No Evil Shall Befall You: What Real Rescue Means

Woman with COVID-19 Mask

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
    nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—
    the Most High, who is my refuge-
no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
    no plague come near your tent.

Psalm 91:3-6, 9-10

President recommends Americans wear masks in public. That’s the headline of the day.

Fear is at fever pitch. There were more Google searches for prayer in March than in the last 5 years that comparison data has been available. People are afraid.

Then this.

No Evil Shall Befall You

He will deliver you from the deadly pestilence. Those words from Psalm 91 sound like a perfect fit for these COVID-19 days, don’t they?

People recite it when they wash their hands or as they go to the grocery store. Many are clinging to these verses for health- and for life. The words, for some, are like a Christian incantation, a hex on the deadly coronavirus.

And that makes me very uneasy.

But the Psalm does say, No evil shall befall you, no plague will come near your tent.

So what does that mean? Does it mean that if I have faith, or better yet, if I have faith and wear a mask and wash my hands and self-quarantine I- and those in my tent- won’t get COVID-19?

Is that what Psalm 91 really means?

Real Fear

Faith, by cheering the heart, keeps it free from the fear which, in times of pestilence, kills more than the plague itself…

Charles H. Spurgeon, Commentary on Psalm 91:3

Abby, I’m really scared. My caregiver does not wear a mask. That’s how my friend Jean started our call. Jean is physically fragile and homebound. She paused, then added, I feel guilty for being scared because I believe in God.

Jean, about the guilt: You can’t stop a bird from flying over your head, but you can keep it from building a nest in your hair. You can’t stop the fear that tenses your gut. But you can keep fear from nesting in your head. She liked that. I went on.

May I share two things I try to do when I’m really scared? She agreed.

Here’s what I told Jean.

Reality Therapy for Real Fear

What is the worst thing that could possibly happen if my worst fear comes true? I try to ask myself that the moment fear springs up. Whether I hear a bump in the night or I feel a lump in my chest- I ask, what it the absolute worst thing that could happen? Then I sit with that answer a while. And usually, Jean, if I’m honest, my worst fear is death.

But the second thing more important. As I sit with the worst case in my mind, I try shine God’s truth on it. It might be lyrics that buck me up, like I fear no foe with you at hand to bless Or, Teach me to live that I may dread the grave as little as my bed. (I didn’t tell Jean, but I’ll tell you, if you’re so frozen in fear you can’t find this light, please won’t you ask a friend to help you?)

Or it might be a truth like all things work for good and nothing can separate us from his love

Like, no evil shall befall you.

How can you be so sure, Miss Abigail? That’s what you’re thinking, right? Because faithful Christians will die of COVID-19. Pestilence and plague will befall us. Death will come near our tents.

They may have done everything right and may have even prayed Psalm 91 each night.

What Does Psalm 91 Mean?

Not to burst your bubble, but unless Jesus returns first, you and will die. We’re mortal. We must.

So what does, No evil will befall you mean? We’ve got to understand rescue the right way or we’ll be greatly shaken when good folks get sick or when we have to look death in the eye.

Charles Spurgeon ministered through a deadly cholera epidemic in London. He explained “no evil” like this:

It is impossible that any ill should happen to the man who is beloved of the Lord; the most crushing calamities can only shorten his journey and hasten him to his reward…Losses enrich him, sickness is his medicine, reproach is his honour, death is his gain. No evil in the strict sense of the word can happen to him, for everything is overruled for good.

Let that thought nest. Actually, go you rest under his wings.

Because one way or another, God will deliver all his children. He will rescue us from the fangs of COVID-19 and bring us safely into his kingdom.

One way or another, in life or in death, he will.

Real Rescue

God does not say no afflictions shall befall us, but no evil.-Thomas Watson.

The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. These are some of the very last words Paul spoke. They’re at the end of the last chapter of the last book he penned in prison shortly before he died, probably by beheading at the hands of evil Nero.

He had just mentioned Alexander the coppersmith who did him much evil and he knew his days were short. What most of us would call evil was “befalling” Paul. Then in 2 Timothy 4:18, he writes,

The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.

We must understand this to understand what Psalm 91 really means. Real evil was is that Paul’s faith would wither. Real rescue was being brought safely home to Jesus.

That is it! If we make the Lord our refuge, then fear won’t cripple us- because we know that the worst- even disease and dying- brings the best.

Because real rescue means God bringing us safely into his kingdom.

When Death Sounds the Retreat

Faith is endangered by security, but secure in the midst of danger, someone said. If there’s an upside to COVID-19, this is it.

I know the Puritans paint a rosier picture of death than we’re used to. But tell me this isn’t true:

Friend, if you were prepared, death would be to you a change from a prison to a place, from sorrows to solace, from pain to pleasure, from heaviness to happiness. All your sins and sorrows would be buried in your grave and the ship of your soul…and you would arrive at a blessed and everlasting harbor. Death would sound the retreat, and call you out of the battlefield- where the bullets fly thick in your combat with the flesh, world and wicked one- to receive your crown of life.

George Swinnock, The Fading of the Flesh and Flourishing of Faith, 1662

We are under his wings. Evil cannot touch us there!

And, if it seems to, as John Piper wrote, there must be a glorious deliverance we can’t see. What else can we conclude when we put these two Psalms together:

Psalm 44:22 – “For thy sake we are slain all day long.”
Psalm 34:19 – “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”

Remember how Jesus talked to his disciples this way?

Luke 21:16 – “…some of you they will put to death.”
Luke 21:18 – “But not a hair of your head will perish.”

