I first knew something was wrong with me physically in February 2012, when I had to go home sick from prayer meeting. I ended up having to take a medical leave from my duties as pastor, and tried to make a comeback preaching Sunday mornings only that August and September, but got worse. I finally resigned at the end of February 2013 to allow the church to call a pastor who would be able to actively lead the church. It has been a most difficult year for all of us — Cheryl & Michael too. At one point Cheryl had hurt her ankle, and I couldn’t get up without getting sick, so we kept having to call Michael in to help us. One time after he left the room, Cheryl said, “Poor Michael; it is like he has a new job in a nursing home!”
But in it all, God has been faithful, and gracious, and has been teaching and refining us. The Personnel Committee Chairman at our previous church called me one night while I was sick, and he asked if there was a certain verse I was relying on during this time; a “theme” verse like God so often gives in certain chapters of our lives. After some thought, I told him that I did, and it was Psalm 3:3, “For Thou, O Lord, art a shield to me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.” There is a lot here but I just want us to focus for now on the first thing David said that God was for him — and what He will be for you and I too: “My shield.”
Yahweh is “My Shield”
First of all, notice the context of what David says here. The heading under “Psalm 3:3”, which IS a part of the Hebrew Bible, reads: “A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.” So we know the historical background of Psalm 3; it came when David’s son Absalom led a rebellion against him, and David had to run away from his capital city, Jerusalem, because most of the people of the land had decided to follow Absalom instead. He had lost most everything: his leadership, his city, the hearts of his people, his own son, he had to leave his possessions behind; he had lost almost everything of worth in his life, and was perhaps about to lose his very life itself. And it is in this context, then, that David writes these words: “Thou, O Lord, art a shield to me.” David is writing this Psalm in a time of excruciating trial for him – and so it speaks to all of us who have been, will be, or are RIGHT NOW in the midst of a trial in life, about what God can be for us in those trying times.
Now notice immediately that David is addressing Yahweh by name. Whenever you see “LORD” in all caps in many of your English Bibles, it means that in the original Hebrew Bible this is not the Hebrew word “Adonai”, or “lord”, but “Yahweh”, the personal name of God, which He gave Moses when He asked Him who was sending Him. So it tells us that it is not just any God that David is addressing here; it is not just any god, or any religion which will do for you what David is talking about. It is only Yahweh; only the God of the Bible; only the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will be for you what this verse describes.
I. A Shield of Protection
So what is it that He will be? David says, “Thou, O YHWH, art a shield for me.” A shield, of course, is an instrument of protection, that a warrior keeps in front of him to keep him from the harmful weapons that might be aimed at him. But the shields used in ancient days were, of course, limited. They could only protect the front of the soldier, wherever he held it before him. But of the Lord this verse says, He is “a shield ABOUT me.” This word “about” is the same Hebrew word used of Jeremiah in Lamentations 3:7, where it says that he was “walled about” (by God) so that he could not go out. That meant that he was totally surrounded; he could not get out; he was walled in. What is significant for us is that this is the same word which is used here in Psalm 3:3 where David says that God is a “shield ABOUT me” – in other words, he is saying that God totally surrounds my life and protects me, as my impenetrable shield! David was totally “walled about”, totally surrounded by God’s protection. In historical context, David needed that protection, for in the introduction to the Psalm it tells us that this Psalm was written when David was fleeing from Absalom his son. It was in a time of danger. We’ll talk some more about that in a moment, but you see what David is saying: God is a shield who totally surrounded and protected him from the danger around him. He was his “Shield.”
This is the same thing that God told Abraham in Genesis 15:1, when God appeared to him after the Battle of the Kings. God said to him: “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you …”. God was Abraham’s shield, too.
And God will be our shield, too. Now, lest you think we may be wrenching a promise that God gave only to Abraham or to David, and wrongly applying it to ourselves, Psalm 18:30 says “He is a shield to ALL who take refuge in Him.” To ALL! If you have committed your life to God, then you can know that He is YOUR shield, too – and He is mine!
God is my shield! That means that He is the One who protects my life. He totally surrounds me. He protects me. There is an old hymn by John Ryland that says: “Plagues and deaths around me fly; till He bid, I cannot die.” God is a SHIELD who totally surrounds His child. NOTHING can touch us – we are invincible — until He allows it through!
A famous example of this is found in the life of George Washington. During his early years (July 9th, 1755) in a battle during the French and Indian War, the 23 year-old Colonel Washington rode to and fro on the battlefield, delivering the general’s orders to other officers and troops. The officers had been a special target for the Indians. Of the eighty-six British and American officers, sixty-three were casualties. Washington was the only officer on horseback not shot down – remarkable since at 6’2” he was by far the tallest and most imposing target on the battlefield!
Following the battle, Washington wrote a letter to his brother in which he marveled at the protection he had received:
“By the all-powerful dispensations of Providence, I have been protected beyond all human probability or expectation; for I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me, yet [I] escaped unhurt, although death was leveling my companions on every side of me!”
Fifteen years later, an old, respected Indian chief sought out Washington. The chief, explaining that he had led the Indians against them in the battle fifteen years earlier, revealed to Washington what had occurred behind the scenes during the conflict:
“I called to my young men and said, mark yon tall and daring warrior [Washington]? …Himself is alone exposed. Quick, let your aim be certain, and he dies. Our rifles were leveled, rifles which, but for you, knew not how to miss–’twas all in vain, a power mightier far than we shielded you … I am come to pay homage to the man who is the particular favorite of Heaven, and who can never die in battle.”
That Indian chief was right in some ways: Washington was obviously protected by the hand of God for His own purposes. He could not die before God’s time, for God was a “shield” about him; He had plans for George Washington! But the chief was also wrong in another way: Washington was not protected because he was a “particular favorite of heaven” – any more than you & I are. ALL of God’s children are covered by the “shield” of the Lord. Not a ONE of us will go before our time. Until it is God’s time for you to go, you too are as “indestructible” as George Washington was! Just as John Ryland wrote: “Plagues and deaths around me fly; till He bid, I cannot die”! If you know the Lord that David wrote about here as your Savior, then He is a “Shield” about you, too!
In Shakespeare’s “Henry V”, which re-tells the historic battle of Agincourt, the French force outnumbered King Henry’s army 5 to 1 in men at arms; it looked like the English were going to be overwhelmed by the superior numbers of the French army. Just before the battle, one of Henry’s men says: “I wish they would not come upon us today.” But Henry V responded: “We’re in God’s hands, brother.”
Some of us need to be reminded of that same thing today. Some of you are worried about an impending medical test, or diagnosis, or about a job situation, or your finances, or multitude of other things. Just like some of Henry’s men that day at Agincourt, you are worried about what might be coming against you. But if you’re a Christian, you need to remember that you’re not going to be hit by any random ills. Remember, “You’re in God’s hands, brother!” “You’re in God’s hands, sister!” If you belong to God, He is a Shield about you!
II. A Shield of Purpose
Because God is the “Shield” for every one of His followers, that means that there is nothing that touches our lives which doesn’t have to go through Him first. Because God is our “shield”, that means that He totally covers, surrounds and protects us. We are indestructible until He says it is time. Nothing comes through that shield that He does not allow. This is significant, and gives us some great insight about what happens in our lives. That means that whatever DOES touch our lives, has been allowed by God for some specific purpose!
