January 4, 1998
UNDER HIS WINGS
He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
Woodrow and his wife Lois were thrilled. The winning number for the lottery had just been announced, and that exact number was on their ticket. The grand prize was $12 million. Woodrow and Lois were jubilant‑‑at least for a few hours. Then lottery officials found that there had been a proofreading error when the winning number was published. The ticket wasn’t worth $12 million after all; it was worth nothing. It had all been a mistake … and the next day Woodrow died of a heart attack.
When you hear that true story, you may say to yourself, “What rotten luck!” And I agree, it was rotten luck. But then, I think that all luck is rotten. I don’t believe in luck. I think it’s disastrous to trust in luck. I think that every story where luck is the main theme will eventually have a sad ending.
But maybe you don’t agree with me. You may think luck is important. You may like lotteries or casinos or some other kind of betting. You may use good luck charms or lucky numbers to improve your chances, and you may avoid certain things that might bring you bad luck. Then again, you may not believe in charms or omens, and you may think it’s dumb to throw money away on gambling, but you still might believe that many things which happen are just random, chance events. Life is a lottery, a matter of luck.
The trouble with counting on luck is that you can’t really trust it. You never know whether luck is going to be for you or against you. You can be praising your good luck one moment, only to find out the next moment that your luck has gone bad. If you’re like Woodrow, your faith in luck can give you $12 million dollars one day and then take it away and kill you the next day.
If I had to go through life depending on luck, it would drive me crazy. Here at the beginning of a new year, I couldn’t bear to think that everything that’s going to happen in 1998 is just a random jumble of chance events. I couldn’t handle the wondering and worrying. I couldn’t feel safe or secure.
But I don’t believe in luck. I believe in God.
What about you? As you face a new year, there’s no way of knowing what might happen. Do you really want to face the unknown with nothing to count on but vague, impersonal, heartless, mindless luck? That can be mighty cold and confusing. Wouldn’t you rather count on a definite, personal, warm, and wise God? Wouldn’t it be great to know that no matter what the upcoming year holds, the Lord is holding you?
The Bible says that when you trust in the Lord, he shelters you under his wings the way a bird shelters her young. If you live far from the Lord, it can be scary and cold, but if you live under his wings, you can be safe and warm, no matter what. Why face the future shivering in the icy winds of fear and loneliness? That’s no way to live! Why not take refuge under the wings of Jesus? Is Jesus your constant refuge? As we begin this new year, are you facing the future with a sense of warmth and safety? You can–if you find refuge under God’s wings.] In Psalm 91 the Bible says,
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
What a wealth of word pictures for God! When it seems there’s nowhere to get away from hassles and worries, the Lord is a shelter, a secret hiding place of safety and stillness. When troubles heat up and you feel like you’re in a scorching desert with the sun beating down on you, the Lord is a shadow, a cooling shade of relief and refreshment. When you feel hounded and surrounded by enemies or illness, the Lord is a fortress, a mighty tower of protection. When you feel weak and wounded, the Lord is a feathery soft place of comfort. When you feel cold and alone, the Lord is a wing drawing you in so that you sense his warmth and the beat of his heart. And yet, though he can be so comforting and tender and warm, he remains a strong, hard shield against every spear and dart and arrow. What a God! Shelter and shadow, fortress and feathers, wings and shield–he is all those things and so much more.
And God’s protection isn’t just a great general truth. It’s a precious personal experience. The writer of Psalm 91 doesn’t just talk about God’s protection as an objective doctrine he picked up somewhere. He speaks from personal faith and experience–as any preacher or teacher should: “I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.” Objective doctrine is great, but I can’t savor the full wonder of it or impress others with it unless I have tasted it myself. As John Calvin wrote, “we cannot communicate true knowledge unless we deliver it not merely with our lips, but as something which God has revealed to our own hearts.”
Why do I speak of living under God’s wings? Not because preaching is my job but because God is my life. I’m not talking about a God who exists somewhere out in the blue; I’m talking about a God who loves me personally, and about a Savior, Jesus Christ, who was nailed to a cross and died for me personally, and about the Holy Spirit who guards and guides me personally so that nothing can destroy me or separate me from God’s love in Christ. “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.”
And he’s not just mine. He can be yours too. “Surely he will save you,” says the psalmist. “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”
So again, why am I telling you what Psalm 91 says about living under God’s wings? Is it because Psalm 91 is great poetic literature? Is it because some brilliant thoughts and splendid doctrines shine through? No, that’s all true, but my main reason is simply that I live under the Lord’s wings and I want you to do the same. God loves me and cares for me like a mother bird cares for a helpless little one. Since God loves me like that, I can’t help loving him, and I can’t help telling you about him and urging you to trust in him as well. I can’t survive or thrive anywhere but in God’s care, and you can’t either.
