Refuge for the Anxious and Afraid
It often seems like anxiety is the air we breathe today. Whether you consider yourself an anxious person or not, you cannot deny that fear and anxiety pervade our cultural landscape. And anxiety has a wide range of intensity. For some, you may experience a nagging background worry, which your mind drifts to in the lulls of the day. Others of you battle all-consuming, panic inducing, debilitating fears about circumstances outside of your control.
And, control is a key word. Anxiety mainly stems from our inability to control the world around us. We feel threatened by a potential crisis, and our anxiety spikes proportionately with our inability to control the circumstances. We should also note the future orientation of anxiety. It is far less a fear about what is happening, right here, right now; it is much more concerned about what is to come, what crisis or crises may ensue as a result of the here and now. Which is why we can experience anxiety even in times of relative peace, because there are always the fear inducing “what if’s” or skepticism that our experience of peace is not going to last.
The instability of our times doesn’t help matters, either. Not only are we acutely aware of our inability to control the things happening around us, but so often we either don’t trust those who are in control or—worse—we fear that no one is in control. Whether we’re talking about the realm of politics, finances, health, personal safety, or relationships, we feel an instability or unpredictability regarding the future; so, for the most part, we base our predictions off of the news headlines and social media reactions. Of course, these sources feed our fears, preparing us for more gloom and doom And, as a result, is it any wonder we are an anxious society?
Even here, this morning, there are many of us who have spent this past week “eating the bread of anxious toil” (Psalm 127:2). Christian or not, none of us are immune to the natural fears that arise from our inability to control every part of our lives. So then, the question before us is, when crises loom large and it feels like your world is about to fall apart, where do you turn? And, to whatever degree you’re wrestling with anxieties this morning, I believe that God wants us to turn to him. I believe God intends for Psalm 11 to speak to our troubled times and bring peace to our anxious hearts. To that end, would you pray with me.
Father, You know everyone of us in this room. We are seen by you. You hear our silent thoughts, even our hearts are not hidden from you. By your Spirit and through your word, would you meet us this morning where each of us are at. Would you grant rest where there is restlessness, peace where there is strife, and replace our fear with faith in you, our sovereign God. We ask that you would illuminate your word to us to the end that we see you, ourselves, and the world in light of of your revelation. And, we ask all of this in the name of the one who loves us and gave himself for us: Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
In the Lord I Take Refuge
Beyond knowing that King David wrote Psalm 11, we don’t know much about the particular circumstances that inspired this song. But we do know it is a song! You can see in the superscript above the first verse, “To the choirmaster.” That little superscript was not tacked on by the editors of your English Bible, it is found in the earliest Hebrew manuscripts. I point this out because I want us to remember as we go through this psalm that David wrote it to be sung. So, it’s good and right for us to go through it verse by verse and understand the content of the lyrics, but I don’t want us to miss the forest for the trees by forgetting that the primary aim for this psalm is not that you would study, but that you would sing.
That said, I have three things I’d like for us to see this morning. First, I want us to understand David’s situation. Secondly, I want for us to understand David’s response. And, finally, I want us to understand how this psalm applies to us. So, beginning with David’s situation, let’s dive in. Psalm 11 starts with David’s declaration:
In the Lord I take refuge.
This is one of those statements in the Psalms that you might find on a Hallmark card or some flower-filled Instagram post. But, for David, his declaration of taking refuge in the Lord isn’t just a nice sentiment or self-help mantra to get him through a tough time — David knows from experience that the Lord is his refuge. There are countless examples of God delivering David, but I’d like to look briefly at one. Go ahead a flip a few hundred pages back in your Bible to 1 Samuel 17.
Most of us know the story well. Israel, under the leadership of King Saul, was at war with the Philistine army, and specifically the Philistine behemoth, Goliath. 1 Samuel 17:10–11 says:
And [Goliath] said, ‘I defy the ranks of Israel this day. Give me a man, that we may fight together.’ When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.
A few verses later—while the men of Israel cowered, refusing to face Goliath—David, a little shepherd boy, arrived, bringing food from his father for the Israeli army. David, at that time, was a nobody, but he heard Goliath’s mockery of Israel and knew that something had to be done. David appeared before King Saul and, beginning in 1 Samuel 17:32, here’s what David says:
And David said to Saul, ‘Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.’ And Saul said to David, ‘You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.’ But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.' (1 Samuel 17:31–36).
And here’s the part I don’t want you to miss. How can a kid like David be so courageous and bold before the King of Israel? How can he be so confident that he will have victory over Goliath? It’s not youthful arrogance. Look at what David says:
David said, "The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine." (1 Samuel 17:37).
