A Song for Dangerous Times

A Song for Dangerous Times

“If you say, ‘The Lord is my refuge,’ and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you” (Psalm 91:9).

The extravagant promises of Psalm 91 are puzzling to anyone who faces trouble. And who doesn’t? What are we to make of assurances that if God is our refuge, we need not fear plague and pestilence, destruction and disaster? Are these sweeping promises to be understood as some version of word of faith prosperity theology? Are these verses examples of pious escapism?

In the world I inhabit, the world as it is today, people of faith do in fact, fall victim to night terrors (v.5), deadly diseases (v. 6), untimely death (v.7), natural and man-made disasters (v.10), and various other troubles. My memory ranges over 47 years of pastoral ministry. There have been countless instances where I have been called to be present in the lives of people who loved the Lord but who faced disasters, dangers and death.

The author of this psalm is realistic in his poetic assessment of the world as it is. He names the threats: snare, pestilence, arrow, plague, war, disaster, dangerous predators. “Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come,” wrote John Newton. His life was a testament to the fact that people of faith are not immune from the troubles of the world.

In these circumstances, the inspired writer directs our attention to our Creator. In the world, as it is, he wants us to know God as He is. He invites us to live in close relationship to God, sheltered under his wing of protection.

The names of God reveal aspects of his character: “Most High” — supreme, exalted ruler over the universe; “Almighty” — all-powerful, all-sufficient One; “The Lord” — Yahweh; the self-existent, personal, covenant-keeping God; “My God” — the majestic God of eternity, the sovereign God of creation. These names are a call to worship and trust him, in all circumstances.

The titles of God (refuge, shelter, fortress) remind us to think of him as our security and protection: soft, when it needs to be, like a mother bird’s sheltering wing, hard, when it needs to be, like a warrior’s armor. The psalmist would have us stop and think about God when we face life’s troubles.

If you read Psalm 91 again, think about it in light of world events, interminable war, natural disaster, refugees from genocide and poverty, political turmoil, suspicion and fear, economic disruption, assassination, and especially, religious persecution in various parts of the world. The plain fact is, God’s faithful ones do not always escape trouble.

You might be brought up short and puzzled until you read verse 15. There the Lord promises, “He will call on me and I will answer him. I will be with him in trouble.” This is a key to understanding how to apply the beautiful promises of the psalm. The author looks at the world as it is and to God as he is, and he brings them together. There is a resolution in verse 15.

This is a Christian philosophy that sustains you in the boardroom when the manager says, “Clean out your desk and turn in your keys. This is your last day on the job.” This is a worldview for the hospital room when the doctor brings bad news and the outlook is bleak.

“I will be with him in trouble,” not necessarily escaping it. It is the presence of the Lord in the time of trouble that gives courage and hope. Two biblical illustrations come to mind. In the book of Genesis, Joseph endured many troubles. There we read, “The Lord was with Joseph.” In the New Testament book of Acts, The Lord Jesus appeared in a vision to the apostle Paul at a time when he was discouraged and lonely, “Do not be afraid…for I am with you.”

He says the same thing to you and me: “Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5-6).

The deliverance so boldly promised in Psalm 91 is for those who take refuge (v.2) in God, who make the Most High their dwelling (v. 9), who love him (v. 14), and who call upon him for salvation (v. 15). It is for those who say with faith, “My God in whom I trust” (v. 2).

It is not a blanket escape from the threats and risks of living in a dangerous world. Rather it seems clear that the writer sees and wants us to see another dimension, that of eternity. In the book of Romans, we are given a Christian interpretation of Psalm 91: “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:35-37). “In all these things” we learn to recognize and rely on God’s presence with us. In persecution, trouble, or even death we will not be forgotten or forsaken.

    –  Pastor Randy Faulkner






What Do Pastors Do All Week?

What Do Pastors Do All Week?

Eugene Peterson, in his delightful memoir The Pastor, wrote that when he started out in local church ministry he wasn’t entirely sure what it was a pastor was supposed to do. He said it was not obvious to the people of his congregation or community, either.

He went to a seminar led by a nationally-recognized authority on pastoral theology. The young Peterson was impressed by the brilliant man’s erudition and theological vocabulary. “For an hour or so I was under his spell. And then I began feeling that something was not quite right. What I was doing, working in a congregation characterized by interruptions, false starts, and unfinished work, seemed like a far cry from anything he was presenting.”

He pressed the man with questions about his experience in pastoral work. He was evasive. It turned out that he had been an associate pastor for only one year in a small town! Peterson checked the indices in the books the man had written. There was not a single reference to prayer in any of them. There were few if any, references to congregation, worship, preaching, and scripture.

“I still had a great deal to learn about the vocation of pastor, but I knew one thing for sure: the work of prayer was at the heart of everything. Personal conversation with God had to intersect with everything I thought or said, whether in the sanctuary or on the street corner.” He went on to say that “the vocation of pastor had to be understood entirely under the shaping influence of the biblical text.”

Hmmm. Prayer and the biblical text. Not exactly innovations or contemporary novelties. Prayer and the biblical text. Remind you of anything? Do you remember the priorities of the first church leaders who said, “We… will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4)?

I am reminded of the provocative words of Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse who said, “If I had only three years to serve the Lord, I would spend two of them studying and preparing.”

The famous evangelist Billy Graham was speaking to a large gathering of London clergymen. He said if he could repeat his ministry, he would make two changes. The people looked startled. What could he mean?

First, he continued, he would study three times as much as he had done. “I’ve preached too much and studied too little,” he said. The second change was that he would give more time to prayer. Surely this thinking was shaped by the priorities in the biblical text!

Every conscientious pastor gives a certain amount of time each week to pastoral care and counseling, to visitation, to evangelism and discipleship. Administrative work takes time: planning, decision-making, committee meetings, staff meetings. Important work to be sure.

But nothing, absolutely nothing, should take the place of prayer and Bible study. This is what produces, in the life of a pastor, clarity of vocation, depth of conviction, maturity of judgment, integrity of character, and sanctity of ministry — on Sunday, and throughout the week.

Pastor Randy Faulkner

Life Is Hard, But God Is…

Life Is Hard, But God Is…

Life Is Hard, But God Is…

How we complete that sentence reveals a lot about our faith. “God is good – all the time” is more than a religious platitude. It is the testimony of Bible people from Job to Elijah; from Jeremiah to Stephen. Their uniform witness is that sometimes God’s people suffer – unjustly and unfairly, it appears.

As we read their stories we learn that in spite of persistent trials, disappointments, and pain, they experienced God’s faithfulness and mercy. One of the truths we learn is that God’s people worship Him not because life is easy, or because God always relieves their pain, or always gives them what they want, but because He is God, and because His purposes are good.

Recently I read an article by a well-known Christian writer who told about being abused as a young girl, and about the confusion, conflict, and depression that followed. Her marriage to a prominent leader was not the storybook marriage people thought it was. It was filled with “conflict, disappointment, dysfunction, and resentment.”

Not only that, her mentally ill son committed suicide. Not surprisingly, this was devastating to this Christian couple who loved Jesus and sought to find His purpose and comfort in the suffering. Did they?

She wrote, “Through God’s work in our lives, we’ve beaten the odds that divorce would be the outcome.” This was because of their view of God. “God has worked in our life together – and He’s used our marriage struggles to draw us closer to Him and to each other.”

As I read this, I thought of how she is modeling healthy responses to life’s troubles: choosing to worship and glorify God; seeking and granting forgiveness for offenses; bringing failure and suffering into the light, and dealing with them openly – not hiding behind a curtain of shame and secrecy. This enables her to help and guide others who go through the same things.

In Romans 8:24-27 the Apostle Paul bluntly states that we Christians groan inwardly in our weakness. But we are not alone. God has given us His Holy Spirit. And the Spirit gives us hope. Hope is not wishful thinking. It is a certainty that God’s good purposes will be worked out in us, too.

Believing that God is good activates our faith. It brings it to life in our experience.

Pastor Randy Faulkner



Cruise Control Christians

Cruise Control Christians

I knew a man who built and raced sports cars as a hobby. I asked him one day if he’d let me drive one of his custom-built cars. “Is your insurance paid up?” he asked in reply. He told me about his fondness for racing. It is exhilarating. The adrenaline rush, the excitement of pushing a machine to its limits of speed and control and the ultimate thrill of victory kept him coming back for more. Success required practice. Practice produced skill and peak awareness, he told me.

The New Testament compares the Christian life to a race. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24). The apostle Paul is telling us that following Jesus requires intensity and focus, just like entering and running a race.

Unfortunately, some people seem to be on cruise control in their spiritual lives. Cruise control is convenient. It enables a driver to match the flow of traffic with less personal effort and concentration. I have found there is less fatigue on a long road trip.

Cruise Control Christians

Cruise control Christians are content to match their level of spiritual commitment to the standards of those around them. In his book The Disciplines of Grace, Jerry Bridges pointed out that these are the folks who are content to go with the flow. They try not to lag too far behind, but neither do they try to forge ahead for the Lord. They are mired in the heavy traffic of spiritual mediocrity.

God is calling them to a higher standard of spiritual living.

I don’t want to be a cruise control Christian. I want to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). To do that I will need to keep my foot on the accelerator and my eye on the track. My goal should be victory. This is possible if I am intentional about growing spiritually.

I have certain spiritual practices (otherwise called “disciplines”) that are a necessary part of my life as a Christian. They are essential for my growth and victory in the Christian life. These spiritual priorities are good habits that have been built into my daily and weekly routine. I pursue them not because I am a pastor, but because they are necessary for my growth as a Christian man and as a disciple of Jesus.

If you have discovered some helpful practices that keep you on the right track spiritually, I invite you to share them with me by using the contact form below. Perhaps your ideas and example can influence other readers to stay in the race and keep moving forward for Jesus Christ.

Maybe I will get to drive a sports car in a road rally someday. But more than that I want to approach the Christian life the way my friend approached winning a race, putting everything into the effort, not on cruise control.

    –  Pastor Randy Faulkner