The metaphor in this post is drawn from the wise and very helpful writing and teaching of David Powlison, including the opening sentence. If this post serves you, find anything Dr. Powlison has written and read it!
You’re a refugee.
Does that surprise you? We tend to think of refugees as people caught in horrible circumstances beyond their control – political upheavals or natural disasters, things decidedly out of the ordinary. But here’s something even more surprising.
You were made to be a refugee.
This is not the result of circumstances, nor a situation to exit as quickly as possible. No, you and I were always intended to be refuge-seekers. It is hard wired into us, and it is good for us. Why? Here’s the deepest reason. We are by nature meant to be refugees, because God by nature is a refuge. Consider these psalms:
“Wondrously show your steadfast love, O Savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand.” (Psalm 17:7)
“God is our refuge and strength…” (Psalm 46:1)
Finding refuge in God is a vital part of our relationship with him. It’s a dangerous, unpredictable, harsh world – we need somewhere, Someone to flee to. Because we are hard-wired to be refuge-seekers, we can’t not turn to someone or something. But here’s the problem. Sin perverts this instinct. Instead of running as refugees to God, the only safe and sane place to turn, we run to countless false refuges: addictions, pleasurable fantasies (think: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty), success in some other area of life, new gadgets or toys. Any created thing that we turn to for protection and security instead of God becomes a false refuge.
But how do you actually find refuge in God in your situation? Let me suggest three things.
Talk to the Lord about what’s pressuring you. Get specific. Is it your child’s health? Your retirement plan? An unidentified lump the doctor just found? Don’t let the pressures of life remain vague and undefined. It’s much easier to turn to God as a refuge when you know exactly what you’re turning to him with. Think about the specific station that’s buzzing in the background of your consciousness. What is it saying to you? That’s where you need to begin going to God as a refugee.
Obey in the small things before you. Perhaps obedience seems like a harsh word to someone in distress. But it’s not – in fact, it’s dignifying and ennobling. You’re a refugee – but God, your refuge, doesn’t expect you to live a pointless life huddled in a tent in the middle of a refugee camp. He gives you work to do: specific acts of obedience and love. But here’s how he works: the greater the problem pressing on you, the smaller the acts of obedience he calls from you in response. You can’t save your kid, no matter what you do; that’s far too great a problem for you. But you can love him by setting aside time to throw the football after work, or praying with her before you put her to bed, or any number of small but significant acts of obedience. It’s the same with any other challenge. You take refuge in God because the situation is way beyond your pay grade. God then calls you to express faith by obeying in the small things.
Be faithful in your other callings. Here’s the good news. God doesn’t leave you to obsess over one single area of difficulty. There are always – always – other things God calls you to in the midst of pressing circumstances. In the midst of challenges, God provides other sources of relief. When work pressures seem insurmountable, maybe you need to obey Psalm 34:8 – “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!” – by taking your wife to dinner and a movie. When a relational conflict wears you down, perhaps God is calling you to obey 1 Timothy 6:17’s command to set our hope on God “who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” by laughing your head off running through the sprinklers with your kids. Don’t let your problem expand to consume all of life. It’s significant, but it’s not supposed to be consuming. Find the other areas God is calling you to give yourself to.
When God as our refuge, every created thing can potentially be secondary refuges: good gifts sent to sustain us by our kind, loving Father. When created things are our refuge in place of God, even the good gifts turn sour. So run to refuge to your Creator, your Savior, your best and heavenly friend – it’s what you were made for.
Photo by Mikhail Esteves