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  • Writer's pictureRev. Dr. Jesse G. Mabanglo

Reflection on Psalm 91

It was January 8, 1956. The place was a sandbar called “Palm Beach” on the Curaray River of Ecuador. Missionaries Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Peter Flemming, and Roger Youderian were speared to death on that sandbar while attempting to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Sheyorani (Huaorani) Indians for the first time.


As a young seminarian, I heard this story retold again from one of my missions professors, the late Elizabeth Elliot, the wife of Jim Elliot. She wrote about what transpired in her book, Shadow of the Almighty. The title comes from Psalm 91:1: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” The title was intentional.


John Piper writes that around the world, the death of these young men was called a tragic nightmare. Elisabeth Elliot believed the world was missing something. She wrote, “The world did not recognize the truth of the second clause in Jim Elliot’s credo: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”


She called her book Shadow of the Almighty because she was utterly convinced that the refuge of the people of God is not a refuge from suffering and death but a refuge from final and ultimate defeat. “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”


Psalm 91 stands as one of the most moving expressions of the broad range of God’s protection of Christ-followers amid the hazards of life’s journey. Throughout the ages, this delightful Psalm has been a source of comfort for generations of believers trying to deal with worries, danger, and challenges in our lives.


For many people, there is a dissonance between what the Psalm expresses, at least on the surface, and what happens to people over and over again in real life. The writer of Psalm says that we will be saved from the fowler’s snare, protected from pestilence and plague, shielded by flying arrows, and guarded by terrors and night. History and experience teach something quite different and utterly sobering. We don’t have to look very far for examples. We read our daily news feed or watch the evening news.


People of faith experience heart disease, suffer heart attacks, get cancer, and die from a host of diseases. Christians are and have been the victims of vicious verbal, emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual attacks. Believers have found themselves in the depths of poverty and have known what it means to go hungry, to be thirsty, and be in want of even the basic things of life.


What can Psalm 91 offer us? What can it teach, and how can it encourage us? One author has written that the relationship between God and humanity is one of dependence. We have this relationship that is totally and utterly dependent on God. Believers are those who seek shelter, refuge, and protection. He also asserts that, by contrast, those same true believers do not seek shelter, refuge, or protection in the idols that we normally chase after.


God’s love is found in relationship. God’s protection is discovered in relationship. God has a commitment to people who are in relationship with God. Prayer to God is a means for calling on God, and God will provide an answer. However, there is no assurance that the answer will be Yes. It may be No. And we will then need to trust that God knows better than us the effects of the yes and no answers. God will be with people in trouble but may not make the trouble go away. God will deliver and honor those in relationship and will provide a means through the trouble. We can be assured of this: The refuge of the people of God is not a refuge from suffering and death but a refuge from final and ultimate defeat. “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”


Warmly in Christ,

Pastor Jesse

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