Jesus doesn’t tell lies and he doesn’t speak out of both sides of his mouth. He speaks truth. He is the truth.

So Jean, this all means that you might- I might- get infected with COVID-19 and Psalm 91 is still true.

No evil will befall us.

What is our hope in life and death?
Christ alone, Christ alone
What is our only confidence?
That our souls to him belong
Who holds our days within his hand?
What comes, apart from his command?
And what will keep us to the end?
The love of Christ, in which we stand

Christ Our Hope in Life and Death

Words and Music by Keith Getty, Matt Boswell, Jordan Kauflin, Matt Merker, Matt Papa

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39

A Tale Of Two Showers

So I say to you, “If you knew the blessed God, and who it is that is offered to you-the sweetest love, the richest mercy, the surest friend, the chiefest good, the greatest beauty, the highest honor, and the fullest happiness… You would be more willing to leave these frothy joys and drossy delights for the enjoyment of God than any prisoner was ever willing to leave the misery of jail for the liberty, pleasures, and preferment of a court.”

-George Swinnock, The Fading of the Flesh and the Flourishing of the Soul

I attended two bridal showers last Saturday. Funny thing was, I didn’t even know I was at the one until I got to the other. Then these dull eyes started to make sense of what I’d seen. 

Because you’ve got to have no sight at all to miss a bride making ready for her big day. 

Bridal Showers

One shower was bigger, with dozens of cousins and aunts and friends. The other was just three sisters, until along came me. 
One shower had a table spread big with buffet of sandwiches and salads and mixed nuts and cake. The other was not so broad- some sips of soup and applesauce. Both showered refreshment on the guests. Both tables amply laid. 
At one shower, the bride-to-be was getting vases and sheets and picture-less picture frames. The other was giving vases and quilts and pictures in their frames away. Both had a devoted sister beside her, noting each gift opened or given away. 
At one shower, the bride is counting down-38 days and 18 hours-before she’s given away. The other bride knows not the day nor the hour. She suspects she knows the season and content to leave the precise timing to her bridegroom. 

She says, His timing is always best.

Preparing For Their Big Days

Both brides are picking playlists for their celebration days. Both select from among the special songs that marked their relationships along the way. One bride might play I’ve Got You. The other, for sure, Trust and Obey

Both brides are clearing clutter. One bride has far less than the other. Both sort through unneeded things from their single days. Both go deep into closets and drawers to throw old clippings and awards and cards and notes away.
Both brides can talk a blue streak about her beloved. Both smile and look just a little bit smitten when each says, in so many words how she knows his love. Both brides describe- in a word- their husband, their betrothed, as faithful every day 
Both brides will relocate upon their wedding days. One will move across the country to her groom’s new medical school. The other will go a little further than Philly. Both might miss some folks, but they say they’re not afraid to go away. 
I’m dense sometimes. I don’t always see through God’s signs to the truth that is behind. But even I couldn’t miss the message of the brides after the shower last Saturday. 

And Grandma Did A Fist Pump

It is possible for your dying day to be your wedding day…for then the fairest of ten thousand and your soul will be solemnly knit together. 

-George Swinnock, The Fading of the Flesh and the Flourishing of the Soul
Two weeks ago we found out Grandma’s cancer had came back. This time it was more painful-incurable pancreatic. We don’t know just how long. And how I wanted to visit while Grandma still felt, her word, perky. 
So I headed up Friday night, clueless about her shower. The second one Saturday, for lovely cousin Hannah, that one I knew about. You can see how the surprise was all on me when I walked in to find the three. Grandma with her sisters were gathered around the table writing lists and making plans and setting up the service. 

What’s the oldest blessing in the Bible? they asked me. Aaron’s, I think, at the end of Numbers chapter six. Grandma’s sister read it. 

That’s it, Grandma declared. Now, write that down so you don’t forget.
Then she let me to recite some verses I’d been working through. And when I got to- Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemptionshe broke right in with glee.

Here where Grandma fist-pumped and said so joyfully, 

That’s me! I’m sealed for the Day of Redemption, for Jesus. Oh, I’m so glad He loves me!   

Revel A Minute

A Puritan named George Swinnock lived 350 years ago and he would have fist pumped, too. Because what Grandma knows, Swinnock knew- that when outside is fading, the inward can be renewed. And that the abundant life Jesus gives only starts with our short as dew, fading like wildflower lives on God’s green earth.

We can know this too. We-me and you, church, the body of Christ, his betrothed bride-we aren’t unaware.

So revel here a minute with Swinnock and Grandma and me.

Come forth; behold your beloved in all His glory. His arms are stretched out to embrace you. His lips are ready to kiss you. Oh, what a loving look He gives you! I am certain that you have a greater place in His heart than you have in your own…Your beloved will entertain you with precious and costly feast at His own tableIf you accept this offer, it will be life for you to think of death. You will lift up your head with joy when the day of your redemptions draws near. (Swinnock, p. 76-77)

Saints know where their portions lay. Grandma’s portion showed through at her shower on Friday night. I saw Grandma’s affections are getting more set on Christ, her true husband, and that this world is gently easing out of her, so it’ll be easier to say good-bye. 
For now Grandma’s showering us all-her beautiful Connemara Girl and woolen Sunbonnet girls, her hand-sown quilts and beloved hymnals, even her dear Dutch art-her Delft blue and windmills and tulips. She’s giving it all away. 
And she’s sealed and dressed in fine linen and fist-pumping awaiting one glorious redemption day. 
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
“Hallelujah!

For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. 

Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory,

for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;

it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

Revelation 19:6-8