What comes to your mind when I say the word “refuge”? Perhaps you picture a place – a well-built home with thick walls to keep out anyone who might want to harm you. Perhaps you picture a person – someone you trust to hold you tightly and defend against whatever it is that is troubling you. Or, perhaps, in your mind a refuge is having the power to defend yourself; it’s the ability to defeat whatever troubles might come your way and persevere to victory.
Psalm 46:1 tells us that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
The Hebrew word for refuge is chacah and means “to flee for protection, to confide in, to put one’s trust in.” The dictionary defines a refuge as a shelter or protection from danger, trouble, or to take refuge from a storm. It’s a place of safety, or anything to which one has recourse for aid, relief, or escape.
Every person who has ever lived has experienced troubles and tribulations at some level. Some people are like Job; if something bad is going to happen, it’s probably going to happen to you! For others, life seems to be kinder and brings less tribulation. But if we all took the time to tell our stories, we’d find we have a lot in common. As Job said, “Man is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward!” (Job 5:7).
How Can We Experience God as Our Refuge and Strength in Times of Trouble?
Troubles come in all shapes and sizes. The Hebrew word is ṣārâ, meaning distress, troubles, straits, adversity, affliction, anguish, tribulation.
God is a Spirit. We can’t run into God’s physical presence and be shielded from the things that trouble us in this life. The life of faith is a spirit-life, but as human beings, we experience very real, tangible, physical troubles, and we need more than emotional comfort to see us through.
While there have been many times when I experienced the presence of God’s Spirit in a time of worship or prayer, God generally speaks to me through my mind, as I read His Word or when contemplating or meditating on the things of God. We cannot look for emotional experiences as the measure of God being our refuge. He is more than a “feeling.” He is a living God, who is active in our lives, and He wants us to find refuge in something more lasting than a good emotional experience.
Looking back at the definition of a refuge, we see three distinct, practical ways God is our refuge.
God is a Person in which to confide our troubles.
God’s Word is a Place of Protection and Safety when we find ourselves in trouble.
God’s Spirit provides the Power to sustain us through our troubles.
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1. God Is a Person in Whom to Confide Our Troubles
The first step of finding refuge is to go to God the Father in prayer. We must cry out to Him, confiding our fears, our hopes, our feelings of anxiety, our confusion, and our lack of ability to fix things. For God to be a true refuge, we have to be honest with Him. Prayer isn’t how God learns what we are thinking…He already knows before we can articulate it. Psalm 139:4 says “Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it all.” Prayer is how God reveals to us what is in our hearts. When we talk to Him in honest conversation, we expose what we’re really thinking, what we might hide from the rest of the world.
Prayer is how we draw near into the presence of God. By faith, we believe He hears our prayers. Like a child unburdening herself to her loving parent, we are able to let go of trying to figure out how to solve our troubles, and trust that God will intervene in His time. God is a Person, and He tells us to “cast all our anxieties (burdens) on Him, because He cares for us” (1 Peter 5:7).
Psalm 62:8 – “Trust in Him at all times, you people; Pour out your hearts before Him; God is a refuge for us. Selah”
Psalm 73:28 – “But as for me, the nearness of God is good for me; I have made the Lord God my refuge, So that I may tell of all Your works.”
Psalm 91:1-2 – “One who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will lodge in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust!’”
Psalm 142:2 – “I pour out my complaint before Him; I declare my trouble before Him.”
Psalm 34:17 – “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears And rescues them from all their troubles.”
2. God’s Word Is a Place of Protection and Safety When We Find Ourselves in Trouble
A common aspect of troubles is that we need wisdom to make decisions. We need to know what to do. God’s Word is a place of safety and protection that provides answers to every problem, every fear, every anxious thought. Sometimes we find ourselves in trouble of our own making. We’ve made decisions that, instead of leading to fulfillment and happiness, have only caused us pain. Perhaps it was foolishly running ahead of God instead of waiting on Him to provide. Perhaps it is a sin issue; we chose to disobey God’s clear commands in Scripture and now we are reaping the harvest of what we’ve sown.
God’s Word is literally the place we must run to. We must learn to trust that doing what God says is always best, even when the world or culture says it’s foolish. For example, a young couple decides that it’s more financially prudent to live together instead of getting married. The laws of the land tell them that’s what they should do, but God’s Word sets out a different path – the path of honoring God in marriage. The more difficult choice is to obey God’s Word, but it is the place of protection and safety. God becomes our refuge when we trust His Word more than we trust the culture, or even (and especially) our own feelings.
The world tells you to “listen to your heart,” but God says your heart will deceive you. God’s Word is the only place we find security and protection because it is the only source of truth. Who is the Word of God? It is Jesus – God’s perfect Son, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). When we have fully committed our lives to obeying Jesus, we have found the place of refuge and safety, the place where we are protected from all the ways the enemy might try to harm us.
Proverbs 30:5 – “Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.”
2 Samuel 22:31 – “As for God, His way is blameless; the word of the Lord is refined; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him.”
Psalm 23:6 – “Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Psalm 4:8 – “In peace I will both lie down and sleep, For You alone, Lord, have me dwell in safety.”
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3. God’s Spirit Provides the Power to Sustain Us Through Our Troubles
While we can’t physically run into God’s presence, God has provided a way that He is physically with us, through the indwelling Spirit of God, who comes to live in every true Christ-follower at the moment of salvation. As we learn to confide in the Father and commit to obey the Word of God (Jesus), we are empowered (strengthened) by the Spirit of God.
Let’s look at our key verse again. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). The word “very” means exceedingly, greatly, up to abundance, to a great degree. “Strength” means might and power, and “help” means one who helps, or comes to the aid of. The Spirit of God is present; He is with us, providing the abundant power we need in our moment of trouble.
Jesus knew we would need the power of the Holy Spirit to help us; He promised the disciples that after He returned to the Father, He would send us the One who is that very present helper.
John 14:16-17 – “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, so that He may be with you forever; the Helper is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him; but you know Him because He remains with you and will be in you.”
Ways the Holy Spirit Empowers Us
The Holy Spirit is the One who has the power to help us pray honest, confiding prayers.
Romans 8:26-27 – “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
The Holy Spirit is the One who has the power to enlighten our minds to understand the Word of God.
1 Corinthians 2:12-14 – “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.”
John 16:13 – “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.”
The Holy Spirit is the One who enables us (strengthens us) to live according to what Jesus commands.
Galatians 2:20 – “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”
Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
Philippians 2:13 – “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”
God Is Our Refuge and Strength, a Very Present Help in Trouble
We find refuge when we go the Father in prayer.
We find refuge when we commit ourselves to obeying the Words of Jesus, no matter the cost.
We find refuge when we depend on the Spirit of God to lead us, empower us, and sustain us through our trials and tribulations.
John 16:33 – “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
Nahum 1:7 – “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knows those who take refuge in Him.”
Photo credit: Unsplash/Anna Rozwadowska
Author Sheila Alewine is a pastor’s wife, mother, and grandmother of five. She and her husband lead Around The Corner Ministries, which serves to equip Christ-followers to share the gospel where they live, work and play. She has written several devotionals including Just Pray: God’s Not Done With You Yet, Grace & Glory: 50 Days in the Purpose & Plan of God, and her newest one, Open The Gift, as well as Going Around The Corner, a Bible study for small groups who desire to reach their communities for Christ. Their ministry also offers disciple-making resources like One-To-One Disciple-Making in partnership with Multiplication Ministries. Sheila has a passion for God’s Word and shares what God is teaching her on her blog, The Way of The Word. Connect with her on her blog, Facebook, and Instagram.