Is God Your Refuge? – Alexis Rasmussen

As we begin this new season exploring The Story, we asked some of our congregation to share their story with us. The first story comes from one of our young adults, Alexis Rasmussen.

Is God Your Refuge?

Psalm 91 & Romans 8:37-38

How have you seen Psalm 91 play out in your life?

When I was in high school, Jesus was not my refuge but my backup plan. When I was in over my head and things were beyond my ability to handle, I would call on Him for help, but when things seemed okay, I was content to live my life in my own castle— the fortress that I had built for myself—which I had established on the foundation of my performance and my worth apart from Jesus. I was an extremely successful and well-rounded student, and I believed that this was a safe identity to hide behind. I built my life around how well I could do in academics, extracurriculars, sports, and music, and what other people thought of me (if they saw me as successful and good).

My refuge ultimately wasn’t safe, and the things I put my trust in that I thought would protect me eventually crumbled and exposed me. This occurred when I was rejected to all viable colleges that I applied to and my title of Salutatorian was ripped away from me during my senior year of high school. I had struggled with depression all throughout high school, and the deep inadequacy that I had always felt internally finally became a reality externally— it appeared that I really was a failure and a disappointment as I had always feared, and this led to greater despair than I had already been experiencing.

To keep a long story short, God soon after very obviously directed my path to Indiana University, where he also made it exceedingly clear that He had led me there for the purpose of getting involved with a ministry called Chi Alpha. Through strong discipleship and being surrounded by a community of young believers who were passionate about Jesus, my gaze slowly shifted from my immense failure and crippling depression to the hope that was available through Christ and the safety and peace that could be found in Him alone. It was a long and difficult journey, but I began to form a real and consistent devotional life to intentionally commune with God, and I began to soak in His presence and understand His character more and more. A little over a year into college, after God had begun to reveal his goodness and beauty to me, I told Him that He could have my life and do whatever He wanted with it. It was only after a long period of consistently abiding in Him and learning who He is that I saw the deliverance promised in Psalm 91. My despair turned into divine delight as someone who entered college with a deep sense of purposelessness was transformed into a daughter of God with the newfound purpose of seeking my satisfaction in Him alone and helping others do the same. God delivered me from depression, and after this five-year struggle I experienced real joy for the first time my sophomore year of college. I have never looked back, because the more I have come to know Jesus and dwell in His presence, the more confident I am that I have discovered my infinite treasure and the easier it is to trust Him with everything.

You talk about abiding in Jesus. What does this mean to you and what does it look like in your life?

Abiding in Jesus should always be occurring throughout the day of course, but when I talk about the practice of abiding, I am referring specifically to the block of time in my day that I devote to being alone with God in the “Secret Place”. For me, I try to spend around an hour and a half to two hours in the morning sitting in God’s presence before I do anything else. Two “non-negotiables” of abiding time are being in the Word and prayer, but I also worship and set aside time to listen to what God might speak to me. Some days, I am scatterbrained or distracted and just need to sit with Jesus to be reminded that abiding is not a performance but a resting in His grace. Of course, this time looks different for everyone and besides making sure that you are devoting time every day to reading scripture and praying, there isn’t really a system; it is a time to soak in God’s presence and seek His face and grow your affections for Him. It’s not overly complex, and it shouldn’t happen or not happen based on how you feel in the morning. It starts with discipline and ends in increasing joy.

What is something that you have seen to be an obstacle for both yourself and others in the pursuit of making God your refuge?

The two main obstacles that I have seen most during my walk with Jesus and in the lives of others are the false belief that “I don’t have enough time” and the lack of spiritual desperation or lack of understanding of our deep and constant need for Jesus. If we could overcome the second obstacle, then the first excuse would quickly become obsolete. We will never consistently abide with Jesus if we don’t understand how worthy He is, how much we need Him, and how wonderful it is to be in His presence. Once we truly understand our desperate need (as described in John 6:51-63), then nobody will have to convince us that spending time alone with Jesus deserves a significant time slot in our day.

To address the first obstacle, a wise friend of mine once said to me that she didn’t understand the excuse “I don’t have enough time”; she said that any time somebody says they don’t have enough time to do something, what they are really saying is “this is not a priority for me.” God in His infinite wisdom gave us twenty-four hours a day to steward, and if we are going to call ourselves Christ’s ambassadors and claim that He is our highest treasure, then our time should reflect that fact. If we truly delight in something, then we give it our attention and make it a priority, so if we delight in the giver of life and creator of the universe, then we will honor Him and praise Him with the time He has given us.

To address the second obstacle, we often think that we only need God as our refuge when we are in trouble, or feel like we need help, or a desperate situation arises in our lives. This stems from a serious lack of understanding; we need a refuge, a hiding place, and protection at all times. Fortresses are designed for battle, so in this passage it’s easy to think that we only need to abide in God when we feel like we are under attack or find ourselves in trouble, but the reality is that we are constantly under attack; Satan is looking to devour us (1 Peter 5:8) and the desires of our flesh are against the Spirit (Galatians 5:17). When we succumb to the lie that we are self-sufficient and don’t need the constant refreshing presence of Jesus, we are giving in to our flesh and the Enemy. We are also communicating that we believe that we are Lord of our own lives—

that we are the ruler of our own kingdom and that our kingdom is more important than God’s Kingdom. This devaluation of the infinite worth of God and the prideful assertion that we can live apart from Him who is the “way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6) is a grievous sin and falsehood.