If you were to make a list of everything that scares you and worries you, that list might get pretty long. But God knows that list even before you make it. God knows very well what scares you and me. The writer of Psalm 91 comes up with quite a list of scary things–and then he says you don’t have to be scared. Already in verse 3 he speaks of the fowler’s snare, the secret pitfalls and hidden traps set by those who are out to get you. He speaks of deadly pestilence, dreadful diseases that strike many people down and strike fear into everyone else. And he says God will surely save you from such things if you take refuge in him.
But we are fearful and slow to believe. So Psalm 91 goes on to give a more detailed description of the dangers and to say that although you may have to face these dangers, you don’t have to fear them–not if you’re under God’s wings.
You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked (v. 5-8).
Sometimes your deepest fear may be “the terror of night.” If you’re a child, you may be terrified of the dark. But even if you’re a grownup, you may feel uneasy when you’re alone in the dark: you hear things and imagine things that frighten you. Then again, you may have outgrown your fear of darkness, but you may be more afraid than ever of another kind of darkness: you’re afraid of the unknown. You’re terrified if you can’t see exactly what’s going to happen next or how things are going to turn out.
Maybe, though, it’s not just a dark fear of the unknown or of hidden dangers that troubles you. Maybe it’s a definite danger that is shooting straight at you, what Psalm 91 calls “the arrow that flies by day.” You know you are under attack. There have been drive-by shootings in your neighborhood. Or your boss is going to fire you. Or your spouse is going to leave you. Or somebody is going to sue you. The arrow is sharp and swift and it’s coming at you in broad daylight. But whether it’s day or night, whether you face open arrows or hidden dangers, you don’t have to be afraid if you are under God’s wing. He won’t let anything destroy the person who trusts in him.
But what if you’re facing a terrible disease? Well, once again, God is enough. “The pestilence that stalks in the darkness” may invade your body. A disease like cancer can sneak up on you in the dark. You never saw it coming, and there’s really no explanation of why it suddenly started growing in your body. Then again, you may face plagues and problems that spread openly, in the brightness of the noonday sun, as it were. But whatever the illness, whatever the plague, whatever the time of day or night, there is a place of safety under God’s wings.
I’d be a nervous wreck if I didn’t believe in God’s good plan and his constant protection amid all dangers. The morning after I started working on this program, my wife was trying to light the pilot flame on our gas furnace when a sudden blast of flame flashed in her face. Her hair was singed a bit, but she was unhurt. The next evening I was driving down a busy road when suddenly a driver pulled out from a parking lot into the road in front of me, without even looking. I jerked the wheel to avoid smashing into him. My car banged up over a high curb onto a raised concrete median. The other driver raced off without even stopping. I was shaken but uninjured. The only damage to my car was a tire that blew out completely as it thumped over the raised curb. That night I got an e-mail from a loved one. Her young son had started up a tractor that his father was working on, with his little brother playing nearby. The tractor was in gear, in reverse, when it started. It lurched backward and would have killed whoever was in its path. But it didn’t run over anyone. It was only a brief scare, not a fatal tragedy. Those things all happened in my circle of loved ones within a 36-hour period. I can’t count all the dangers and “close calls” I’ve escaped in my life, and you probably can’t either.
Is this all just a matter of good luck? And could a bit of bad luck end your life at any moment? No! God is in charge. Not a hair can fall from your head, not a hair can be burned or singed, apart from the will of God. God’s plan may include tests of our faith and threats to our life, but everything he plans is meant to show his children just how great a refuge he is. Without the dangers we’d soon forget that our safety depends on him. And without enemies and challenges, there would be no victories.
God’s wing shelters his people from dangers of every kind, says Psalm 91–and that includes the danger of God’s own wrath against sin. That’s the biggest reason you need to be close to God: not just so that you can be safe from this or that danger, but so that you can be safe from the Lord himself and from his anger against sin. Jesus said, “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him” (Luke 12:4-5). Only God has power to throw you into hell, and only when you take refuge in the shelter of his wing and under the shadow of Jesus’ cross can you have safety and warmth and comfort. So trust in Jesus’ death to pay for your sin and make you right with God. Believe his promise of eternal life. Then you can be sure of eternal life, even if people all around you are perishing. In the words of Psalm 91, “A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.” If you are God’s child, under his wing of pardon and protection, you may see God’s wrath against the wicked, but you will not have to endure it yourself.
