Psalm 91 and COVID-19

Does Psalm 91 protect from COVID-19?When COVID-19 first broke out, a lot of Christians posted verses from Psalm 91 on their social media accounts. Several verses sound like God will protect people who believe in Him from pestilence:

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,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
    nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
    ten thousand at your right hand,
    but it will not come near you (Psalm 91:3-7).

A friend said in an email recently that some psalms seemed to provide blanket protection, yet she didn’t think that’s what was meant. Therefore, she was having trouble knowing quite how to apply them.

Psalm 91 is one of those passages for me, so as I responded to my friend, I looked up commentary on it. One interpretation said we may have to face these trials, but we don’t have to fear them. That conclusion was based on verse 5: “You will not fear the terror of the night, . . . ” the arrow, the pestilence, etc. Another spiritualized it: we may have to face physical trials but we’re safe spiritually. The ESV Study Bible notes said on these verses:

Pestilence (Psalm 91:3, 6) and destruction are diseases that God sends on his enemies or his unfaithful people (cf. Ex. 5:3; 9:15; Lev. 26:25; Deut. 32:42, “plagues”). The terror and arrow, together with a thousand may fall, envision God’s people under attack. If the psalm were describing every situation of danger, it would clearly be untrue: faithful people have fallen prey to these and other perils. It is better to allow Psalm 91:8 to guide the interpretation [“You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked.“], pointing to cases in which these events (plague, battle) are sent as God’s recompense on the wicked (whether Gentile or Israelite); in such cases, the faithful can be sure of God’s protection (ESV Study Bible, p. 1054).

As much of a stickler as I am for context, somehow I had missed the importance of verse 8. And though I’ve read these comments before, I didn’t remember them.

So this psalm isn’t blanket protection: it’s not saying that God’s people will never suffer from disease or attack. But if God is sending disease or an invading army as a punishment or judgment, those who “dwell in the shelter of the Most High,” who “abide in the shadow of the Almighty,” and who trust in the Lord as their “refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust” (Psalm 91:1-2) will be safe.

However, not all plagues and diseases are sent as judgment on God’s enemies. Sometimes He allows His own to get deadly viruses, to suffer attacks. Hebrews 1 speaks of some who “were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Hebrews 11:35-38). They were commended for their faith (verse 39) just as much as those who “conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight” (33-34).

A missionary in Colombia takes issue with the phrase, “The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will.” He has amended that statement to say, “The most fulfilling, joyful, and peaceful place to be is in the center of God’s will. But it is not necessarily the safest.” After citing Scriptural examples, he says, “Most prayers in Scripture focus not on the personal safety and benefit of believers but on the power, majesty, testimony, and victory of God over his-and, of course, our-enemies.” He asks supporters to pray for their faithfulness.

If you’re like me, it’s unsettling to know that anything could happen to us. Does that mean we can’t trust in God’s protection?

We can. We can pray for it. We know that nothing that happens to us comes as a surprise to Him. We know He loves us and He is good: in Him is “no darkness at all.

In Daniel 3, everyone was called to bow down to the king’s idol. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused, even in the face of the fiery furnace and the king’s threats. They stood firm, saying, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18). They were thrown into the furnace, and God manifested His presence to them, and to the king, in a marvelous way.

As Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).

If God allows disease or trauma to come into our lives, He promises His presence:

I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him (Psalm 91:15).

And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20b).

He promises His strength and help:

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. . .For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you. (Isaiah 41:10, 13).

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

He promises His love:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (Romans 8:35, 37).

He promises His peace:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid (John 14:27).

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

He promises His purpose:

We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:3-4).

 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Corinthians 4:16-17).

We can rest in the hollow of His hand, knowing that nothing reaches us there but what He allows. He provides His grace to deal with anything that comes our way.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).

The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him (Nahum 1:7).

In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety (Psalm 4:8).

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Hearth and Soul,
Senior Salon, Purposeful Faith, InstaEncouragement,
Recharge Wednesday, Worth Beyond Rubies,
Share a Link Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee,
Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire,
Blogger Voices Network)

 

Laudable Linkage

A collection of good reading onlineHere are some great reads collected in the last couple of weeks.

How to Be Refreshed by Opening Your Bible.

It’s Time to Conquer that Midyear Bible Reading Slump. What a great idea to revisit the plans we made for Bible reading back in January. Michele suggests several great resources.

A Statement About Statements, HT to Challies. I appreciate the difficulty of being expected to come up with a statement on issues while still processing them.

We Need Rainy Times, HT to Challies. “We all love the sunshine, but the Arabs have a proverb that ‘all sunshine makes the desert.'”

