What Does it Mean to Take Refuge in God?
When I am struggling, emotionally or spiritually, I often turn to the psalms to find comfort and to find words for how I am feeling.
Psalm 23 always helps me take a deep breath: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. Breathe in…He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul…Breathe out…
Psalm 27 becomes a prayer: Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me…Help me, Lord!
And often in the psalms I am comforted to read God described as our refuge: God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble...(Psalm 46:1).
Theoretically that makes perfect sense. Yes, God is “a shield to those who take refuge in him” (Proverbs 30:5). I believe that. But sometimes I struggle with how exactly to do that. Anyone else feel that way? Anyone else ever wonder how exactly we are supposed to take refuge in God? I want to find refuge under His wings (Psalm 91:4), but um…where are His wings exactly? Sometimes I get a little tripped up on the mechanics of taking refuge in God.
I will not pretend to have the definitive answer on this, but I thought I would share what I have been learning lately about this idea of taking refuge in God in case you’ve ever asked this question.
The first question I had to answer was what “taking refuge” meant. If I was taking refuge from a tornado, I would retreat to my basement. If I were taking refuge from a flood I would head to my roof. But what about when I am taking refuge from a life that feels overwhelming? Or taking refuge from anxiety that is flooding me? How do I take refuge in God then?
The psalms consistently link taking refuge with trusting God.
Psalm 25:1-2: “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God.”
Psalm 56:3-4: “When I am afraid, I will trust in you. On God, whose word I praise, In God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?”
Psalm 62:7-8: “My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”
See the pattern? Over and over again, the psalmist connects trusting God with taking refuge in Him or viewing God as a shield (which sounds a lot like taking refuge to me…).
Trusting is taking refuge.
So. We are told to take refuge in God and taking refuge in Him means trusting Him. Ok, but how? How do I trust Him?Is trust a feeling? Or is it a thought process? What does trust look like exactly?
Here are the three ways I have learned to practice trusting God:
1. Remind myself of the Truth of His Word.
2. Declare praises to Him.
3. Call to Him in prayer.
Let’s take a closer look at each one.
1. Remind myself of the Truth of God’s Word.
I can’t trust a person I don’t know, so I have to get to know God. And I get to know Him through His Word, the Bible. This looks differently for me depending on my season of life.
Sometimes I am following a one-year Bible reading plan; sometimes I am working through a Bible study; and sometimes I am just meditating on one verse at a time.
Regardless, I must actively remind myself of what God says about Himself (and about me) or I will believe the lies that the enemy is constantly whispering to me. We have an enemy and he is a liar. Take a lesson from David and his psalms and fight him with truth of God’s Word:
“As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 18:30).
2. Declare praises to God.
In Acts 16, Paul and Silas heal a demon-possessed girl and are consequently stripped and beaten and thrown in prison. While they are imprisoned, we are told they are praying and singing hymns to God. And while they are praying and singing, do you know what happens? An earthquake shakes the prison, the prison doors swing open, and the chains drop off all the prisoners.
Now, I am not saying that all you need to do is sing along to a Francesca Battistelli song and all your troubles will go away. But I am suggesting that praising God changes things because praising God changes us.
When we sing a praise and worship song, our perspective shifts. We are reminded that God is worthy of all glory and that there is purpose in our pain. I’ll be honest – often a root of my suffering is my unhealthy preoccupation with my own glory. How will this [name a problem] make me look? (This is the driving question of all manner of perfectionism.) Singing praises to God cures me of that condition.
“In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise – in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 56:10-11).
3. Call out to God in prayer.
I generally find that the moment when I am at my worst, and I need God the most, is precisely when I have the least idea how to pray. This is where that Bible reading comes in handy. In times of trouble, I try to take a page out of King Jehoshaphat’s book.
In 2 Chronicles 20, Jehoshaphat finds himself in a terrible pickle, with enemy armies surrounding the kingdom of Judah. I recommend reading the whole chapter, but for brevity’s sake I will share a bit his prayer here:
“If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us…We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you” (2 Chron 20:9 & 12).
We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you. Prayer keeps our eyes on God when it’s tempting to focus on everything else.
When life feels overwhelming and you have no idea what to do next, put your eyes on God. Look to Him through prayer, through praise, and through reading His Word.
You know how people often say that courage is not the absence of fear, but it is being afraid and doing it anyway? Well, I think that trusting God is kind of like that. Trusting God doesn’t mean that I have zero anxiety and I float through life with zen-like composure. Trusting God means that I am practicing these habits even when I am afraid or feeling overwhelmed. This is what taking refuge in God looks like.
I don’t know what you are going through today, but I’m willing to bet that there is something hard happening in your life. Something that makes your chest tight and feels heavier than you can bear. Take refuge in God. Actively trust God by reading His Word, Praising His Name, and praying your heart out. The more you trust Him, the more courageous you will get!
One step at a time,