The shepherd David was victorious because he was fighting for the name of the Most High God. God does not let His people fight alone. Be sure that if God calls you onto the battlefield, you will persevere long enough to fulfill His purposes. Living by biblical principles produces prosperity. His desire is to see us grow. If you want to be absolutely sure you are not wasting your life, then serve God. Embrace Him.