I Know a Place, of justice, righteousness, mercy, grace, and more. HT to Challies.

Dear Worthless Cockroach, HT to Challies. “Is there anything about me (as myself, as the person I am apart from God’s saving grace) that is actually worthwhile or lovable? Am I just a worthless, sinful cockroach that God has chosen to love? And if so, am I wrong to feel bad or uneasy about this? To feel (as I sometimes do) that underneath everything, I really am pretty worthless and unlovable?”

The Exchange of Pleasures, HT to Challies. “Achieving a fitness goal and killing sin both happens through the exchange of pleasures.”

Pluckers. Proverbs 14:1 in the KJV says, “Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands.” I enjoyed this post about ways we might unwittingly be “pluckers.”

A Cake on the Back Seat, HT to to Challies. “Dear sister, don’t underestimate your voice, especially when many others do. In speaking wisdom to us, reminding us of cakes being carried on back seats, you carry with you the spirit of Abigail as she rode out in 1 Samuel 25.”

Ten Questions Missionaries Love to Answer, HT to to Challies.

From Camping To Dining Out: Here’s How Experts Rate The Risks of 14 Summer Activities, HT to Lisa.

Giant List of Indoor Activities for Kids, HT to Story Warren. With playgrounds and restaurants closed and play dates off the calendar, this is good if you need some fresh ideas for the kids.

The Elisabeth Elliot.org site has gotten a complete overhaul in order to put the writings of Elisabeth, Jim Elliot, and their daughter, Valerie Elliot Shepard all under one “roof.” I miss “Ramblings from the Cove” that Elisabeth’s third husband, Lars, used to write, and I hope they include a word from him sometimes.

And finally, this was pretty clever. HT to Steve Laube.

Happy Saturday!

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Here are some of the good reads found online recently.

Can You Do ALL Things? The meaning behind a commonly misapplied Bible verse.

Church, Don’t Let the Coronavirus Divide You. “For example, someone might find it personally difficult—even maddening—to have to wear a mask during church and stay six feet away from everyone at all times. You might think these precautions are a needless overreaction. But here’s the thing: even if it turns out you’re right, can you not sacrifice your ideal for a season, out of love for others who believe the precautions are necessary?. . . We could all use a bit more humility, and the church should lead the way.”

What will be left when the dust settles? “How will you have handled these weeks? The question is interesting because the Christian response goes in two directions at once. If you’re wise, you won’t be shaken by what has happened; but neither will you remain unchanged.”

Gathering Again Is a Serious Choice. “If churches meet and a second (maybe even more severe) wave of infections can be traced back to church services, we will not only have a PR problem but also face the potential of regulation and persecution. We do not want to be the church in the news for being the source of a major outbreak.”

Samaritan’s Purse Cleared Both Familiar and Unique Hurdles in New York, HT to Challies. “The head of the Central Park field hospital shares staff’s experience working amid protests and the peak of the coronavirus outbreak”

Imagination Is for Moms, Too, HT to Story Warren. “If I think of his behavior as a problem to be solved or a task to be completed and checked off my to-do list, then I’m just working towards behavior modification. But if I remember that somewhere in his struggle—no matter how much sin is concealing it—there is a glimpse of God, in whose image my son was created, then I begin to think of ways to draw out that dim reflection.”

Of Oceans, Thimbles, and Talking to Your Kids about Death, HT to Challies. “If it is the time God has chosen for you to die, you can drown in a thimble; if it’s not, then you can survive for days in the open ocean.”

Facing Writing Non-Productivity Without Guilt. This is applicable to all of life, not just writing. “Endless motion produces scattered thoughts and culminates in scattered dreams. Let this forced isolation become an inward pilgrimage of quiet introspection, where memories and life lived are reflected with a depth that comes from hearing God speak.”

Styrofoam Printing. HT to Story Warren. Looking for something new to do with the kids? This article about printing with Styrofoam was posted for Easter but could be adapted.

Finally, I have not one, but two videos today! I’ve seen many coronavirus song parodies, but I like this one to the tune of Nessun Dorma the best. Plus this guy has a gorgeous voice.

What I like most about this one is how pleased the dad is with how his plan worked out. And the mom’s face when she doubts it will.

Happy Saturday!

Stray Thoughts from Isolation

coping with pandemicNormally, I have a more focused, devotional or Bible study type of post on Mondays. Today I just want to share some “stray thoughts” about coping during this pandemic.

When we were first told to stay home to avoid spreading the coronavirus, many people felt that at least they’d have time to get things done around the house—home repairs, decorating, writing, or whatever.

How often I have wished for a cleared schedule in order to get more done. But, somehow, I wasn’t getting much done besides the bare everyday tasks.

