The Bible uses the word “Refuge” eighty-eight times, with over half coming from the book of Psalms. A refuge is defined as “a condition of being safe or sheltered from pursuit, danger, or trouble” (Oxford Dictionary). With this definition, it’s no wonder Psalms account for over half of the word’s usage. For most of his life, David was pursued by Saul and feared for his life. When life becomes troubled and overwhelming, where do you find your refuge?
There is something to be said for the number of times psalmists proclaim YHWH is their refuge:
“The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble” (Psalms 9:9).
“Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge” (Psalms 16:1).
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalms 46:1).
“Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed” (Psalms 57:1).
“If you say, ‘The Lord is my refuge,’ and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent” (Psalms 91:9-10).
“It is better to trust in the Lord than to trust in princes” (Psalms 118:9).
The list could go on. However, we should notice the importance of making God our refuge. The very first Psalm says that God is a refuge for the oppressed in times of trouble. The psalmist also mentions taking refuge in God until the disaster has passed. They also state that no harm will overtake you when you take refuge in the Lord. Finally, taking refuge in the Lord is better than trusting others. So the question remains, who do you take refuge in when life seems to be falling apart?
People take refuge in many different things such as relationships, drugs, alcohol, fame, family, social media, etc. The problem with choosing these as a refuge is that they collapse and fall under the weight of the world. They also cause us more harm and create more worry, hurt, confusion, and chaos. When we seek something other than God amid the storms and chaos in our life, we end up further out to sea and even more lost. We want to feel safe and protected. We want the chaos and trouble to disappear.
When we take refuge in anything other than YHWH, we will find ourselves alone in troubles, trials, and danger. YHWH said, “Now where are their gods, the rock they took refuge in, the gods who ate the fat of their sacrifices and drank the wine of their drink offerings? Let them rise up to help you! Let them give you shelter! See now that I am He! There is no god besides Me. I put to death and bring to life, I have wounded, and I will heal, and no one can deliver you out of My hand” (Deuteronomy 32:37-39). There is only One who can sustain us through any trial or storm.
How do you take refuge in something you can’t see? Life is not a physical storm that you need to escape from and find shelter. Life is a mental, emotional, and spiritual journey that brings moments of stress, fear, anxiety, and feeling overwhelmed. No matter what physical structure you go into, these things will follow you. When we take refuge in YHWH, we run to him when our life feels overwhelming. To seek refuge in God, we come to Him in prayer and earnestness. We lay at His feet every fear, anxiety, worry, struggle, pain, frustration, and hurt. We look to Him as our strength when we don’t have any left. We look to Him as our shelter when our world seems consumed by torrential storms. We pick up His Word and read it to be reminded of God’s goodness, grace, compassion, and mercy.
A refuge is something you run into. It is something designed to shelter you from the elements. In life, the storms are not physical, but instead, they are spiritual and mental. The storms are unseen, but they are definitely felt. God is the refuge we need to seek in times like these. We must run to Him to seek shelter. When life is uncertain, it is God who stays the same. When everything around us seems to be crumbling, it is God who stands true and strong. When we feel like we are drowning, God stands on the water’s surface with His hand outstretched to lift us out of the waters of uncertainty and fear. Nothing else in this life can bring peace and shelter like that of YHWH.
There is one thing that I have found that causes the worst mental anguish in life – worry. The fear of uncertainty can ravage the mind and keep us from living a fulfilling life. Jesus spoke directly about worry:
“Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:25-34).
There is nothing that is outside of God’s control. When we think everything is out of control, we fail to seek and trust in Him. It doesn’t matter how bad the world may seem, we must learn to take refuge in God.
Consider the life of Christ. He knew His purpose in life: to die for all humanity and restore the relationship between humanity and God the Father. To do this, Christ had to go through agonizing torment mentally, spiritually, and physically. The closer he got to His impending doom, the more anguish he felt. In the garden of Gethsemane, Matthew writes about Jesus’s last few moments before He is arrested. Jesus knows what’s about to happen, so He takes three of His closest disciples and heads into the garden to pray. Jesus tells his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray. My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me” (Matthew 26:36b, 38). Jesus was overwhelmed. He felt the stress of what was about to happen. He didn’t go hang out with his friends. He didn’t drink away his worry. He went into a garden and prayed.
Matthew continues, “Going a little further, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.'” (Matthew 26:39). Christ’s response to his mental anguish was to fall on the ground, face first, and seek God the Father. He took refuge in Him. He ran to his Father, the only One who could genuinely shelter Him in His time of agony. He asked to be spared from what was about to happen to Him. However, he didn’t finish His prayer with that request. He finished by submitting to His Father’s will.
When Jesus came back to His disciples, He found them sleeping. Jesus said, “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” The men Jesus chose to come with Him into the garden fell asleep. They were not there to support and encourage Him. This is what happens when we decide to take refuge in people or relationships. People will fail us, but God never fails us.
Two more times, Jesus went into the garden and prayed that His Father would take away the physical pain and torment that was about to fall on Him. However, he finished His prayer with submission to His Father every time. Luke writes, “He withdrew (from His disciples) about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:41-43).
Jesus sought refuge in God the Father. He earnestly sought after Him in prayer. Did God remove the cup that Jesus had to drink from? No, but He strengthened Him in his time of despair and anguish. A refuge doesn’t stop the storm. It keeps you safe while you’re in it. Jesus knew the only way to restore the relationship between humanity and YHWH was to endure suffering, torment, anguish, and death. We take this for granted because if God removed the cup from Jesus, you and I would have to pay the price Christ paid for the world. Jesus suffered so that we wouldn’t have to. Thank you, Jesus.
When life feels overwhelming, unbearable, and unfair, and worry sets in, take refuge in YHWH. Only He can sustain you and give you strength as you weather the storm. Just as Jesus fell to the ground and prayed, follow His example and seek after God.
“I can face my darkest night
‘Cause I trust You with my life
I’m not afraid, for You are my refuge
When it’s heavy on my chest
You’re the place I catch my breath
You are the only one I hold onto
Oh, ’cause You are my refuge.”
(Refuge by Skillet)