Last fall, I shared in my blog a story about my dad. As I was reading through the Psalms this past week, I felt led to expand on that story. Specifically, I was reading my dad’s favorite Psalm, and it hits me in the heart every time.
A few years before my father passed away, I was visiting my parents and walked into their kitchen to find my dad reading His Bible. I knew that my dad had come to a believing faith in Jesus just several years prior, but I had not previously seen him with his Bible outside of Sunday services. This image made me exceedingly glad, and still makes me smile. But that day he was doing more than reading, he was memorizing a portion of Scripture. As far as I knew, he had never previously memorized any part of the Bible, so I was curious as to what verses he had chosen. Of the many passages of Scripture—of the sixty-six books of the Bible—what had he chosen to commit to memory? It was Psalm 91. Several months later during a subsequent visit to Florida, at the age of 85, my dad proudly recited all sixteen verses from memory.
Why Psalm 91? Had he randomly opened his Bible to this passage?—after all, it falls almost directly in the middle of the Bible. I have come to believe that there was nothing random about the selection.
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
My dad had always been afraid of dying, especially after experiencing many near brushes with death. He had fourteen stents in his heart, which has to be some kind of medical record. He was diabetic, and his kidneys had begun to fail. Yet in the midst of his fears, he had finally found some solace. He had come to understand that he could “dwell” in God’s presence. The 19th century pastor and theologian, Charles H. Spurgeon, wonderfully expressed the power of this Psalm:
“Those who commune with God are safe with Him, no evil can reach them, for the outstretched wings of his power and love cover them from all harm. This protection is constant—they abide under it, and it is all sufficient, for it is the shadow of the Almighty, whose omnipotence will surely screen them from all attack. No shelter can be imagined at all comparable to the protection of Jehovah's own shadow. The Almighty himself is where his shadow is, and hence those who dwell in his secret place are shielded by himself. What a shade in the day of noxious heat! What a refuge in the hour of deadly storm! Communion with God is safety. The more closely we cling to our Almighty Father the more confident may we be.”
Moreover, my dad, like the Psalmist and like Spurgeon, had come to make these words his own. In his recitation to me, he emphasized the “my” in the following verse. He knew God was his protector.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.” (verse 2)
Two years later, my dad was in the hospital with only days to live. One evening, he was particularly anxious, and so I took the opportunity to recite back to him the words of his favorite Psalm. When I finished, he asked me to repeat it. I did, and then he asked me to read it again. And then again. And then again. The more I read, the more he rested, until he finally fell asleep for the night. I knew he was at peace under the Almighty’s wings. Psalm 91 is now my favorite of the Psalms.
3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
5 You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
8 You will only look with your eyes
and see the recompense of the wicked.
9 Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—
the Most High, who is my refuge[b]—
10 no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
no plague come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
12 On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the adder;
the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.
14 “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
15 When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.