We see an example of that in Job. When the Lord asked Satan: “Have you considered My servant Job?”, Satan answered: “Does Job fear God for nothing? Hast Thou not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side?” Satan said that God had a “hedge” about Job – what David calls here a “shield”! So Satan had to ask God’s permission to attack Job, and bring all the calamities that came upon him. God granted that permission, because He had a purpose in it. But not one of Job’s animals would have died unless God allowed it. None of his children could have been taken away unless God allowed it. None of the illnesses that struck his body would have touched Him unless it first came through the “shield” of God that totally surrounded him. God was Job’s “shield”, and nothing could have touched him unless He had some purpose for it to come through His “hedge” of protection — which He did. God has taught believers through all the ages lessons from what happened to Job. He had a purpose for it, or He would not have let it through His shield.
This should affect the way that a number of us see what happens in our lives. Sometimes when something “bad” – inconvenient, painful, difficult — happens to us, we automatically think that that “bad” thing must be from the devil. For example, when I pastored in Moss Bluff, we sent a lot of people out on mission trips. Several times, there were occasions when someone would get sick the week of the trip. The instinctive reaction of a lot of people was to say, “This is from the devil; Satan is attacking them.” Well, that illness may well have been from Satan, but we need to also remember that God is our shield! He totally surrounds us; He encloses us like that wall in Lamentations. NOTHING gets to us without getting past Him first! That means if an illness or something else touches us, that God has LET it come through, and if He has, there is some purpose in it — whether it is to demonstrate His power over it, or to test our perseverance, or to open or close a door for going for a particular person — there is some reason, or He would not have allowed it to happen.
The same thing is true for each one of us. NOTHING touches us without being allowed to come through God’s “shield” first. That means if something DOES happen to us, God has allowed it, so He must have a purpose in it. For me, that includes the illness I’ve wrestled with this past year and a half. One of the reasons this verse has been special to me is that it has reminded me that if this illness came through God’s shield, then there must be some reason for it. Although I have not always understood why, I have steadily clung to this verse and other scriptures, and maintained that God has some reason for what was happening. And I can confidently say that if you are a Christian, the same thing is true for you. If something has come through God’s “shield” to touch you, then it is not an accident; He has some purpose for that thing in your life as well.
III. Look For God’s Purposes
Knowing, then, that only what God allows through His “shield” touches us, and that everything He allows has a purpose, one of the most important things we can do in times in which we are afflicted is to look for what God’s reason or purpose is. What is He looking to accomplish? Look for God’s purpose: Why did this happen? Why did He allow it?
There are undoubtedly some very special, very specific things that God is doing in your situation, that apply to what He is trying to do in you, and ways He is using your situation to advance His kingdom, which may not apply to others. But there are also some general purposes which we know from scripture that God has for our trials. Let’s look at some of the Biblical purposes which God has for letting trials through His shield:
1) It may be to purify your life from sin.
Now, we need to understand that sin is NOT the only reason that we experience tribulations; the Jews of old thought so, but Jesus set them straight in John 9:2-3 “Rabbi, who sinned, this man, or his parents, that he should be born blind?” Jesus told them it was “neither”! Every difficulty we experience is NOT a direct result of our sin. Be very careful about pointing at someone who is going through illness or tribulation and judging them by saying that it happened to them because of their sin. Are YOUR parents sick because of their sin? Are you kids sick because of YOUR sin? Are YOU going through difficulty because of your sin? We need to be very careful about assigning sin as the direct cause for someone else’s difficulties.
However, understanding that not all trials are directly caused by our sin, we do also need to realize that sometimes God does allow tribulations into our lives for the purpose of purifying us from sin. David said in Psalm 119:67, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word.” Purifying you from a certain sin or sins may not be the reason God has for what you are going through, but it also might be. And even if being cleansed from a certain sin is not the MAIN reason why God has you in a trial, you should still always use your afflictions as a time of confession and repentance and see if there is something God wants you to purify from your life in that time. Even if it is not the primary reason for the trial, one of the benefits of the trial can be that you emerge from that time as a more pure vessel for His purposes. So whenever we come into a trial, we should always ask God to show us areas of our lives which we can turn from sin. I could be wrong, but don’t think that the illness I have had this last year is a direct result of my sin. However, that has not stopped me from trying to use this time to cleanse my life from whatever sin God has showed me in life during this trial. And I have purified and rededicated my life to God during this time in numerous ways. We should always seek to purify our lives from sin during our trials.
