Today was the First Sunday in Lent, which means Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16 is the Psalm reading for today. It says:
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 you have made the Lord, my refuge,
Even the Most High, your dwelling place.
No evil will befall you,
Nor will any plague come near your tent.
For He will give His angels charge concerning you,
To guard you in all your ways.
They will bear you up in their hands,
That you do not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread upon the lion and cobra,
The young lion and the serpent you will trample down.
“Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him;
I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name.
“He will call upon Me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
“With a long life I will satisfy him
And let him see My salvation.”
This portion of Psalm 91 is used because the Gospel reading deals with Jesus’ wilderness experience post-baptism (Luke 4); it gives us a bigger picture into Jesus rebuttal of the satan in his quoting of verses 11-12. While there, the satan comes to him in order to tempt him in areas of his identity and mission. Offers are presented before Jesus, yet they are based on conditions Jesus won’t indulge in. In many ways, he is offered what is rightfully his, but through means that aren’t correct.
Through it all, this Psalm gives us confidence concerning God’s sheltering care. Jesus rested in this care and so should we.
Yet, sometimes I struggle with this because it seems so cliche.
We’ve all heard people say similar things. “God loves you and will be there for you.” Easy to say; more difficult to hear.
I sometimes struggle with it because when I enter into open spaces where vulnerability is allowed to flourish, I often hide behind self-made walls instead of trusting that Jesus is with me in them. My tendency is to hide behind these walls in order to preserve myself by not allowing anyone in, including God and his sheltering love. I end up isolated and alone, wallowing in my own grief and trouble, wondering where God might be in this.
And so, when people quote verses or give reassurance of God’s love within the storm, it bounces off my defensive walls and shows itself in statements such as, “You don’t know what it is like” or “You’ve never dealt with these things.” Their statements automatically get filed in the “Cliche” folder never to see the light of day. God is shut out and so are his people.
Or maybe the sentiments found in this Psalm and elsewhere smack of cliche due to my lack of being in the storm. I wonder how many cliche statements remain cliche due to our lack of life in the way of Jesus. Learning to live like Jesus means that we will face temptations and will need to rest in the ever-present covering of God. I wonder if I mistake the reality of God’s love for cliche because of my timidness in following after Jesus.
It only remains cliche until we’ve lived through it.
I wonder if this is how it was for Jesus. N.T. Wright says,
Perhaps Jesus has memorized it [Psalm 91] ahead of time and was already using it as a prayer, day by day, to help him through the tough test he was facing. And the devil, seeing he isn’t going to succeed by a direct assault on Jesus’ senses or appetites, tries a different tack: ‘If you really believed this Psalm, then wouldn’t you trust God so much that you could throw off the Temple? Doesn’t it say he’ll send his angels to protect you? Perhaps you don’t believe it after all. Perhaps you’re just pretending…
I wonder if at that moment the word of God memorized by the incarnate Word of God transformed into reality and simultaneously defeated the satan. I wonder if all the things Jesus had learned from the rabbi of his youth came rushing back to him, yet in this moment it was the experiential flood of his Father’s love that cut through cliche and changed everything.
As I have faced difficult times I have learned the reality of God’s love always being present and every-ready. I see it more and more as I cultivate eyes to see and ears to hear through placing myself under Jesus’ master teaching. Although I don’t want it, this teaching leads to life, which, paradoxically, comes through death.
Jesus did not say you will not be tempest-tossed. But he did say, ‘You will not be overcome.’ – Julian of Norwich
I pray, for myself and for you, that this Lent may cut through the seemingly cliche as we together begin to live life like Jesus. Place yourself under God’s protection. There is no better place to be.
Other posts in this Lent series: