In you, O LORD, I’ve taken refuge; protect me ever from disgrace. Rescue and save me in your justice; turn to me as I seek your face.
Be my strong rock and my sure refuge to which I always may resort; Give the command to help and save me, because you are my rock and fort.
From wicked hands, my God, O save me, from cruel hands of violence. For, Sov’reign LORD, you’ve been my refuge and since my youth my confidence.
From birth I have relied upon you; you are the guide of all my ways. Out of my mother’s womb you brought me; to you I ever will give praise.
To many I’m a cause of wonder, but you are still my refuge strong. My mouth is filled with adoration, praising your splendour all day long.
When I am old, do not desert me, or leave me when my strength is gone. For my opponents speak against me, conspiring how to bring me down.
You can hear a Free Church of Scotland congregation sing this to the lovely Scots tune Bunillidh here. It can also be sung to the tune Spiritus Vitea and here you can hear a vocalist sing it.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NRSV) describes this Psalm as “an aged worshipper’s prayer for deliverance from personal enemies”. As someone who is rapidly approaching the validity of the description “aged worshipper” (although maybe not as a “cause of wonder”!) perhaps I can resonate with the pleas for God not to “desert me or leave me when my strength is gone”, recognising that God is, has been and always will be “my strong rock and my sure refuge to which I may always resort”. Of course, there have been times in my life when the surety of that strength and refuge have seemed to be elusive.
The word “refuge” gives me pause however. What do we mean by it? Is it somewhere to hide away, to escape from the world and those in it? Proverbs 18:10 uses a slightly different metaphor, describing the name of the Lord as “a strong tower, the righteous run into it and they are safe”. A worship song by Clinton Utterbach often sung with gusto in some Christian gatherings uses these words as part of the refrain.
Towers are often found as strong defensive points in castles: places of refuge, keeping the enemy at bay. Almost by definition, there are no points of contact between those inside and out, except for missiles hurled back and forth.
Sadly, that is how some outside the Church can perceive those within – a “holy huddle”, hurling out condemnations of those whose lifestyles they do not approve of, and surrounded by walls impenetrable to those who do not conform.
We need the refuge of God not as a defence against the world, but as a place of quiet retreat, a storehouse from which to draw provisions which enable us to demonstrate the love of God for the world in the world, never brought down.
God, our refuge and our strength our help in times of need help us to use your strength not as defence but as confidence.
The needs of the world around us are manifest and at times seem to be insurmountable.
But with your gifts of courage, faith and cheerfulness we can break out of our restraints of defensiveness, inspiring wonder.
This we pray.
The Rev’d Ron Reid is a retired minister in the Mersey Synod serving as Link Minister at Rock Chapel, Farndon. He is a member at Upton-by-Chester URC