Over the weeks I’ve seen people mention a strange lethargy, malaise, ennui, brain fog. Many of us are having trouble getting our minds in gear for long or for anything deep.

I think this state of mind is probably due to several things. Most of us have never lived through anything like this current pandemic. When I first heard of it, I had to battle panic regularly, especially since my husband and I are in at-risk groups. I was concerned about the virus itself, finding supplies, the economy in general, my husband’s and children’s jobs, and so much more. God ministered to me through His Word, and I remembered I needed to feed my soul truth. God is the same, and He has promised to be with us and meet our needs. I listen to uplifting music filled with truth. I remind myself, too, that if I worry and fret, I’m wasting that energy if nothing happens and doubling my misery if it does.

Then there was just a general unease due to normal routines being disrupted, sorrow over disappointments and canceled plans. All of those concerns above still pop up, but now there’s a weary wondering how long this will last.

At first it helped to remind myself that all of this isn’t as bad as it could be, except for those who have the virus, have loved ones with it, or have lost weeks of work and pay. For too many, this virus and its effects have been devastating. My heart goes out to those who have been battling the virus firsthand.

But for many of us, I told myself, this is not as bad as the Spanish flu epidemic, the black plague, the Depression, the Jews packed like sardines in small spaces hiding during WWII. We have safe places to stay and plenty of means to keep busy and entertain ourselves. It does help to focus on the positives even as we acknowledge the negatives and to shift perspective, as in safe at home rather than stuck at home.

But just because a problem isn’t as big as others doesn’t mean it’s not still a problem.

I’ve had a broken little toe before. Sure, it wasn’t as bad as a crushed ankle or amputation. But it still hurt severely and needed time and care to recover from.

So, whatever amount of strain or unease we’re going through, it still takes a toll. I think some part of our brains are still taken up with the pandemic and all its concerns even when we’re not actively thinking about them.

It’s okay to lament, to say it hurts. Ecclesiastes 3 talks about “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” The psalms are full of people pouring out their hearts to God during trouble, then reminding themselves of God’s love and character. Most of them come to a place of peace even though the circumstances have not yet changed.

In our childbirth class for our first pregnancy, the instructor had a couple from a previous class who had their baby come back and tell of their experience. The new mother said said if she began to think during labor, “What if I have to do this for many more hours? Or days,” she would feel defeated and tired. But if she focused on just one contraction at a time, she had the energy and strength to get through it. That has stuck with me ever since. If we focus on just riding out one wave at a time, getting through just this day or this moment, eventually we’ll be done.

I still feel better if I accomplish something useful rather than fall into YouTube rabbit holes (though I’ve done a bit of that). I relax in the evenings, but I try to get needed things done during the work day. So sometimes I’ve pushed through that moving-through-molasses feeling even when I don’t feel like it, even if I don’t get as much done as usual. I’ve thought of a few “mindless” tasks I’d love to get to, like cleaning out some files, pulling out clothes I want to give away, etc. I’m thankful for all sorts of offerings online, from free courses to museum tours to operas, to various artists giving free mini-concerts or presentations online. I haven’t had as much time to engage in that kind of thing as I would like. But I’m glad they are available, and I hope to get to more of them.

And I think, for many of us, we have to remember our emotions may be up and down. The general anxiety is less for me than it was at first. I had acknowledged and processed the sadness of canceling my oldest son’s flight here and celebrating Easter and my grandson’s birthday virtually instead of in person. We’d had a good, if subdued, Easter day. But for some reason, that night I got suddenly weepy. I didn’t tell my husband, because I didn’t want to have to explain it when I couldn’t. I guess that undercurrent of emotion just needed a release. And that’s ok. The next day, I was fine. My little grandson had a similar experience. His family has made it a point to play outside a lot since they can’t go to his usual favorite places, and they’ve had many happy days. Then he had a couple of emotional ones. I think overall he’s doing okay.

It also helps not to compare. I have a friend who works full time from home yet gets all kinds of house projects done. I can admire her energy and zest without shaming myself for not doing the same.

So, for me, I’m trying to maintain balance. Keeping up with current news, but not so much that it keeps me stirred up. Acknowledging that my emotions are a little tender, but not giving way to panic. Giving myself grace if I am not accomplishing a much as I’d like to, but not becoming a total couch potato. Continuing to feed on His Word. Bringing concerns before the Lord for wisdom for the future. Reminding myself that He instructed us to pray for daily needs. Taking one day at a time. Waiting in hope.

How are you holding up? What things are helping you cope through this pandemic?

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Hearth and Soul,
Tell His Story, Happy Now, InstaEncouragement, Recharge Wednesday,
Worth Beyond Rubies, Anchored Abode, Share a Link Wednesday,
Heart Encouragement, Grace and Truth, Blogger Voices Network,
Faith on Fire)

 

Laudable Linkage

Here my latest round-up of good reads online. Many are about the pandemic, but a few are not.

On Easter. I had never seen this poem by John Updike before, but I really like it.

Celebration of the Resurrection’s Not Canceled. “We may forfeit long-celebrated Easter activities and traditions. But if we miss celebrating the resurrection, we end up missing the greatest celebration of all time. He is risen!”

Corona Virus Could Kill Consumer Christianity. “Because coronavirus has rapidly taken away the excesses of church, all the bells and whistles, all the nice-to-haves we’ve come to see as must-haves. What remains are bare essentials: Jesus, the Word, community, prayer, singing. What remains is the reality that the church can never be vanquished: we are Christ’s body and will live eternally with him. Things are suddenly spartan in how we do church—but what we are remains as vibrant as ever.”

What Might God Be Doing With the Coronavirus? Lots of good possibilities listed.

Along the same lines, Do We Really Want to Go Back to Normal? HT to Challies. “But the truth is, whatever will become ‘normal’ on the other side of the coronavirus crisis will not be the old normal. It will be something new. We are not going back. So here’s the question I hope we will begin to ask instead: Do we really want to go back to normal? Was the old normal good?”

100 Days that Changed the World, HT to Challies. A timeline of how quickly the virus spread.

Hard Times Are Coming. “We can trust God and be completely convinced that what He does is good and right, yet still hope to avoid tragedy, pain, suffering, hard times. The real testing of our faith comes when those hard times hit.”

We’re All Children Now, HT to Challies. A recent tragedy reminded the writer how little control we have in life. But that helps us acknowledge our need, like the children Jesus said we should be like to come into His kingdom.

The Art of Remembering How Good You Really Have It.

A Strong Conscience or Immaturity? HT to Challies. It’s hard to tell sometimes. But the person who doesn’t do a questionable thing is not always the “weaker brother.”

The Record Keeper. I love this picture of Matthew using his gift of record-keeping to tell others about Christ. I don’t know why I never made the connection between his record-keeping as a former tax collector and his gospel account.

Remember the Wonders. A neat way God answered a young son’s prayer.

Covid-19: Anxious About Money? “‘Your heavenly father knows that you need them [life’s essentials].’ Since you are especially valuable to your Father, he knows and remembers what you need. Your needs are impressed on his heart.”

And along the same lines, HT to The Story Warren, this is a sweet song inspired by Matthew 6:

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I don’t want to “laud” my own writing, but I wanted to let you know The Perennial Gen published a piece I wrote titled “Limitations Don’t Limit Your Ministry.”

Here are some great reads discovered this week:

How to Study Your Bible in 2020.

How a “You do You” Culture Has Made Us Vulnerable to the Coronavirus, HT to Challies. “We can only stop the virus by doing what is best for others not just for ourselves.”

A Life That Points Others to Christ. “My most earnest prayer is that when someone hears my testimony, they would be compelled to go find Jesus and His Word for themselves.”

God Is Always Good. “We evaluate God’s character based on our circumstances, when we should evaluate our circumstances based on God’s unchanging character.”

Safe, HT to Challies. A poem by Paul Tripp.

‘Progressive’ Christianity: Even Shallower Than the Evangelical Faith I Left, HT to Challies. “I’ve walked in both shoes: the shoes of those who deserted and the shoes of Peter who couldn’t leave, no matter how hard it seemed to stay. I was an #exvangelical who left the faith of my youth for ‘progressive Christianity.’ Then I returned. Here’s my #revangelical story.”

Was Jesus Married to Mary Magdalene? Revisiting a Stubborn Conspiracy Theory, HT to Challies. In a word, no. This post debunks some of the false claims.

Surrendering Control When Facing Coronavirus, or any other situation where we don’t have control. “I’ve found it helpful, when facing out-of-control situations that cause me anxiety, to sort my concerns into two categories: 1. What I Can Control; 2. What I Cannot Control.”

3 Ways of Confronting the Problem of Diminishing Attention Spans Through the Great Books, HT to Challies. Good reasons to read the classics.

Guides for Kids and Middle-Schoolers to Take Notes During the Sermon, HT to Challies.

The Story Warren has a round-up of “awesome good-priced, free, discounted, livestreamed, giveaway, etc., stuff” being offered online during our “sheltering at home.”

Finally this video shows How Soap Kills the Coronavirus, HT to Challies.

Have a good Saturday, and stay safe.