David’s confidence for future deliverance is grounded in his past experience of the Lord delivering him.
So, when David says in Psalm 11:1, “In the Lord I take refuge,” his statement is backed by the full force of the Lord saving David from lions, bears, and even Goliath—the strongest man in the known world at the time. David knows it’s not his strength that saved him or his prowess as a warrior, so he rightly attributes his safety and salvation to the Lord’s care for him. The statement “In the Lord I take refuge,” isn’t empty words or a grasping at straws in the midst of adversity; it is a tested and proven safety plan for every storm.
A Fearful Friend’s Counsel
Now, as we move on to verses 2–3, remember, this psalm is a song. One of my favorite things about good songwriters is their ability to communicate intense emotion in a single line. David is a good songwriter, and—at least the way I read it—the turn in verse 1 is scathing. “In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to my soul…” (Psalm 11:1). I imagine the singers digging in a little bit—much like blues or R&B singers often do—as they sing that line, with just a little bit of disgust showing on their faces as the lyrics pass through their lips. “How can you say to my soul…” carries the same sort of feeling as Jesus’ statement to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan” (Matthew 16:23), and it prepares us to be appalled by the counsel offered to David.
So, what is the counsel that David receives? And who is it coming from?
There’s a few possibilities for who is giving David this counsel. It could be an enemy, or it could be an insight to David’s internal wrestlings between faith and fear. Most likely though, the counsel is coming from an Israelite friend. Someone who cares about David and the people of Israel. Someone who, presumably, worships the God of Israel and shares David’s faith. I highly doubt that this friend is trying to give poor counsel—he is most likely just scared, and advice that stems from fear usually shouldn’t be followed.
Looking at verses 2–3, it makes sense that David’s counselor would be scared though. Consider the scene: there are wicked people loose, they are armed, they have taken aim, they are under the cover of dark, and their targets are the upright in heart. They are the worst kind of enemy. They are powerfully positioned to do great harm, but no one knows exactly when or where they will strike. What the counselor fears above all else though is that, when the wicked do strike, the foundations will be destroyed and the righteous will be doomed (Psalm 11:3). Here, “the foundations” refer to the bedrock of society. Israel’s laws and customs, which of course were given to them by God himself. From David’s friend’s perspective, the whole nation of Israel was in jeopardy of crumbling should the wicked succeed in their evil plots.
So, what is his counsel to David? “David, we’ve got to get out of here, now! Flee like a bird to your mountain! Head for the hills!” And, let’s be real, if we knew there were wicked people, armed with arrows, just waiting for us to walk through their crosshairs, many of us would think the friend’s counsel was quite reasonable. We may even agree with his assessment.
But to David, the suggestion is outrageous. In the Lord David takes refuge. For him, there is no mountain to flee to, other than the Lord himself.
We’ll revisit the counselor’s question, “if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” That question still haunts us today. But, for now, let’s move on to part two of this message and look at David’s response to his fearful friend’s counsel.
David’s Faith-Filled Response
David does not counter his friend with a practical plan for safety. Nor does he deny that there are wicked people who are currently hunting down the upright. He does not downplay the circumstances or offer a trite counter perspective about the seeing the bright side or finding the silver lining. Instead, David reframes the whole discussion.
David lifts his eyes above the temporal situation and looks to eternal realities. And what does David see? Take a look at verses 4–7:
The Lord is in his holy temple;
the Lord’s throne is in heaven;
his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.
The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
Let him rain coals on the wicked;
fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
For the Lord is righteous, he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.
There are three things I want us to see here in David’s response:
The Lord is not threatened by the wicked.
The Lord will execute judgment upon the wicked.
The Lord knows the righteous and will reward them with himself.
The Lord Is Not Threatened
First, the Lord is not threatened by the wicked. There are two realities that David highlights in verse 4. One, the Lord is in his holy temple, which is in heaven — well beyond the reach of arrows of the wicked. The foundations of his dwelling are not, and cannot be jeopardized by mere man. The Lord’s throne is eternally secure; the foundations will hold. Praise God! Two, “the Lord sees, his eyelids test the children of man” (Psalm 11:4). Though the wicked may hide themselves in the cover of dark, the Lord sees them clear as day. They cannot escape his watchful eye. And, the imagery here is vivid. The reference to the Lord’s “eyelids” testing the children of man communicates that the Lord is leaning in, squinting his eyes, closely examining the activity of his creation. His watch is an active watching. He is not distant or removed, but has taken a personal interest in the affairs of mankind. So, while David and his friends may be surprised by the stealthy attacks of the wicked; the wicked will not surprise God.
