Yesterday I sat in the parking lot of my church and heard a wonderful message about drawing strength, help and comfort from God, especially in times of trouble. It was a great reminder, for us who believe, that we always have hope and a place to turn to when all else seems to be failing around us.

One of the Scriptures that was shared was a familiar one to me. Psalm 121 spoken through the microphone reached my ears like the music of a favorite, timeless song. It spoke of how God never falls asleep on the job, as He is watching over us. It made declarations of His protection over me, and comforted me with the promise that He is able to keep me from stumbling. I wrapped myself in those verses and let them warm my soul. It was easy for me to believe what I heard.

Until one verse struck a chord that compelled my ear to listen as one who doesn’t believe, or who maybe has trouble believing.

Verses 5 and 6 make quite a statement: “The Lord watches over you – the Lord is your shade at your right hand;  the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. Verse 7 makes an even more audacious claim: “The Lord will keep you from all harm – he will watch over your life.”

For me, and for many who attended the service with me, the words shared yesterday were words that went down easy. But for a passerby, or for one who has maybe experienced harm recently, those words would be a bit harder to believe. For the homeless and trafficked young woman who happened to stroll past the gates as we worshiped, the promise of such protections – one would think – should seem desirable. But more likely, since she had experienced the rage of the sun and the torments of oppressors, believing in a God Who did not stop it would prove a difficult thing to do.

I think we who believe in God tend to read Scripture, having the gift of faith, and gloss over so many of its profound and inviting truths. I think, quite often, that we tend to rally around God’s Word and buy the stickers and t-shirts and mugs, and sing the songs and quote the verses, all without ever really searching into the true meaning of them.

And I think we tend to forget that we were once outside the gates, lost and forgotten and swallowed up in harm, and struggling to believe that such a God and such amazing promises could be true for us.

What’s more, I think that once we come inside the gates, once we find ourselves on “the right side of the fence,” gathering with God’s people, we tend to forget that the Scriptures hold unimaginable treasures, which are to be sought out deeply and cherished intently. I think we tend to become more like little children who take for granted the meals set before them, not understanding their value or what it cost to prepare them, or the love that has gone into them.

This is beautiful, when children are young. We want our children to know such carefree security and provision. But as they mature, we want them to develop thankful and appreciative hearts, and we want them to receive all that is given to them with the knowledge of what it means for them: that we love them, that we care about their well-being, that we want them to know this will always be home to them and they can always find what they need here.

I think God desires for us to cherish His Word that way. I think He desires for us to do more than just sit down and eat from it. I think He longs for us to actually understand it. Not just so that we can truly appreciate it, but so that we can help others to, as well.

For instance, what does God mean when He says He will be a shade at your right hand? And how can He say that the sun will not harm us, when most of us have experienced the real harm and pain of a sunburn? For those who have faith, we can usually skip over those seeming inconsistencies and move forward, continuing to trust God….for the most part. Until something bigger happens, and that little crack in our soul begins to leak its doubt…of course with the help of the enemy who is always waiting for just such an opportunity.

I hold deep fissures in my soul that are wrapped around Scriptures I believed as promises, which then seemed to be challenged by the reality of my circumstances. In those moments and seasons, the grace of God has kept me and helped me to sort through the lies and to dig for the truth, thankfully. But if I had just left those holes as they were and walked away with seemingly broken promises, what do you suppose would become of my faith? What would happen if I didn’t know how to press in and get beyond the seeming contradictions, and to cling to the truth even when it appears to be untrue?

What about those who don’t know much about God, and haven’t yet decided if they can or want to trust Him? What about the people who aren’t all that familiar with God’s Word, and are therefore less inclined to understand that all of Scripture is reliable truth, even if at first it seems ludicrous in its claims? What about those who don’t know how to search out the deeper meaning tucked into symbolism and types and shadows of things intended to provoke a holy curiosity in us, to draw us closer? What are they left with? What are their confessions really made of? Is this maybe why some people have a shallow faith that cannot endure through deep difficulties? Is this maybe why people tend to rely on their own understanding, because they can’t understand the truth that requires coming closer to what seems terrifying and at times senseless or irrelevant?

It seems maybe irreverent to speak of God’s Word this way, but I believe I’m tapping into the real thoughts of hearts that have come close enough to peek at the promises of God, but found a gap they could not bridge with their reality, and so have walked away or settled with a partial commitment to faith. When it works, they’re on board. When it doesn’t, they just keeping doing the best they can to find their own way. I understand, because I’ve been there.

But God was gracious enough to lead me away from there.

I thought about all of this yesterday, and a burden stirred up within me, because I cherish God’s Word so much. Because it’s been such a lamp to my feet, and such a light to my path. Because it has kept me from swerving too far in the wrong direction, so many times. Because God Himself has met me there, time and time again, and imparted treasure I could find no place else.

So when I was jolted into considering how an unbeliever or a believer less grounded in the Scriptures might receive the promise of shade in God that prevents sunburn, I thought about a simple analogy to share with you.

Sunscreen has become a common household word, as the dangers of sun exposure have been discovered and declared in recent decades. We know we need to wear it, and we know it is supposed to protect us from the harmful rays that lead to skin damage and even cancer. But still so many people choose not to wear it, in favor of soaking up the warmth that provides the temporary benefit of beautiful, bronzed skin.

