God Is Our Refuge

So Keep Building the Wall
By Daniel Valles, 09/08/2012

 

There is a great misconception taught today that acting responsibly and prudent in light of current events and prophecy is somehow tantamount to infidelity toward God and a weakness of faith. Such false doctrine is a clear affront to the plenteous example laid out in Scripture describing our responsibilities as a steward and child of God. I lay this charge at the feet of the pastors, teachers, and elders, who teach prosperity, love, relevance, etc. instead of doing their job as clearly outlined by God. A pastor's job is not one of evangelism; their job is to be a shepherd. A shepherd's first and foremost responsibility is the feeding and care of his sheep (Jeremiah 3:15, Nehemiah 8:8) – not the feeding and care of the goats. Too many pastors neglect proper discipleship, and thus have to resort to cotton candy preaching to attract the goats. The end result is that when the sheep hear from God's Word something that they are not familiar with, and which contradicts the precepts of men that they have been taught, they reject it because it is not familiar. Today we going to examine the book of Nehemiah, a whole book of the Bible revolving around one man's faith and trust in God that led him to take action on behalf of his countrymen, brethren, and family.

Before we get started though, we need to fully understand and grasp what Scripture mean when it talks of trusting in God and having Him for our Refuge. As we look at them, notice that it is not necessarily a refuge of physical description (although it can be that at times), but that it is a matter and condition of our heart and mind. In II Samuel 22:2-3, David declares, "…The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; the God of my rock; in him will I trust: he is my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my high tower, and my refuge, my saviour; thou savest me from violence."  God is a physical Deliverer who can work in events and circumstances; yet, David was describing his heart's relationship to God. David said, "in him will I trust." Even though David used his sword and shield in his duty, his ultimate trust was in God. Trust in God does not mean we abandon responsibility. David knew that God could provide more deliverance than his sword, shield, or the best defenses known to man – but that did not mean he abandoned them.

In fact, David later describes that God is the one who taught and enabled him to be the mighty man of valor that he was.  In Psalm 144:1-2, he exclaims, "Blessed be the LORD my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight: My goodness, and my fortress; my high tower, and my deliverer; my shield, and he in whom I trust; who subdueth my people under me." For some people, this would seem to be an impossibility; How can we say we trust God and yet still take measures to protect ourselves and our family against natural disasters, criminal elements, or larger man-made tragedies? They fail to see that trust in God goes hand in hand enabling us to rise to the occasion in doing the duty that we are individually responsible for. David's relationship and trust in God enabled him to go forward in what God wanted him to do, because God asked him to do his part, and God would take care of the rest. God has no problem with His children learning how to take care and provide for themselves; in fact, He often provides wisdom and grace to help accomplish those goals. Joseph, for example, was given wisdom on how to store food long term. David was gifted as a mighty man in battle.

Putting our trust in God helps us keep focused on what we should be focused on.  David said, "It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in princes." Psalm 118:8-9. Even though David (in his particular case) learned the art of battle, he always kept on the forefront that God was his ultimate defense. It is wise and prudent to learn proper stewardship; but, we must always keep our focus that the means that God has provided do not take the place of the Provider.  "Give us help from trouble: for vain is the help of man." Psalm 108:12. The best that the world can offer is useless without the help of God. However, they are not mutually exclusive; God expects us to use what opportunities, knowledge, and means He provides, but He also wants that coupled with letting our heart rest in Him. If you trust in your means rather than God, then it is wrong; but, to utilize them is not a lack of faith, but can be trusting and using what God provides.

As I stated earlier, having God as our refuge transcends just a physical deliverance; it is primarily a heart condition. There are many situations, circumstances, and times that we go through in this life where the main battle takes place in our heart and mind. Oftentimes there are circumstances and events were there is no physical control; yet, our mind and heart can still be anchored to a safe and secure Rock.  The Psalmist David had a full share of these sorrows, and expressed, "The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble." Psalm 9:9. Where do we take our troubles, cares and anxieties? Where do we find Comfort from the cold onslaught of the world?

Psalms 46:1-3 reminds us, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the water roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah." When we make God our Refuge, it is a matter of the heart. Even in the midst of what can seemingly be the worst, as long as our heart and eyes are fixed on God, our heart will not be moved. The account of the man Job is an excellent example. Even though everything seemed to turn against him and took from him what man oftentimes put their trust in, he was still immediately able to say, "…the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." Job 1:21. Even though he did not understand, even though he was in sorrow, even though his situation was destitute, his heart remained in God as refuge. His wife did not have her heart resting in God, and as a result was bitter and angry toward God. Where is your heart resting today? Job's heart and comfort was not resting in his money or wealth – it was in God. Again, there is nothing wrong with having means, but our heart should not rest in them.

In Psalm 57:1, we find David hiding in a cave, fleeing from Saul. Yet, even here, he declares, "Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me: for my soul trusteth in thee: yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast." David prayed for deliverance, left the results up to God – yet he still took steps to hide in the cave. We can fully trust God and yet still go forward in living prudently. Many a Jew during the Holocaust trusted in God and took measures to hide or defend their family.

In Psalm 62:6-8, David again declares, "He only is my rock and my salvation: he is my defence; I shall not be moved. In God is my salvation and my glory: the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God. Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us. Selah." Here is a man who trusted God and implores us to make God our refuge as well.

Here is something to think about how faith and responsibility go together: Even though he trusted in God, he did not just stand around when the lions and bears attacked his flocks. Even though he trusted in God, he still picked up five stones to kill Goliath. Even though he trusted in God, he still made a dummy distraction and climbed out a window to avoid Saul's men (I Samuel 19:12-13). Even though he trusted in God, he still moved out of the way when Saul tried to spear him against the wall. He hid in a cave, he fled the city, etc. Faith and responsibility are not mutually exclusive.

It is God as our refuge that can bring comfort when no earthly source might.  "For thou hast been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall." Isaiah 25:4.

Oftentimes, as we watch and take heed to the current events, as God has asked His children to, there can be a temptation to look at secular and humanist conclusions and then to become depressed and anxious.  Psalms 37:7 reminds us, "Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass." There are many things and events in life that we have little or no control over. Our reaction should not be to get all gloomy, but to take the matter and concern to God. What we can do, we should do – the rest we must let God carry it, not us.

One of the most familiar passages often misquoted in defense of poor stewardship is Philippians 4:6-7. It says, "Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. " Cares are not responsibilities. When we get all fretted and anxious over something, chances are we are thinking about it way more than we should, or that we are burning up valuable time when we should be doing something about it (or instead of it). Notice that the verse does not promise physical protection and deliverance, per se; because cares are not physical. He promises that when we take our heart and mind to Him and rest those in His hands, then He can provide peace, and that He will keep (protection) our hearts and minds. Many people have the misguided concept that God is a 'welfare God' or a spare tire – they use Him for a backup or handouts to excuse their lack of stewardship. Of course, they quickly find out that God is neither of those, and that they often reap the results of poor stewardship.

When we are confronted with the cares of paying the bills and feeding our family, we should not brood on those melancholy feelings, but instead take the matter to God. Ask to open doors of opportunity, provide, means, etc. but that foremost you are taking and leaving the outcome to Him. Once you leave your heart with Him, then set your hands to work. Too many people do not leave their heart with Him, and end up wringing their hands. 

Even though Jesus walked on water, raised the dead, and multiplied loaves and fishes, He still had a treasurer who was in charge of their money. It was when the normal means could not provide, that He performed the abnormal. God will provide in ways and means that go beyond what we can do, but He still expects us to do what we can do.

As we turn our focus to the story of Nehemiah, let us see how his faith was coupled with action, and ultimately was a great demonstration of his faith in God.

For those of you who are not very familiar with Nehemiah, I highly suggest that you read that book of the Bible. Nehemiah was in charge of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. He was returning to Jerusalem to find many adversaries who were against him and his mission. Now, even before he had asked the king for permission to return, Nehemiah had a burden for what needed to be done back in Jerusalem. It was his personal relationship with God that gave him a burden and a willingness to be available for God's service. In Nehemiah 1:11, he prays, "O LORD, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the king's cupbearer." Nehemiah was not a man to shy away from what needed to be done; but, even he needed to ask God for grace and wisdom. Notice how a willingness to serve God and to turn to Him as a refuge and source for grace and wisdom is coupled with his statement "…who desire to fear thy name…"  When we do not fear, respect and reverence God, we will not turn to Him for wisdom or grace. Sure, people may turn to Him for mercy, but He wants to be our Refuge and source of help in all aspects of life.

When the opportunity came for Nehemiah to present his burden to the king, Nehemiah makes special mention that "So I prayed to the God of heaven" (2:4). His prayer life was alive and open to the throne of God. When he needed wisdom, he knew where to get it, and was familiar with seeking the throne of God. Here he was standing in front of one of the most powerful men in the world at that time, and yet Nehemiah did not ask him for wisdom.

In Nehemiah 2:8, he records the various ways that God opened up avenues for necessary supplies, "according to the good hand of my God upon me." God was providing in supernatural ways, opening doors that most would have said would be impossible. Not only is the king giving permission for him to go back and build a city that his nation had captured years ago, but he was also giving him full access to the king's forest so he would have all the lumber he needed. He was also given special letters by the king to show Nehemiah had the authority from the king.

As the rebuilding efforts started, let us make some observations. Firstly, why were they building a wall in the first place? Why didn't they trust God to defend and protect them? Well, we should not tempt God. We should not run around on the highway and blame God if we get run over. Likewise, we should not eat tons of junk food and blame God when our health fails. We live in a sinful world, and there are dangers. What we can do, God expects us to do; that is proper stewardship. Many times, when there are situations that we do not have direct control over, God may or may not intervene. God provided for Nehemiah by working in the king's heart; nobody else could do that. After that, Nehemiah was perfectly enabled and capable of accomplishing the task that God gave to him. The same is true for us. God often provides opportunities, jobs, resources, etc. that may often 'fall into our lap'; it is then our responsibility to take it and run with it. Just because one is God's child does not mean that they are some invincible superperson. Only in super-rare (oftentimes singular) instances did God supernaturally intervene (Daniel in the lion's den, the three Hebrew children, etc.). Fox's Book of Martyrs and Hebrews 11 both record that supernatural means of deliverance are rare, and should not be relied on.

Just like today, Nehemiah knew that (at the minimum) there were wild animals in the area, thieves and criminals, not to mention the outright enemies of the people; it was common prudence to have a wall, even though they trusted in God. Likewise, we should trust in God but lock our doors, have good fences, and adequate means of protection should a threat get past them. In reading through Nehemiah chapter three, you find that the majority of the rebuilding was done by the people who lived by that particular section of wall. In other words, the people understood the prudent need for the wall in order to protect their families. It baffles me when I hear people today make comments to the effect that they cannot see a need for a 'wall' or a means to protect against very potential threats to their family – and then they use God as a religious-sounding excuse. God is the very one who is going to be judging them for their foolish stewardship. 1 Timothy 5:8 warns, "But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel." Any lost person knows better than to ignore their responsibilities to kith and kin.

Their stewardship and trust in God did not just end with building a wall. In Nehemiah chapter 4, they were in the middle of construction and learned that their local enemies were conspiring to come together and attack them. Their response is one that we need to take special note of and apply to our heart and life. In verse nine, right after they heard the news, Nehemiah records, "…we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them day and night, because of them." The very first thing they did was to take their cares and anxiety to God, asking for grace and mercy – then they took action and prudent steps. Again, trusting God and resting completely in Him for our Refuge can also be coupled with doing the utmost of our ability. It was because of their enemies that they sought God's face, and it was because of their enemies that they had a responsibility and duty.

Nehemiah 4:13 further explains his actions: "Therefore set I in the lower places behind the wall, and on the high places, I even set the people after their families with their swords, their spears, and their bows." Just like the people built in certain areas depending on where they lived, so they were responsible for protecting. Nehemiah did not just tell them to pray to God and hope for the best; they had full opportunity and means provided to change the outcome, and they were responsible to do so.

After Nehemiah gave everyone their assigned area, he then encouraged them to make God their Refuge – and he reminded them of their responsibility: "…I looked, and rose up, and said unto the nobles, and to the rulers, and to the rest of the people, Be not ye afraid of them: remember the LORD, which is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses." (4:14). Again, this verse illustrates that resting in God is not a neglecting of our responsibilities, but a resting of our hearts in a sovereign God. Nehemiah reminded them "Be not ye afraid of them: remember the LORD…" When we are in circumstances that may seem overwhelming, we must keep our heart and mind trusting in God, while our hands are busy.

Not only did they remain on armed lookout, but Nehemiah gave orders that everyone had a weapon on them (4:16-18). Having means to protect your family (and the will to use it) does not mean one is not trusting in God. In verse 20, Nehemiah again reminds them to put their rest and confidence in God: "…our God shall fight for us." Even with this show of force, Nehemiah took extra precautions in proportion to the threat that they were facing. In 4:21-22, the guards took shifts, vigilant even at night, sharing the duties with the servants. In verse 23, Nehemiah mentions that they were so vigilant and mindful of the immediate threat, that they did not even change clothes when they went to sleep. There was a threat, and they were diligent to meet it until the walls were built and the threat greatly lessened.

As the work on the wall was coming to a close, Nehemiah prayed and asked God an interesting request (5:19): "Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people." He repeats this request several more times
(13:14, 13:22, 13:31). You see, even though Nehemiah put his trust in God, he knew that he was still going to be held accountable for his stewardship and responsibility. He was always trusting in God and reminding others to also; but, he knew that there had to be a 'doing' as well. His request to God is to take note of his stewardship, not his necessarily his faith.

Can we say the same thing, or are we lacking in some area of stewardship and responsibility that we know God has laid at our feet? It could be said of Nehemiah, "…Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord." (Matthew 25:21). When we contrast it to Nehemiah 3:5, we learn of those who may have had faith in God, but they did not make a connection to their responsibility. "…next unto them the Tekoites repaired; but their nobles put not their necks to the work of their LORD." What about you? Let it never be said of us that we used airs of spiritualosity to shirk from the work that the Lord has given to us.

1 Corinthians 16:13 – "Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong."

God is our Refuge, our Strength, our Judge and our Friend; there are responsibilities for us as stewards. Be strong, be of good courage, trust in God and do it.

Maranatha!

 

 

 

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