In the Shadow of His Wings

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.” For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. -Psalm 91:1-6

My parents’ neighbors have chickens. Over Christmas, my dad, my twin daughters and I would walk up the street, past the ditch, and into their yard to watch the spectacle of hens chasing one another, a rooster crowing out of turn, and my daughters gasping with delight. Like most animals, chickens have a way of protecting their young, and as a mother of two-year old twins, I can relate. 

Have you ever watched someone trying to chase two children who are not quite old enough to listen and obey? It’s a frantic shuttle sprint. Grabbing one ungracefully under the armpits, I take  off in the opposite direction to collect the other staggering toddler from face planting on a hill. I have heard, more often than I like, the words, “Well, you have your hands full!”  Indeed. I am aware. I also need a more effective method of gathering my chicks. 

Mother hens know what they’re doing. They don’t run around, desperately trying to gather their seven babies. They stop, spread their wings, and, if their chicks want to survive, they better run to their mama and take shelter in the shadow of her wings.

Psalm 91 is an invitation to come in close, to run to your Father’s side and hide under his wings. Come, take refuge in the mighty fortress. At His side we will not fear. His faithfulness will be our protection. 

Standing in the middle of God’s redemptive plan, this Psalm holds together the metaphor of God as a mother hen that we see first in the Song of Moses, and later in Jesus’ own words as he weeps over Jerusalem. More broadly, the image of God carrying his people on his wings is seen throughout scripture as a portrait of deliverance. We find such language in Exodus 19, and, although God has delivered Israel from Egypt, they quickly wander away from his outstretched wings. This seems to be woven under the invitation that Psalm 91 offers us. We have to choose to abide, to stay put in God’s presence. Other things will tempt us to take refuge in them. In the face of a pandemic, Information or preparation might seem to promise security, but they often only lead to fear and anxiety as we wonder if our plans will endure. We must choose, daily, to dwell in the shelter of the Most High, to abide in the shadow (Presence) of the Almighty. 

Yet still, we don’t. I wake up, have time in the Word, pray, and by lunchtime I am consumed by the news and wondering if I need more toilet paper. This is our reality. None of us abides perfectly and permanently even when we know we need to. Jesus experienced this in Matthew 23, when he weeps because his people have not come to him. They have not put their trust in him. They have sought their safety elsewhere. And he weeps. 

But the covenant faithfulness of God is not dependent upon us. In Exodus, Israel has already broken the covenant, but God is faithful and gives the law again. In Psalm 91, the author remembers that the same God, who delivered Israel and invites sinful people to be in the presence of the holy God, longs for us to be near him. And Jesus, though he wept over Jerusalem for rejecting him, spread his wings on the cross in order that his people might dwell in his presence forever by the upholding and renewing power of his Spirit. In the shadow of the cross, we find our place of refuge.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21 (ESV)

Fearing man more than God

Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. — Matthew 10:16-23

Persecution is frightening. Jesus warns his followers that they will be flogged, sent out like animals to be hunted, and experience division and betrayal from those closest to them over the gospel. Even more, Jesus promises that we will face persecution, forcing believers to ask themselves when that time comes, not if, how will I respond? Will I respond in fear of man rather than God and, like Peter before the crucifixion, try to evade confrontation? Or will I entrust myself to a sufficient savior who in love prepares us to face the persecution he promises? Here are three things that Jesus teaches us about persecution in Matthew 10.

I am sending you. Believers must remember that they are sent in the same manner that Jesus was sent. When we are in Christ, we are called to follow him in all of his life, to walk the same paths that Jesus walked, teach the same gospel that he taught, heal the sick, care for the poor–the mission and work of Christ become ours. Jesus warns and prepares his disciples that their ministry will look a lot like his, full of betrayal and persecution. But these troubles will happen so that they can bear witness to the gentiles. Persecution is a place of evangelism, and Christians are sent out to bear witness to Christ. When you experience persecution, remember your sent-ness. Remember that Jesus is inviting you to walk in the same ways that he did on his road to glory.

Do not be anxious. In the midst of persecution, do not be anxious. The last time I experienced persecution I was very anxious. Our ministry was being publicly shamed, my name was in the newspaper attached to a lot of half-truths. I was anxious. But here we are reminded that in persecution God’s Spirit is with us, proceeding from the Father, empowering our speech and actions, and enabling us to walk in a manner worthy of the Gospel. God promises his providing presence that will give us exactly what we need in our moments of need so that we can bring glory to Christ.

The one who endures to the end will be saved. You will be hated by all for the name of Christ, but the one who endures to the end will be saved (10:23). When you are persecuted, hold fast to the promises of God. Hold fast to your fear of the one who can destroy both the body and the soul (Matt 10:28). Endure persecution knowing that your inheritance is in heaven (1 Pet 1:4), your labors are not in vain (1 Cor 15:58), and one day you will give account for your actions (Rom 14:12). These words of Jesus remind us that we really do have a goal worth striving towards–salvation–and this is where we must keep our eyes fixed. Our savior has gone before us in a persecuting world. Our savior has endured to the end. And our savior reminds us to take heart because he has overcome the world (John 16:33).

Lord, I repent of my fear of persecution. I repent of my fear of man that can be greater than my fear of God. Empower me today to walk in obedience into the places you are calling me to bear witness to your name. Thank you for your empowering Spirit that enables me to walk in faith and provides for my every need. Remind me today that you alone are worthy of my worship and you alone ought to be revered. Give me the endurance to follow you in the midst of a persecuting world keeping my eyes fixed on Christ. Amen.