2) It may be that God wants you to learn something in this trial that you can use in ministry to others. Paul wrote in II Corinthians 1:3-4, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our afflictions so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” When we as God’s people endure trials, we learn lessons, and gain perspectives which we are then able to share with others – like Paul wrote, we can comfort others with the comfort with which we ourselves have been comforted.
When I was sick, I was not able to do a lot of reading; it made my head ache and made me sick to read too much. But I did read in little “bits & pieces.” I read one little book on the church by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great German pastor and theologian who was martyred in Hitler’s Germany, entitled Life Together. In it he talked about how important prayer is for those fellowshipping together in the church. He wrote: “A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses.” When I read that, I thought, “How true.” I personally needed the prayers of our church family greatly during my illness, and I learned afresh & anew how important they are. And while I was home, often there was not much ministry I could do except pray, but I could do that. So one of the things God taught me during this time was even more about the importance of our prayers for each other in the church family. Since I saw how important it is to be undergirded in prayer – I endeavored to pray with even more consistency and vigor for others. Just like Paul said, I will seek to comfort others with the comfort with which I myself have been comforted.
I have a pastor friend whose wife has wrestled with a great physical trial for about the past year. At one point, while they were in the hospital, they thought she was going to lose her life. With God’s help, and with the comfort and prayers of many Christian friends, she is coming back strong. After walking through this dark valley, a minister friend told him: “You will never again minister to people in the same way after this” — for now he has been in their shoes. And he said he has already seen that that is true — he knows much better how to minister to people in distress, because he has been there. Whatever His other purposes are, God has used that trial to make him a better minister to others, because now he can empathize with them.
God wants to do the same thing in you. If He has allowed something to touch your life, then surely He has a purpose for it. And one of those purposes is that you will gain skills, or sympathy, or understanding, during your time of trial, which you can then use to comfort and minister to others in a way which you never would have before. After your trial is over, it will be able to be said to you too: “You will never minister to people the same after this.”
3) You can KNOW that He is using what you are going through to make you more like Christ. That is God’s overall goal for your life. This is where a lot of people really miss the mark. We usually have as our goal for life that everything go “smoothly”, without any problems all our lives — and die in our sleep! But God never says that an easy life is His purpose for us. He tells us in Romans 8:28-29 what HIS purpose is. It says “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son.” Many are familiar with Romans 8:28, that God is causing all things to work together for good, and they wonder what that “good” might be. But they neglect to see that the very next verse TELLS us what that purpose is: to conform us to the image of His Son — to make us more like Christ. So one thing you can know for sure about God’s purpose for letting something through His “shield” — He has done it make you more like Him.
When I graduated from seminary, we had what we called at the time our “dark year”, because we had had our first child, and I had no full-time job, and it was a time of great trial for us. At one point I called out to God, asking Him what was going on; why was this happening? He showed me again Romans 8:29, and then led me to the Beatitudes, which paint a portrait of the character of Christ. He showed me how through those “dark” days, He was building every single one of those character qualities into my life. And He is doing the same thing with every trial that He allows into our lives; He does it because He knows that just like pressure is used to form a diamond, the difficulties He allows through His shield will make us more like Christ — and THAT is His goal for our lives.
4) Finally, God’s purpose for letting something through His “shield” to touch your life may be to draw you to Himself, that you might know Him, or to learn more of Him.
There is no purpose in your life greater than knowing God. Jesus said in John 17:3 “This is eternal life, that they may know Thee.” Paul said in Philippians 3:8 “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” Paul said that knowing Him was more important than anything else he could gain. And that is true for you and me, too. God will allow some difficult things to come into our lives so that we might come to know Him, or come to know Him better.
