When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. – 2 Chronicles 7:13-14
A few years ago I wrote a post titled “A Prayer for my Hometown.” It was written during a time of social conflict and threatened violence in my city; but it remains the one that has had the most overall views. And interestingly enough…it has gotten many more visits in the last several months as COVID-19 has been in the forefront of thought, media, conversation, and controversy. While the physical effects of the virus have been significant and have sent specialists scrambling for solutions, the emotional and mental effects have been just as real and devastating.
People from Italy, Israel, China, Egypt, Nigeria, and many others have used search engines to find hope and prayer guidance during this time of global pandemic. That tells me not only that people are hurting and scared…but, more importantly, that they are still searching and hopeful.
I believe in prayer. I also believe in the truth and power of scripture. When I need encouragement and direction, I often go to the Psalms. They are more than a collection of songs and words of encouragement, inspiration, remembrance, prayer, and praise. They echo honesty and the frailty of the human condition in times of suffering and times of joy, in the midst of fear and courage, war and peace, faith and doubt, victory and loss. They model the need for both celebrating and lamenting.
As you read through the Psalms, you’ll see a little five letter word repeated frequently: Selah. Theologians and bible scholars aren’t 100% sure of the meaning but they agree that it is most likely related to a musical term suggesting an interlude, intermission, or pause. Others suggest it also directs the worshiper to lift up, magnify, or exalt the name and the works of God. The word occurs 74 times in the bible, 71 times in the Psalms and 3 times in Habakkuk 3. Let’s consider that selah, in essence, means for us to slow down, take a breath, practice a pause, and consider the works of the Lord. Among the many uncertainties and reactions this pandemic has caused this year, it has noticeably created a pause in the lives of many people.
2020, in regards to eyesight, means you can see very clearly, perfectly. But the year 2020 has been blurred with uncertainty, surprise, suspicion, and for many, fear and loss. It has been a time when many of us have been forced to pause and we have found ourselves in an intermission or interlude between what our lives and schedules used to look like…and what we hope they will look like whenever we regain a sense of normalcy and routine. But pauses, delays, and intermissions aren’t always bad. What we do and learn and take away from those moments can be constructive and life-changing. Let’s look at Psalm 91…
It’s not known who actually wrote Psalm 91. Some scholars attribute it to Moses, others to King David. Either way, both were men who saw victory and defeat, faith-filled times, and times of doubt. Times of sickness and times of prosperity. Like us all. In some translations, this psalm is subtitled “My Refuge and My Fortress.” It has no “selah” moments noted. But I’d like to insert a few during our reading today. I’m not adding or taking anything away from scripture. I want us to simply make room to practice a pause: to slow down, take a breath, and consider the works of the Lord.
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. (91:1) selah: practice a pause and reflect on the verse.
To dwell means to live in or at a specified place. My physical dwelling might be at home with my family, isolated and alone, in a dorm room, a hospital room, or in a jail cell; but He is ever-present and his light can cast the shadow of his hand and heart in the darkest recesses and in every corner of my life. To dwell can also mean to focus or concentrate on; so I will intentionally seek to remember his past faithfulness and promises to be present, to provide all I need, and to protect my mind and my spirit.
Consider praying: Lord, I am needy and I seek to dwell, to live, to remain, to find rest in the shelter, the cover, the protection of God Almighty, creator and sustainer of the universe. Miracle worker, way-maker, good shepherd, you are the God who sees me and knows me. I want to stay tucked in close under your protective arm and in your shadow that does not shift or change, does not grow weary or discouraged, and is never surprised or frightened by what is happening in the world.
I pray that your healing shadow will be cast over and cover me, my family, my friends, my city, my country, the world you have created. And as healing comes, a new awakening will arise out of the fear and uncertainty and more will know you and trust you as Most High and Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” (91:2) selah…
You are a hiding place for me, a strong wall around me to protect me from my enemies, my fears, my imaginings. Help me to trust you and your plan and your purposes.
When I am in doubt, hear my cries as you heard the father in Mark 9:24, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
For He will deliver you…He will cover you…you will find refuge…his faithfulness is a shield (91:3-4) Selah: Do you need deliverance, covering, refuge, assurance of his faithfulness, protection?
Pray: As you brought Moses and the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, you will deliver me from bondage to fear, isolation, distress. To anything that would seek to destroy me or separate me from your peace and plan for me. While my healing and deliverance may not always look like I imagine, you are faithful and I submit to your authority, your purpose, and working in this season of my life. Help me to trust you more.
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. (91:5-6)
Fear is a bully. It distorts our vision and magnifies all the what-ifs, fears, and imaginings. It taunts us and tells us to either run and hide or to try to take control of what is ultimately uncontrollable.
Consider praying: Lord, I confess that I have given in to fear and doubt at times. In this season I feel like we are in a battle and arrows are flying from all sides. We are walking through pestilence and darkness, and much that would seek to destroy our physical, emotional, and spiritual health and peace. But you have promised to be with us and to deliver us. Selah: Pause and consider lies you have believed, fears that have been magnified, and listen to what He would say to you in this moment.
A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked. (91:7-8)
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. (91:9-10)
For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. (91:11)
Does that mean we will never get sick, have pain, walk through hard times, lose jobs, or even lose people that are dear to us? No. Jesus told us that in this world we would have trouble, but He also told us that He would be with us, we would never walk alone, and ultimately He will overcome the darkness, fear, sadness, loneliness, sickness, and death in this world. We will never be completely overcome, overwhelmed, or destroyed if we rest in his promises and trust in him. Selah. Pause and consider: What He has brought you through already? How can that help you trust that He will be with you and deliver you from all you are facing right now?
On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot. (91:12-13) You are not alone. Ministering angels with be with you to lift and support you. Through him, you will overcome.
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. – Joshua 1:9
“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name… (91:14) Selah: Consider his names: Almighty God, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Way maker, the God who sees, Strong Tower, Immanuel, God with us… Who do you say he is?
When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. (91:15) Selah: Consider specific prayer request that you have and also consider praying:
>For truth to prevail: For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. (Luke 8:17)
>For emotional and mental heath and clarity: God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Tim 1:7, NKJ)
>For spiritual peace and security: For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:38-39)
>For protection, health, well-being, and encouragement for healthcare workers working in and witnessing so much sickness, fear, and death. Mental health workers facing unprecedented crisis. First responders who are witnessing horrific images and overwhelmed schedules. Teachers who are navigating new ways to teach and encourage students. Students who must find ways to stay engaged and learn. Parents who have to make major decisions about the health, education, and financial stability in their families. People who are isolated, alone, or discouraged in hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, and even in their own homes. For church leaders who have to make decisions in the best interests of their people’s physical and spiritual health.
With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.” (91:16)
Lord, we are holding fast to the hope that you hear us, that you are with us, that you will protect us, that you will deliver us, and save us. From this global pandemic, from the fear, isolation, and suspicion that would seek to divide us and extinguish our hope. Amen.
When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
Selah: Will you pause and consider? May we all humble ourselves. pray, seek his face, and turn from ways that are harmful to people and dishonoring to God. He will forgive. He will heal. Will you pray for your family, your neighbor, your friends, your community, your world? Will you ask the Lord to be real and present to you in your life right now? Will you worship, lift up, magnify, and exalt the name and the works of God? Will you pray in the midst of the pandemic?