We forego the promised protection of the sunscreen and choose the freedom of risking spots, wrinkles and cancer because it seems like such an unlikely or faraway reality. We actually choose what is harmful by not choosing what is protective.

I know a few people who have actually contracted skin cancer, had it burned off or cut out, and gone right back to fun in the sun, without proper protection. I’m not a fan of sunscreen, and often have to “mother” myself into wearing it. So I understand the human struggle of wanting the benefits on both sides without having to sacrifice something I love.

I want to soak up the sun, and I want to have healthy skin. I don’t want to wear sunscreen, because it’s sticky, inconvenient, and slows down the tanning process. But inevitably, I must choose. Either I will reap the healthy benefits of what I know is good for me, or I will reap the harmful (although temporarily pleasant) benefits of what is not.

Let’s move this analogy over to our relationship with God, Who promises to be a shade at our right hand, protecting us from the sun’s harm. What a picture for us to behold! God is able to provide protection from the elements of this life that hold the potential to harm us – as long as we remain under His covering. If we choose to sit outside of His will, His protection, that promise won’t work. Like sunscreen, the promise of protection is available, but only effective when applied.

I have wept with and for many people who have been burned by the sun of a life spent soaking up the pleasures offered by the world. It seemed promising at first. It was fun, for a while. But then the damage showed up, and the consequences weren’t worth the indulgence.

When we look deeper into the Scriptures, we discover that this was a Psalm written by someone traveling toward God – set on a pilgrimage to the place of worship. Along the route of such a journey, there were countless dangers – some overt and some hidden. The sun’s rays in the heat of deserts was among them.

We see in this song the kind of clinging trust in God that leads people to choose God over everything else, and to believe that life in the path of His will will lead us straight into the promises He has made.

Protection from the sun’s damage didn’t mean staying out of the sun. That would be impossible for one en route to Jerusalem, to the temple mount. To get there, one would have to risk being burned.

Similarly, to move toward God in a world like ours today, we risk much scorching of our souls. We face rejections and deprivations, and we willingly choose to leave behind the comforts and excesses of luxury, in order to pursue what we know we were made for.

And as we do, we bank on the promise that, whatever discomforts and dangers we endure in the path of pursuing God and His will will be directed by the hand of God for our good. He will protect us – not necessarily from having to walk through it, but from its lasting damage on our lives.

When God promises that no harm will come to us, we must realize that the essence of “us” is not our physical body, nor our comfortable places and possessions. The “us” God is ever presevering, ever keeping watch over, is our souls. We are spirits, covered in a body. What touches our bodies has no power to harm our souls – when we live under the shade of covenant with God.

That is how and why I can still believe that God is protecting me and preserving me when I am burned by the circumstances of my life. When hard things happen, and I feel scorched by the heat of the day I’ve had to walk through, I don’t need to question whether God’s Word has proven untrue. Because I have committed to live under the shade He has promised to be for me, I know He is still there, still offering shelter, still providing what nothing and no one can take away from me.

But if I depart from the path of pursuing God and His will for my life – if I step outside of the covering of this covenant and begin to pursue life on my own terms, there remains no promise of protection that will be true for me. Sure, I can run back to Him, and find that He is still faithfully there, and willing to receive me back again. But that harm sometimes cannot be undone, which could have been prevented if I had only remained under the canopy of His love.

Dear Woman of Breakthrough, when you think of God’s promises, when you read them in the Scriptures, are there any that you don’t fully comprehend? Are there any that the enemy has the ability to twist into doubt or confusion? Are there any that you wouldn’t be able to share or explain to someone who doesn’t yet believe, because you can’t even explain them to your own heart? Are there any that are just taglines slapped over broken places, in the hopes that they hold like a band-aid with super-glue, rather than becoming healing balm that seeps down into the marrow of cancerous bones to do what they were made to do?

Scholars have identified many difficult and “problematic” places in the Scriptures, which require deeper study to understand. These are not places we’re meant to skip over or stop at. They are invitations to grow in our relationship with God, places where the Holy Spirit longs to crack open the mysteries of the Word and lead us into knowing more of God’s heart.

I want to encourage you today to read Scripture, to not avoid what you don’t understand, and to intentionally embrace the depths that may feel overwhelming for you. He has given us His Spirit to teach us, to bring revelation light. He wants us to be skilled in handling the sword of His Spirit, so that we will be strong in Him. Maybe you feel clumsy or inadequate in handling the Scriptures. That’s ok, no warrior is born with the ability to swing a sword from the womb. We have to learn, and we only learn by showing up and wrestling through the fumbles and challenges.

May you discover within your heart a burning desire for more and more of the truth that brings life. And may you respond to that burning with a commitment to dig in and devour all He sets before you, appreciating it for all it’s worth. We must become students of His Word and guests at His table, because there are many more He wants to invite into His Kingdom. They will only be able to come by the hearing of the Word that we speak with understanding. And we will only be able to truly appreciate what we have taken the time to sit and savor.

{Photo images courtesy of http://www.pixabay.com}

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