God is My Stronghold in the Shadow of Tragedy :: Gospel Fellowship Association Missions

God is My Stronghold in the Shadow of Tragedy

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For a couple years, we had felt the rumblings of Islamic terrorism from the neighboring country of Nigeria. A blood-spattered effort to enchain its northern states in sharia law had been intensifying and encroaching upon our borders. How long should we keep our family in the shadow of danger? Are we making too much or too little of the situation? Is fleeing a lack of faith?

O God, Deliver Me! Psalm 59

Imagine David in Saul’s court. He deftly plucks the harp strings, grateful that his blind fingers can hit every note while his peripheral attention is fixed on Saul’s spear. He can’t get the swish and thud of a near miss out of his head. We had seen many Arabs bearing spears, but they never chucked one at us; yet stories of nearby slaughter whizzed through our minds.

Psalm 59 was conceived one night as assassins readied themselves outside David’s house. The psalmist cried out (v. 1),1 “Deliver me from my enemies, O my God; set me securely on high…” and answered himself with (v. 9), “God is my stronghold.” David’s fearful night would turn into morning song because he was within the walls of omnipotence. And we, from within those same walls, could resonate with David’s song in the night (vv. 16-17), “But as for me, I shall sing of Your strength; Yes, I shall joyfully sing of Your lovingkindness in the morning, for You have been my stronghold and a refuge in the day of my distress. O my strength, I will sing praises to You; for God is my stronghold, the God who shows me lovingkindness.”

Time to Evacuate

When Nigerian terrorists took a French family hostage in our region, we knew it was time to evacuate. The near miss was felt deeply as we learned that among the hostages were four children the exact ages of our four. The looming shadow was now a present reality. “So, Michal let David down through a window, and he went out and fled and escaped” (1 Samuel 19:12). How can a man on the run boast in his stronghold? What should we believe about our stronghold in view of this tragedy? It was not rerouted like the happy ending for which we prayed.

A possible end was coming to our unfinished work. Our carefully won friends, our much prayed-over contacts, our almost thirteen years of labor, and most of our possessions were being left behind. Yet by God’s grace, a couple of days later, upon exiting and through stifled tears, we serenaded the military escort in our truck with a heartfelt rendition of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” Our stronghold was not in our ministry, our memories, or our belongings, but in the person of the One who was moving us on.

God is My Stronghold in Tragedy: Psalm 142

That life-altering day dawned ordinarily, complete with coffee enroute to the villages. But by nightfall a dormant fear had erupted into a cascade of change: the French family kidnapped by Islamic terrorists in our region, the US embassy’s evacuation warning, the day of decisions—packing only the essentials, the secrecy of our intent to evacuate, the questioning faces of our friends as we left the village, the soldiers’ orders to get down if attacked, the stories of weapons stocked in our area for weeks, armed body guards escorting us through our familiar stock-up town to the border of Chad, the hunted sensation shadowing our perceptions, the realization of never returning. We were dazed.

Silence Following Tragedy

And then, in the wake of this tragedy, there was silence. At first it was eerie silence. Where do we turn when the familiar becomes frightening, when home is unsafe, when every person appears suspect? Then weeks began to multiply, and, as we moved from one temporary arrangement to the next, the eerie silence gave way to an irritating silence. We felt the insecurity of inactivity. Had we been demoted or maybe completely laid off? Doesn’t God see our desire to move quickly into the next ministry?

Imagination can jump into David’s musings during the long days in Adullam with his dissident, fugitive, disgruntled band. The scout arrives with bad news. David hides his frustration as he turns and discloses his heart to God, “There is no escape for me; no one cares for my soul” (Psalm 142:4). Then he retreats back into the stronghold of omniscience, “When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, You knew my path…. I cried out to You, O LORD; I said, ‘You are my refuge’” (vv. 3, 5).

I’m Safe If I Am Inside

Here is our sure answer in the wake of tragedy when waiting, unfulfilled, inconvenienced, uncertain, and afraid. God’s Person is high and unshakable, like an impenetrable wall—a refuge. I’m safe if I’m inside. The enemy persistently entices to leave the halls of goodness and scrounge among the tombs of bitterness, to forsake the strong ramparts of lovingkindness and roam the empty plains of self-pity, to abandon the leadership of the Good Shepherd and follow my flesh to a more settled land.

Imagination takes a second look. As they crouch in the cave, silently straining for the signal, we see David’s haggard face radiate a contented confidence. His lodging, diet, bedding, routine, and companions are inappropriate to his rightful inheritance by God’s anointing. What’s going through his mind? “You are…my portion in the land of the living” (v. 5). That is enough. A faint whistle, a stirring of feet, and they’re off—to Engedi, to the forest, to safety? It doesn’t matter. “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.”


Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved.