Are You With God?
Hey friends, it's Kelli Schoefer, Director of Communications here at South Bay Bible Church. I am thrilled to be invited as a guest into this space at the start of a brand new year.
I’d like to invite you to picture two scenarios with me.
Scenario 1: You’re out shopping with your best friend. You decide to take a break from shopping to get some lunch, and you have a great spot in mind that’s about a block and a half away. You come out of a store, and it suddenly begins to downpour. Your best friend, always prepared, begins to open her umbrella, but you decide to run the distance, rain slapping you in the face, wind tearing through your hair, dodging cars in the road. You’re frantic until you reach the awning of the restaurant.
Scenario two- You’re out shopping with your best friend. You decide to take a break from shopping to get some lunch, and you have a great spot in mind that’s about a block and a half away. You come out of a store, and it suddenly begins to downpour. Your best friend, always prepared, opens an umbrella. There is just enough room underneath it for the two of you to stay dry if you wrap your arms around one another. You walk at a casual pace, looking at one another, eye to eye, as you laugh about the situation, talking about how you are looking forward to a delightful meal together.
The month of December was the perfect time to focus on the presence of Immanuel. It’s such a comfort to know that He is always with us. But right now, at the start of a brand-new year, take a moment to ask yourself this question: Am I with Him? Your initial response is likely a resounding “yes!” My hope today is that you will lean in and be honest about your relationship with Jesus in the middle of a downpour.
Refuge or Fortress?
Whoever 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.”
There is a very important distinction in verse 2 of Psalm 91. We see the words “refuge” and “fortress.” These are not the same. Refuge translates to “shelter from danger.” Fortress translates to “stronghold” or “castle.”
In the following verses, beautiful promises are made– promises to deliver, rescue, shelter, protect, as well as the promise that you will not be afraid. Verses 9 and 10 make it clear that these promises are for the one who makes God their refuge and their fortress-
He must be both.
God has a shelter (sometimes translated as secret place) for His children to live in, where they get to experience on an ongoing basis His protection, His comfort, His peace, and His joy. Most people, however, are not experiencing these things on an ongoing basis because God is their refuge and not their fortress.
Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Every child of God looks towards the inner sanctuary and the mercy-seat, yet all do not dwell in the most holy place; they run to it at times, and enjoy occasional approaches, but they do not habitually reside in the mysterious presence.”
Jesus wants to be your stronghold.
Think about the two scenarios I described with the downpour. Are you only running to Him when the world feels like it’s slapping you in the face and life feels like a chaotic tornado? Or are you also keeping your arm wrapped around Him, face to face, keeping peace and joy in the midst of trials? Are you walking that closely with Him? He’s with you. He wants to be your strong hold. Are you keeping a strong hold back on Him, not only in the trials but also in the mundane?
All the benefits of being close with God are for those who fully trust Him and are with Him, and they are such beautiful benefits.
Perhaps the verse from this psalm that you are most familiar with is verse 4:
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
In Matthew 23:37, Jesus uses similar imagery, but says something heartbreaking.
Jesus says, “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”
They weren’t willing. They didn’t choose God as their Guardian. They didn’t choose to make their home in God. They didn’t choose to return to Him again and again, the way we do with our homes here on earth. At the end of a long, hard day, they didn’t choose to come home to Him and be alone with Him. They didn’t choose to ask God to be their protection from the storms of life and to be their strong tower.
I have had many times in my life when I saw God as my refuge but not my fortress. Not my dwelling place. Not my home. I would run to Him in the obvious storms out of desperation, but in the day-to-day challenges, inconveniences, and moments of discomfort, I made food my fortress. I made shopping my stronghold. I made my DM’s my dwelling place. My secret place was scrolling social media.
Is that you? What’s your fortress? Who or what are you really spending all of your time with?
Perhaps there was a time, when you first fell in love with Jesus, when you spent every moment thinking about Him, getting to know Him, doing life with Him, but other things started to get in the way.
In his book Resilient, John Eldredge talks about this falling away. He wrote that it “takes place very subtly in the heart.” He said what causes it is “the small turns from God toward our other comforters.”
It takes a lot of intention to walk this out and live your whole life as if you know that God is your refuge and your fortress.
How to make sure you are with Him
So how do we put this into practice? How do we make sure that we are with Him?
Jesus tells us exactly how in Matthew 11:28.
Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
Matthew 11:28; MSG
He gives us four important actions to take-
Get away with me.
Walk with me.
Work with me.
Watch how I do it.
Let’s break these down.
1. Get away with me. Are you taking staycations with Jesus? Are you clocking out from the tasks and to-dos of daily living and designating time and space to being alone with Jesus? To be clear, this isn’t just about isolating and taking breaks, but also inviting Him into that time with you. Jesus would frequently get away from the crowds to go be with His Father. We ought to do the same.
2. Walk with me. Being with Jesus isn’t just about that carved out quiet time. It’s
about all the places you go, all the people you go with, all the ways you speak to and respond to those around you, and all the decisions you make. Bring Him with you into all of that. Ask what He would have you do. Walking is about your lifestyle, and walking with Jesus is about desiring that your lifestyle match His. It’s about loving Him so much that you want to spend all your time under that umbrella with Him, arms around each other, being face to face, talking, and listening.
3. Work with me. In 1 Corinthians 3:9 we are called God’s co-workers. In Ephesians 2:10 we are called His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. There is no work that God can’t accomplish on His own, but He invites us to be His co-workers. Remember that the point of your work and your ministry is to bring Him glory, so we want to bring Him with us into all of it. In the verse right before the psalm we were just unpacking, Moses prays a beautiful prayer to the Lord-
May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;
Establish the work of our hands for us-
Yes, establish the work of our hands.
Moses is essentially asking God to work with him and through him, to make his work meaningful and to make his work have impact. We can pray that same prayer when we desire to bring Him into our work. Are you doing your work for your own gain or your own platform? Or, are you making a daily decision to ask Jesus to talk to you about the specific field you are to tend each day, no matter how small or invisible to others it might seem?
4. Watch how I do it. This is the best. Through God’s very breath on a page, you and I can watch how Jesus got away with the Father. You and I can watch how He walked. You and I can watch how He worked. Get in His word. Study Him. Learn from Him. Get desperate for Him. His Father was His refuge and fortress. He modeled submitting to His Father’s will. He modeled going to the secret place.
Jesus taught us specifically about God as a refuge when we press in like the bleeding woman in Mark 5, or cry out in faith like the Caananite woman in Matthew 15. Jesus also taught us about God as a fortress and dwelling place and a constant, everlasting, permanent source of life in John 15 where He repeatedly said “abide in me,” or “remain in me.”
Don’t see these things as a checklist of things to-do. That becomes burdensome.
These are unforced rhythms of grace, and when you make this your lifestyle, you keep company with Him as your fortress, and you stay with Him, you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.