Satan often successfully devours people by deceiving them with the devastating lie that they prayed a prayer of salvation and are now secure— so they really don’t need a refuge and they definitely don’t need to abide in Jesus daily. But this is not the picture that scripture paints for us. Reading through Acts and the Epistles, it is clear that opposing forces are seeking to destroy and cause division within the church and lead people astray. We see Paul frequently plead with the body of Christ to stand firm (1 Corinthians 16:13), hold fast to their faith (Philippians 2:16), and fight the good fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:12). Paul understood well that resisting the forces of the world and clinging to the Word were essential to perseverance in the faith. He knew there would be wolves that would come in to scatter the flock and that the only hope was to cling to Christ and to follow the sound doctrine given to the church to guide it (Acts 20: 26-32). It is clear that praying a prayer for salvation without the full surrender of your life to Jesus reflects a lack of submission to his rightful Lordship, and if we don’t fix our eyes on Jesus, who perfects our faith, we will not have the endurance needed to win the prize (Hebrews 12:1-3, 1 Corinthians 9:24).

Many people who have lost the battle against Satan never knew they were in one to begin with. It was really helpful for me to see that we are at war with the Enemy and our flesh, and our only hope in this battle to run the race with endurance is to rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This is not a duty, but a delight and results in the beautiful promises of Psalm 91 (satisfaction, deliverance, protection, and answers from God)! We are wretched and undeserving, but because of God’s redemption, we GET to abide with the creator of the universe, our Father, the lover of our souls, who did not spare His Son so that we could be in right relationship with Him. We should be desperate to be in His presence, because He is the giver of life, who is worthy of all praise and honor, He delights in those who delight in Him, and He wants to nourish our souls.

For those who do not pursue daily abiding with Jesus, it’s hard to understand the delight of abiding in Him because you may have never experienced it. A truism that I hold dear is: “Discipline leads to desire, which leads to delight.” The more you sit at the feet of Jesus even when it is difficult and you don’t want to, the more you will find that sitting at His feet is what you actually want to do, and the more you will see God as your all-satisfying, never-ending joy. Then, the question will no longer be “How can I possibly fit an hour of abiding time into my schedule?” but rather “How can I afford not to?”

How has your day-to-day life changed since you started to abide in Jesus daily?

I have discovered, after I had spent a couple years in college cultivating the discipline of abiding in Jesus every day and developing a real relationship with Him (with many failures along the way and not without occasional discouragement, I should add), that if there is a day that goes by that I do not spend time soaking in his Word and seeking God in prayer in the Secret Place in the morning, I end up feeling drained and miserable by the end of the day. I am also much more prone to sin, and I don’t experience the joy that is available to me in Christ. When I realized this, I truly understood the scripture: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35) I had to learn to treat my abiding time as food for my soul— a necessity for life. Any day that I do not partake in the bread of life, I find myself spiritually starved, and I hate it because I have tasted and seen the satisfaction it brings and then choose not to eat.

When I began to start my day in the Word and prayer, I started to see His presence throughout my day, and I felt secure and assured in the truth that I have a Father who forgives me and is working in me and that I do not stand condemned before Him. It is empowering to start your day with the reminder that the Holy Spirit dwells in you and that God is behind and before you.

I used to be convinced that living a life apart from the practice of daily abiding was normal, but now I realize that I was living life on the fuel of the flesh, not the fuel of the Spirit. I was foolishly deciding to live apart from the greater reality that God is real, He dwells among us, He calls me a daughter, and He delights in me delighting in him. If we aren’t spending time with Him, then we are missing out on living our days through the lens of this amazing reality.

And since we serve a God of majesty, mystery, and infinite beauty, there will always be things to learn about Him on this earth— we will reach the end of our lives and still never have obtained a full understanding of the triune God. I have discovered the fruit of abiding to be never-ending revelation and reminder of the character of God and his goodness and truth. He not only protects us from flying arrows and evil, but also reveals His wonderful character to us. And we don’t need to be perfect in our pursuit to make God our refuge (we won’t be), we just need to be persistent.

Christ has conquered and equips us to conquer:

Through my now three years of seeking to abide in Him, I have found the deliverance described in Psalm 91. After a year and a half of seeking his face, I was delivered from depression and healed from crippling emotional invulnerability. I was delivered from anorexic tendencies and despair. I no longer fear terror or evil, and I walk in the authority of the Spirit and resist Satan’s schemes against me. I have seen Satan flee from me many times and have been freed from the pit that I was held captive in. It is a long journey and a hard trek at times, but it is beautifully fruitful to seek God’s face and dwell in his presence.

He delivers, He protects, He answers, He rescues, and He satisfies on the condition that we hold fast to Him in love, know his name, and call upon Him (Psalm 91:14-16). When we run to God as our fortress and safe retreat, He also equips us for battle because we are a people sent out to do His work.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” (Ephesians 6:10-18)

If we go into the Secret Place and armor up daily for the battles ahead, then we will wrestle with the Enemy and be victorious; we will stand firm against the schemes of the devil and the Enemy will not prevail because we have held fast to our Savior, our Defender, our Deliverer, and our Protector. Because we have made God our refuge, we can boldly declare and believe:

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 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.” (Romans 8:37-38)

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