Are we using Psalm 91 wrong?
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” [This is from Psalm 91]
Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
“Faith over fear.” These are great words to live by. I grew up in a charismatic church and learned from an early age about the power of the Holy Spirit. I remember praying about a hedge of protection and the blood of Jesus. In fact, I believed in the power of prayer so much that I remember praying as a little girl at the dinner table about a hedge of protection for our city, state, country, the world, and space just in case there were astronauts there. (Sorry, mom and dad. I know you just wanted a short prayer over the broccoli.) =) So, I deeply, deeply believed in the transformational power of the Cross and standing on faith, claiming scripture, and walking in hope. I still do – and at a deeper level since that’s what life does – it deepens faith through experience. Goodness, I’m so grateful for the Cross and for that faith.
So, where does that bring us with COVID-19? How do we pray and live Psalm 91 in the midst of COVID-19? How do we anchor that faith and deep hope that casts out fear on a personal level while living the second greatest commandment of loving our neighbors? How do we boldly express faith while anchoring it within Galatians 5?
We have an example in Jesus.
Here is something that my husband wrote back when COVID first came on our radars.
Weeks before Jesus’ ministry began, the gospels tell us that Jesus was temped in the desert. One of those temptations was that Jesus should jump off the temple because Psalm 91 said that God wouldn’t allow him to come to harm. In other words, he could “prove” himself and his faith.
More than this, wouldn’t it seem like a good thing for Jesus to prove his faith in such an extreme way before beginning his ministry? The tempter certainly seems to have thought so. Jesus didn’t take the bait. Yes, he knew that Psalm 91 said that God would protect him. But he also knew that Deuteronomy 6:16 instructed that we should not put the Lord our God to the test. Rather than testing his faith by putting himself in harm’s way, Jesus practiced wisdom and stepped away from the edge. It’s important to note here that Jesus was not a coward in taking this course of action. The rest of his ministry shows Jesus to be strong, courageous, and full of faith. He wasn’t afraid to face adversity when his ministry called for it. But that wasn’t the case when the tempter took him to the top of the temple. The true test of Jesus’ faith here wasn’t to jump, but instead to be confident enough in his relationship with God to walk away.
Yes, we Christians are called to live without fear. Yet, we are also called to walk in wisdom. To put ourselves at risk to prove our faith is to put the Lord our God to the test. In a moment like this, the call is to walk in wisdom and be good neighbors. To be faithful in this moment means that we heed the instructions we are receiving about keeping ourselves safe and slowing the spread of the virus in our community.
At this point in the pandemic, we know what the virus is, how it spreads, and what we can do to protect ourselves and communities. The part that worries me as a Christian and an epidemiologist is not paying attention to that in some churches around the country.
Could this be our modern-age jumping off of the temple?
Probably the most notable is John McArthur’s church that is meeting indoor and defying mask orders. But, why? Is it to prove a point? But, what point is there to prove? Meeting indoors is fine with masks on. So, why not just put a simple mask on and distance correctly? There are also large worship services happening around the country that are getting lots of attention too. They are outside but most are not distanced properly and rarely with masks. Why? What is the point to prove? Are these events temptations to prove something that God never asked us to prove in the first place? Are these type of events honoring Psalm 91 and Galatians 5? Or are they misinterpreting Psalm 91 without anchoring it within the “good of the city” (Jeremiah 29:7) and “walking out our faith in love to serve one another” (Galatians 5). Please hear me. I love the church and worship. This post is not to be interpreted that we should shut everything down and meet online forever. It’s also not meant to say we shouldn’t meet together in worship. It is asking for a middle ground of wisdom that holds BOTH Galatians 5 and Psalm 91 together.
In church, we have an opportunity to boldly proclaim and stand on Psalm 91 while also living Galatians 5 with a mask, distancing, or Zoom. Let’s not uphold certain parts of scripture while forgetting the rest of the Gospel.
I do not live in fear because of COVID-19. I am striving to walk in wisdom for the good of my neighbor. Not fear. Caution. Wisdom. Faith expressing itself through love.
Christians, we have nothing to prove, everything to gain. What if we are missing a tremendous opportunity to show Jesus to a world that is watching our actions.
We are called a holy people, a chosen nation, ambassadors, a workmanship, a city on a hill not to be hidden. We know nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus, we are called, sanctified, justified, set free, redeemed, given hope as an anchor, made strong through weakness, more than conquerors, and deeply loved. Let’s work our faith out in love and serve one another (Galatians 5). And, let’s do that under the shelter of the Most High, abiding in the shadow of the Almighty, our refuge and fortress, our shield and buckler (Psalm 91).
Living Galatians 5 and standing on Psalm 91,
Friendly neighbor epidemiologist
Guidance for churches: Next week, I will post on some specific helps for pastors on how to look at the positivity rates and hospitalizations in your area to help guide re-opening. In summary:
- If you meet inside – Keep your masks on in the sanctuary. I’ve seen some churches require masking only for entering and exiting buildings and then taking it off when they are seated in the sanctuary. This is highly, highly risky to do because of singing, enclosed spaces, and being in the room for longer than 15 minutes. Keep your masks on, even with limited capacity and distancing.
- I’ve seen several churches open up really well and I’ll give some of those examples next week.
- If you meet outside – Distance well and keep your masks on.
- If you have a high-risk congregation, consider staying online as we enter the flu season.