Robert Browning Hamilton wrote a poem, entitled, “I Walked A Mile With Pleasure”:
I walked a mile with pleasure; she chatted all the way
But left me none the wiser for all she had to say.
I walked a mile with sorrow, and ne’er a word said she,
But oh the things I learned from her, when sorrow walked with me.
We learn a lot of things from our walks with sorrow; but the most important thing we learn is a closer walk with the Lord through those times. How many people have the testimony that they came to know the Lord for the very first time as a result of some illness they have suffered? Many! How many of us even in this room have the testimony that I have never been closer to the Lord than I have been through my sickness, or my sorrow, or my trial? I can say that although I would have never asked for the experience of this last year, I have learned from it, and grown closer to the Lord than ever before — and I can see why He would have let this through His shield.
All of these things, and more besides, may be reasons why God would let some trial touch your life. But He has purposes in it, you may be sure, and so you should try to discern what His purposes in your trial are.
In Genesis 25, Rebekah has married Isaac, and after he prayed that they would have children, she was indeed with child – in fact, with twins. But :22 says that the two children struggled together within her, and Rebekah said, “’If it is so, then why am I this way?’ So she went to inquire of the Lord.” Rebekah knew that something was going on inside her. She knew that whatever it was, it was NOT an “accident”, but that God had some plan or purpose for it. So she went “to inquire of the Lord” and find out what that purpose was. Until this last reading of Genesis, I had never really thought of Rebekah as one of the “great women of faith” in the Bible, but I have a renewed respect for her now. Not only did she demonstrate great faith by leaving with Abraham’s servant, and going with him to marry Isaac sight unseen!, but here she knew that if something was happening within her, that it didn’t “just happen”, but that God had some purpose for it. “If it is so, then why am I this way?” And so she went to inquire of the Lord, and find out why this was happening, and what God’s purpose for it was.
This is exactly what you & I should do. If something is happening to you, and you are a Christian, then you need to have faith that it has come through God’s “shield”, and He has a purpose for it. So go to Him and ask Him what that purpose is. James 1:5 says God will give us the wisdom we ask for if we seek Him for it. See if God will show you what the purpose for your trial is. Often He will show you.
We also know there are times when God does NOT show us what that purpose is. Sometimes like the prophets of old we never know what God is up to in our lifetimes. Mark Dever said in one of his sermons on James 1, that sometimes we can’t figure out what God’s purpose for a trial is, because God does not want us to trust what we can reason out of our circumstances, He wants us to trust HIM! In those times, we have to walk even MORE by faith. But we can still know for certain that although we may not know what it is, He still has plan and purpose for whatever is touching your life. NOTHING is happening to you by “accident.” He is your shield, if you are His, and there is some purpose for it. So don’t just “sit there” and mourn and wonder about what is going on; be a “worker together with Him” and seek His purposes. Cleanse your life from sin, learn valuable lessons that you can share with others, work with God’s purpose to make you more like Christ, and get to know Him better during this time. And most importantly, just TRUST HIM, that He is your “Shield”, and that He has a purpose for whatever He has allowed to touch your life.
Let me emphasize: all that I have said today about what God can be for you as your “Shield”, is ONLY true if Jesus is your Savior. David had made this very personal; he had said to God, “You are MY shield.” In that same way, you need to come to a time in your life when you purposefully turn to God, and make Him YOUR God, YOUR Savior, YOUR Shield. That happens when you realize that although God made you to know Him, you have sinned against God, and have no hope of heaven or of knowing Him, unless your sins are forgiven – and that happens only when you trust Jesus as your Savior. God sent Jesus to die on the cross and pay for your sins, and raised Him from the dead to be the Savior of whoever would call upon Him. If you have never done it before, then today, call on the name of the Lord; ask Him to save you, and then you can say very personally to God, “You are MY Shield” – and you can know that NOTHING can touch your life that doesn’t come through Him first!