The Lord Will Execute Judgment
Secondly, not only are the wicked unable to threaten the Lord, he will also bring judgment upon them in due time. Before elaborating on this point, let me make a quick note about the Lord’s hatred for the wicked. Many of us can get tripped up on the thought of God hating anyone or anything — God is love after all, right? But, as creatures made in God’s image, we all intuitively understand the Lord’s hatred of the wicked inasmuch as we all long for good to conquer evil. Proof of this is the billions of dollars spent world-wide at the box-office anytime a new Marvel film comes out. No one recoils in shock when Iron Man defeats the wicked people who intend to destroy entire cities full of people. We cheer for such a triumph, we want for Iron Man—or any hero—to subdue the wicked and save the lives of the righteous (however Hollywood defines them). So, the fact that God hates the wicked and those who love violence is not shocking, nor should it make us squirm — it is good news! It is good that our God hates evil. Amen?
And, again, remembering that this is a song, look at the comparison that David is making between the weapons of the wicked versus the means of the Lord. The wicked are armed with bows, string, and arrows. The Lord is able to rain down coals and send forth wind filled with fire and sulfur. The point is, even the wicked’s strongest defenses cannot hide them from the Lord’s righteous judgment upon their violence and evil deeds. The wicked will get what they deserve; the one who loves violence will receive violence as “the portion of their cup.”
The Lord Will Reward the Righteous
The last thing I want us to see in this passage is the reward of the righteous. Look again at verse 7, “For the Lord is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.” For a great definition of wickedness and righteousness, I’d encourage you to listen to Pastor Joe’s sermon on Psalm 9. In that message, he defined righteous as “upholding the worth and value of the glory of God as God.” Righteousness is the “fundamental allegiance to doing everything for [God’s] glory” and “a commitment to always act in such a way that upholds his infinite value.” And, this is an important definition to grasp, because the better we grasp it, the better we are able to understand David’s final argument for taking refuge in the Lord.
David was not a perfect man. Far from it. But he was a righteous man. And the overarching theme of his life was a commitment to uphold the worth and value of the glory of God, which is seen in the ways David treasured God above all else. Because God was David’s highest treasure, there could be no greater reward than to one day behold God’s face. David says as much in Psalm 27:4, “One thing I have asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.”
And, unless you, too, love God above all else, I don’t expect that David’s logic will make much sense here. But for those who love him, David’s argument makes perfect sense. Imagine with me for a moment what it will be like to behold the face of the Lord. I often try to imagine it. And, I imagine it’s similar in a way to beholding the face of my wife or children. I mean, just by thinking about their faces, I can’t help but begin to grin. There is an unspeakable joy in unhurriedly, affectionately gazing upon the face of my wife or kids.
And I imagine beholding the face of God will be like that, but times the power of 10,000 suns. I can imagine nothing greater actually than looking into his eyes and feeling the warmth of his gaze. Thinking about it, I can feel the blazing radiance of his smile, I can hear the deep chuckle bubbling up underneath his jovial speech, and I can almost smell the freshness of his breath — the very breath by which he first breathed life into the Garden of Eden.
And, more than anything, that’s what I want. I want to behold his face. I want to be with him forever. And that’s what David is saying, too. The upright will be with God.
So, how does David counter his friend’s counsel? David reframes the discussion. He does not deny the immediate threat to himself and those with him, but he reminds them all of who their God is. He is the God who is enthroned in heaven, whose foundations are eternally secured. He is the God who sees the activity of the wicked and will judge them with righteousness. He is the God who protects his people and provides them with the greatest thing he has to give: himself. If fleeing means taking action apart from faith in God, David says you can count him out.
The Question that Haunts Us
So, what does this all mean for us, right here, today? How does Psalm 11 meet us in our anxieties?
There are many ways this psalm can be rightly applied to your circumstances. The main thrust of David’s argument is that you should not allow fear and anxiety to drive your life; rather, when you are scared, or feel overwhelmed, or threatened, you should first and foremost take refuge in the Lord by remembering who he is, what he is capable of, and the reward for staying close to him. Doing so will give you the grounding and stability necessary to face life’s difficulties from a settled position of faith in God’s goodness and sovereignty. Go to him first. Put your hope in him above all else. And from there, with the Lord’s help, decide how to wisely respond to the situations that scare you. This is far, far better than living a life that is frantically driven by fear.
