A generations-old New Year’s tradition has the De Moors reading Psalm 91 right after the clock has struck 12 and the hugs have gone around: “You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say of the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust’” (Ps. 91:1-2, NRSV).
As a child facing a new year, I found that psalm comforting. When I got older I found it strangely unreal and naïve:
- “A thousand may fall at your side . . . but it will not come near you” (v. 7).
- “No evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent” (v. 10).
- “For [God] will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” (v. 11).
As new years clicked by, I realized that our family was not immune from the horrors that struck others. In some years death did come near us. The scourge did find our tent.
I thought the devil quite right in applying this psalm directly and solely to the Messiah (Matt. 4:6). Maybe Jesus could expect divine intervention when hurling himself into space. But no angels caught me when I fell. I thought we might as well stop reading Psalm 91.
Finally it dawned on me that the psalmist isn’t quite as naïve and Disneyesque as I’d thought:
- “Those who love me, I will deliver” (v. 14)—so we can get in deep doo from which God needs to deliver us!
- “I will be with them in trouble” (v. 15)—so we can expect enduring hardship.
I now believe Psalm 91 applies to all who find shelter under God’s wings. The psalm is childlike, not childish, using images meaningful to a desert wanderer. It expresses confidence in God despite the hardships. God will ultimately show us salvation (v. 16)—if not now, then later.
I remember a camping trip when our two oldest kids first got to sleep in their own tent. They were so excited . . . until the flashlight was turned off. It was pitch dark. Fear made that tent zipper go up and down numerous times as they scouted for bears and axe murderers.
Then their mom spoke. The thin nylon of two tents makes it look like there’s a world of separation between children and parents. But speaking makes it clear that we’re still sharing the same space we always did. They got the regular exhortation we always gave when they couldn’t sleep: “Snuggle in, look up at the ceiling, and think pleasant thoughts.” A few minutes later—snoring (at least in their tent).
In their darkness the voice reassured them they weren’t alone. That made all the difference.
In Jesus the wall between earth and heaven is now thinner than nylon. Throughout A.D. 2010 and whatever it brings, may you hear the voice of the Almighty.
A Psalm 91 New Year to each and every one of you!