Cave in the mountains

The difference between a fortress and a shield

Do you ever feel like you need protection? I’m not really one of those people who prefers to sit back and wait for life to come to me. I usually race into conflict with arms open wide, trying my best to get everyone to get along. But as much as I prefer action, there are days when all I want to do is hide. On those days, I feel like the world’s weakest person because I just want to curl up in the darkness and block out the world and everyone in it.

That’s probably not wrong, but isn’t there a way to face conflict between people without getting hurt?

Cave in the mountains

Cave in the mountains - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

The passage for today is Psalm 18:1-2.

   I love you, LORD;
      you are my strength. 
  The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my savior;
      my God is my rock, in whom I find protection.
   He is my shield, the power that saves me,
      and my place of safety.

I forget this really easily. I spend a lot of time fighting, if you will. Of course, that’s metaphorical. I’m not a soldier or a warrior in any stretch of the imagination, but I do end up in the middle of a lot of relationships. And the people who you love can hurt you more than anyone else.

In these verses, David calls God His rock. What does that mean? I mean, if you say someone is your rock, what are you talking about? I’ve always thought it meant that someone is stable and solid and unmoving. If I have a friend who is a rock, that friend is someone I can count on no matter what. But David didn’t stop there. God is our rock and our fortress. Okay. So God is both someone we can count on no matter what and someone we can go to for protection. But notice that He’s also our shield.

So what’s the difference between a shield and a fortress? Well, a fortress is a place you go to for protection. A shield is protection you carry with you.

This is where I get hung up. Because I think that I can run to God for protection until I feel better and then I charge back into battle again. But I leave my shield behind. And that’s why I get hurt again and have to run back for protection when I get hurt.

God’s power isn’t contained merely within a place of refuge, but He gives us the strength to go out into battle and He promises to protect us in the middle of conflict. We don’t have to run away and find a quiet place to recuperate. That’s nice sometimes, but we shouldn’t forget that God has offered to protect us as our shield too.

You have to trust your shield, you have to let the hurtful things others say hit the shield and not you. You have to let the lies that Satan throws at you hit the shield and not you. That’s what a shield is for.

For me, it’s not so much trusting my shield, it’s remembering to take it with me.

So when you wake up in the morning and you know that you’re going to face trials and difficulties, don’t try to do it by yourself. Don’t trust your own abilities to deflect the hurt that will undoubtedly come your way. Take a shield you. Trust that God will absorb the impact. Granted, you’ll probably still feel it. Even people who carried shields in historical battles still felt the impact of swords and arrows, but the pain didn’t linger. So even if you feel the impact, you won’t have to focus on the pain.

That’s what a shield does.

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Haven Sunrise

My BFF is a blazing ball of hydrogen gas?

What does mean God to you? Is He some great spirit in the sky who grants wishes when you reach a certain level of perfection? Is He some distant intellect who created everything and then left it to rot? Is He your homeboy, someone you chill with and shoot the breeze with after work? (Louis Giglio has a talk about this option that you should see.)

I think Christians, American Christians specifically, have a skewed misconception of who God is and how He works and what He does. We Americans with our entitlement mentality have the feeling that God owes us something if we obey. And if He doesn’t answer our prayers, well, He must not exist. Or if He does exist, He doesn’t care, so why bother? And the rest of Christianity that isn’t stuck in the performance trap treats God (and Jesus) like some casual acquaintance they can punch in the shoulder when they greet each other.

I can’t tell you which perspective is more wrong because they’re all wrong.

How do you describe God? How do you explain Him? If you know how, I would gladly hear your take on it because words fail me when I set about accomplishing that kind of a task. So instead of me fumbling around trying to find the right words, I think I’ll let Scripture take care of it this morning.

Haven Sunrise

Haven Sunrise - Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 84:11.

 For the LORD God is our sun and our shield.
      He gives us grace and glory.
   The LORD will withhold no good thing
      from those who do what is right.

The Bible often uses metaphor to describe things that we can’t understand in their entirety. Metaphor is a powerful writing tool that enhances a story or a manuscript because it helps to communicate a concept even if the actual fact is too big for us to grasp.

Think about that first statement: For the LORD God is our sun.

I took this image on Christmas Eve 2011. It was 20 degrees outside, and I had made the mistake of assuming the sun came up at 7:00. So I got up at 6:00. Well, if I would have Googled it, I would have known that the sun wouldn’t come up until 8:00. So I was outside in my simple coat and my Crocs for two hours. Yes, I was frozen. I actually had to come in at one point because my right foot had gone numb. But after I ran hot water on it until the feeling came back, I went back outside. It took a hot shower and two cups of tea to get the feeling back into the rest of me after that.

But I noticed something. I live out in the middle of nowhere, as evidenced by the photo. There are no lights. I have yard light and the stars and the moon at night. And I have the sun during the day. But until the sun comes up, my world is pitch black. And it gets cold out here in winter. Like I said, it was 20 degrees. But once that sun came up, even though it was freezing, I felt warm because of the sunlight.

Is the metaphor becoming clear? God is my sun.

I think that’s a good way to put it. In the darkness, He brings light. In the cold, He brings warmth. He is the center of my universe. My whole life revolves around Him, or it should.

But this verse doesn’t just identify God as the sun, it also calls Him our shield. And those two terms aren’t usually synonymous.  If you’re a sun, you’re blazing hot and powerful and unrelenting. But a shield is quiet and confident and steady. And God is that way too. He’s a shelter and a refuge, a safe place to go in times of danger where nothing can hurt you if you take cover under Him.

And God doesn’t just light our paths and protect us from harm, He gives us grace and glory, according to this.

And you realize that He doesn’t have to do any of this, right? Unless you think you can walk up to the sun and demand your rights? Unless you think you can throw your arm around the sun and talk irreverently about what you think is wrong with the world? If you tried to do that, you’d burn up. Can you be best friends with someone whose very presence can turn you to ash?

Well, yes. Because Jesus made it possible. Jesus bridged the gap between us and God, welcoming us into a relationship with God. But we can’t forget that. We can’t forget that Jesus is the mediator and without His sacrifice, we could have nothing to do with God, not because God is limited but because we are. God is our heavenly father. He loves us, and He tells us to ask Him for what we need. But I think we forget our place sometimes and in trying to understand God, we present Him as Someone Who is like us — and He’s not. It’s not up to God to become like us; it’s up to us to become like Him.

So the next time you present a request to God, think about Who He is. Our sun. Our shield. Strong enough to bring light into the darkness but compassionate enough to protect us. And remember to approach Him with respect, not in terror but in humility, understanding that you can’t understand everything.