So, there are many ways this psalm can be applied to specific situations, but I want to dial in on one application of this psalm in particular. And, to do so, I want to revisit the question, “…if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” This question haunts us, and it has now for many years — especially in the Western Church. As relates to the church and Christianity in America, there are many Christian leaders, pastors, and writers sounding the alarms about attacks on religious liberties, the rejection of Christian values and ethics within secular culture, and the doom of society at-large as the foundations of law and order and the church herself are apparently crumbling in our post-Christian age.
Like David, I’m not here to say that there aren’t real concerns here. I’m not wanting to offer reductionistic solutions to massive issues. But, the way the slippery-slope arguments often go—that “the church is doomed” and that “the world is going to hell in a hand-basket”—are completely overblown. Even the idea of a us living in a ‘post-Christian society’ is offensive. Sure, I understand it as a sociological label; but the implication that the gospel has been drained of its power and that our society has moved beyond the kingship of Jesus Christ is ridiculous.
Still, many of us are concerned about the sustainability of the Christian faith. We consider the dominate culture around us and our struggles to engage our neighbors with gospel, and then we wonder what the church will be like for our children and grandchildren. We feel anxious, knowing that there are those within our city who hate the fact that we gather for worship and would love nothing more than to shut this whole thing down. We don’t know when they will strike, or how, but we feel the threat. And with it, we feel a temptation to flee, to “fly like a bird to our mountain.”
For some, fleeing means hunkering down and taking the Christian faith all but underground. And for others, fleeing looks like running to politicians who promise to restore the social and moral foundations of society — never mind their own corruption and instability. Either way, these tend to be faithless, fear-fueled responses by which we try to regain control over world around us. And, anything that is not done in faith is sin (Romans 14:23).
Jesus, Our Refuge
Instead, we must be people who take refuge in the Lord. And, remember, for David, taking refuge in the Lord was not an abstract idea, or a nice sentiment to get him through a tough time. David’s retreat to the Lord was based on his real experience of the Lord’s salvation.
So, brothers and sisters, when fear strikes and panic takes hold, consider Jesus, the refuge for your soul. Consider him who said to the Jewish leaders:
Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. (John 2:18–19).
At the crucifixion of Jesus, the foundations of the universe took the greatest blow they could have ever been dealt in the death of God the Son. On that cross, Jesus felt the burning coals and fiery wind of God’s wrath as he took the wickedness of sinful people such as ourselves upon himself, so that we might be spared from God’s righteous judgment. Then, for three dark days, it appeared that the foundations had been destroyed, that evil had triumphed over Good. But, on Sunday, there was an empty tomb and a resurrected Lord. The foundation stood firm. All the powers of hell could not overtake Jesus, our refuge.
Yes, trials and threats and all sorts of terrible things may come upon you as a follower of Christ. Earthly kingdoms and nations may fall. Relationships may fail, markets may collapse, and your body may break. As Christians, we’re not exempted from the effects of a sin saturated world. But, you guys, if we are trusting in Jesus, we are going to be okay. We are going to make it. As sure as Jesus lives, the foundations will hold, his kingdom will prevail, his gospel will advance, and he will hold you fast. Which means we can all take a breath, and we can rest. We can rest, and we can return to our simple calling to faithfully follow Jesus. To walk as he walked. To love as he loved. And to trust that even if following him leads to death, he will be with us even there, receiving us into his presence where for endless ages his face we will behold. Amen?
And, to those who have not taken refuge in Jesus, but instead have fled to other mountains where you have found no safety or salvation, I plead with you: Come, take refuge in Jesus, today. Come. Bring your fears and your failings before him in true faith. Come now. The refuge of your soul invites you to come.
Father, Thank you. Thank you for Jesus.
Thank you for the refuge that he is for us. By his blood, you have saved us from death and sin. By his resurrection, you have promised us eternal life and eternal joy in your presence. And, if you have done this, will you not save us from lesser threats to our well-being? Will you not be with us in our hours of need? And the resounding answer is, of course you will be with us. Of course you will save us. You will not allow a single one of us to be plucked from the safety we have in Jesus our refuge. Height nor depth, life nor death can separate us from him. So, keep us near to you, O Lord. By your Spirit’s help, let us continually lift our anxieties to you and flee from fear to the Rock of our Salvation alone; for your glory, for our joy. We pray in Jesus’s name. Amen.
And now, this morning, we turn to celebrate eight people who have made Jesus their refuge. They have found salvation and safety in him, and through the act of baptism they testify to the gospel’s enduring power to save. As they come up, would you join me in singing “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand.”