Jesus said that the only fear worth having is a fear of God and a fear for the eternal destiny of our soul. That’s one reason we shouldn’t fear anything that might destroy only our bodies. But right after saying that, Jesus gave another reason not to worry about our physical safety: nothing can happen to us apart from God’s will. Anybody or anything that might try to harm us can’t do a thing without God’s permission and plan. Jesus put it this way: “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Luke 12:6-7). This means that whenever any type of harm comes our way, God will either shield us from it, or, if he does allow it to strike us, he will turn it to our profit.
Sometimes, though, even when we belong to God, we find it hard to rest in that assurance of his care. And so God keeps piling on promises to overcome our doubts. God tells us not only of his own wings of protection but also of his winged workers, the angels. Listen to verses 9-13 of Psalm 91.
If you make the Most High your dwelling‑‑even the Lord, who is my refuge‑‑then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
What a comfort! God himself watches over us, and he also gives his mighty angels clear, definite orders to guard us and help us along in everything we do, in all our ways. Sometimes the angels have to work overtime, as they did for me and my loved ones in all those near misses during the very period I’ve been working on this message. Perhaps you’ve had experiences, too, where it seemed the angels must have been working overtime. But even when we don’t have close calls, even when we don’t see any immediate threats and everything seems calm and normal, we could never survive on our own. Only because God cares for us and his angels carry us can we move ahead in safety.
At the deepest level, this isn’t just a matter of physical safety. As Jesus said, it’s not the body but the soul that matters most. When you are under God’s wings and being carried on angels’ wings, the Lord doesn’t just protect your body from snakes and lions. He protects your spirit from that old serpent Satan. He protects you from the devil who roams about like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Of all the dangers you face, none is more horrible the Satanic and the demonic forces of evil. But even demons cannot harm you if you’re under God’s wings. God doesn’t just protect you from the ordinary terrors of darkness. He shields you from the prince of darkness, the devil himself. It’s great to know that the Lord protects your body for as long as he wants you to live here on earth, but it’s even greater to know that God protects your soul from Satan and gives you power and authority to trample on demons.
Psalm 91 comes to a grand and glorious conclusion as God himself speaks personally and declares his promises.
“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation” (91:14-16).
What marvelous promises! And to whom does God make these promises? How can you know this protection and comfort are yours? Simply by trusting and loving him. God says, “Because he loves me, I will rescue him.” What is love for God? It is a sweet confidence and delight in his goodness. When you love and trust God and acknowledge his name, honoring the name of Jesus above every name, God guarantees that he will rescue and protect you.
God also says that when you belong to him, you will pray. He doesn’t just invite you to pray and or say that it’s a good idea to pray. He says that you will pray. You “will call upon” him. Faith isn’t just a matter of a belief you happen to have. It is a life of conversation and communion with God. It’s a life of prayer. When you dwell in the shelter of the Most High, it means the Most High also dwells in you! His Holy Spirit lives in you and keeps you in the secret place under God’s wing, the place of prayer. There you can enjoy God’s warmth and love and protection and talk with him and claim his promises.
In that place of prayer, you look to the past work of Jesus in his death and resurrection as the basis for forgiveness and blessing, and you also look to the future with confidence in the living Jesus and with trust in all God’s promises. If you know Jesus, you won’t go through this year hoping your luck will hold up. You’ll pray confidently to the One who bought you with his blood and who promises to protect you and answer your prayers.
And God promises even more than that. God says, “I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him, and show him my salvation.” Just think of it! God promises not only to rescue you but to honor you! He promises to give you his own personal stamp of approval, which means more than all the honors the world can offer; and he promises you a share in the honor of Jesus himself, as you reign with him forever and ever. What honor could be greater? On top of that, God promises to satisfy you. How deeply will God satisfy you? The Bible says that in his presence is fullness of joy, at his right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11). So why hope for a bit of good luck here or there, when you can be guaranteed fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore?
“With long life I will satisfy him,” says God, “and show him my salvation.” Long life doesn’t just mean 70 or 80 or 90 or even 100 years. It means really long life–eternal life! In some cases, God’s protection doesn’t mean a long life here on earth. But it does mean life that goes on and on forever. Even when you die, you don’t really die! Your lungs might stop breathing and your heart might stop beating, but you will go right on living. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). You will not die.
You will not even see death. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” (John 8:51). When you draw your last breath, that awful enemy death might want to rear up and seize you, but the angels of God swoop in instead and carry you to glory. You never actually see the awful face of death. As your heart stops, you see only the splendid angels of God and the loving face of your Savior. What a magnificent promise!
So believe in Jesus and hold on to his Word. “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.”
Under his wings you will be safe in 1998. Under his wings you will be safe forever!
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.