Editor’s note: Elder Li Yingqiang wrote this letter to brothers and sisters at Early Rain Covenant Church on the evening of December 10, 2018. About three hours after sending this letter, he lost his freedom and was arrested at the same time as his pastor, Wang Yi. Elder Li later shared that reflecting on Psalm 46 was very helpful to him during the eight months he spent in detention.
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
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though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
Come, behold the works of the LORD,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
Dear brothers and sisters,
The most important thing is repeated three times: God is our refuge! Clearly this is the theme of this psalm. Why does the psalmist say this?
I. Why do we need a refuge?
1) We need a refuge because we lack the strength to face suffering and persecution on our own.
Suffering tears apart all that we have piled up in our daily lives. As Pastor Wang Yi said, when persecutions come, the veneer we use to embellish ourselves is stripped. We suddenly enter a marginalized situation, and find ourselves timid, cowardly, and greedy, incapable of facing our true poverty and blindness. Suffering mocks us; persecution tramples us; if we do not find a refuge, we will perish.
2) We need a refuge because we lack courage to face the great momentum of suffering and persecution.
None of us is brave. It is a megalomaniacal fantasy to think one can be unchanged when Mount Tai [one of China’s tallest mountains and traditionally associated with stability] crumbles before him.
Suffering and persecution come in ways we cannot anticipate. You think you will be able to reason with your oppressor—but what if he slaps you across the face? You think that, since you have done nothing wrong, you do not need to be afraid—but how will you react if they threaten your parents and children? You think you will be able to go home after twenty-four hours—how will you react when they deliberately lock you up for days? Do not underestimate the devil: he may know more about our weaknesses than we do. If you do not have a refuge, how will you face your fears without falling apart?
3) We need a refuge because this fallen world is united in persecuting God’s people, and we lack spiritual wisdom to face this.
Why do the nations rage and fight? Why do the kings and rulers take counsel together? Because they resist the gospel, the church, and the Lord’s Anointed. Why do authorities use armed forces against you, an ordinary person? Brothers and sisters, you are just a few hundred people—why do thousands stay up night and day to terrorize you? Why was Pastor Wang Yi, a mere scholar, discredited, defamed, isolated, and treated as an enemy by many?
The answer is not about us, but Christ. Long ago, Jesus said: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
If we do not have spiritual wisdom, we will not see clearly and will underestimate our enemies; we will think we are insignificant, lose caution, and fall into a snare; or we may think we are too important and be carried away, falling into the traps of those we are trying to convince.
The Rock of All Ages is cleft for me; hide in the bosom of the Lord. If there is no refuge, who will give us wisdom to respond?
II. How can God become our refuge?
1) God is the Almighty One who created the universe. His creative power leads all creation to obey, and we can rest in his glorious power. Though the mountains move and the earth gives way, we are not afraid, for the Lord we trust is Lord of the mountains and seas. The omnipotent Creator made us for his own glory, and loves us with his unchanging love. If this is true, what can men do to us?
2) God cares for the whole universe and directs the course of history. Time is in his hands; history points in the direction he has ordained; we can rest in his loving power. “God will help [us] when morning dawns.” When will dawn come? The night is deep, but day is near. There is still a little time left. The One who is coming does not delay, but is merciful.
The church is the focus of God’s will. The whole universe looks forward to the manifestation of the sons of God. If we do not return to righteousness, even the sun, moon, and mountains will suffer alongside us. Yet if we trust the Lord with all our hearts, we have no need to fear persecution or tribulation.
3) God saves his people via his wonderful salvation. He is with us, and we can rest in his saving grace.
The most beautiful promise God has given us is that he will be with us. God was with Adam, with Noah, Moses, Joshua, and the prophets. Now, he is with us in Christ. God is not merely with us in power and majesty. He is Immanuel, and has given himself to us. The Son of God descended from heaven to become a servant; the Most High King was born in a manger, and then crucified: all for me! If this is so, nothing in the world can separate us from the love of God. Suffering and persecution may mar my body, but my soul and my life belong to God. What can man do to us?
III. What happens when God becomes our refuge?
1) God is our refuge. We must watch for and rely on his works, not our own works or even faith.
God stops the sword and breaks the bow and the spear. It is he who allows persecution to rise up to test the church; he controls the severity of the persecution and makes a way in the midst of hardship; he brings the persecution to an end and judges the persecutors. Turn your eyes to the Lord. We are not to look at our own strength (it is a gift from the Lord) or our weaknesses (the stage on which his glory is displayed).
Can you face death with peace? Thank the Lord! He will use you to comfort his people. Are you weak and helpless? Thank the Lord! His mercy and grace will be even more displayed in your weakness. Strengthen your brothers and sisters when you turn back!
2) Because God is our refuge, let us enjoy his presence and honor, worship, and praise him. Because he is our refuge, let us testify to and preach his works.
“Be still, and know that I am God.” The Lord commands stillness. The troubles of this day are enough; tomorrow is in his hands. If you are released from jail after twenty-four hours, thank the Lord; if it takes forty-eight hours; thank him; if you are sentenced to three years in prison, thank him even more.
The Lord knew you needed to rest, that you had things to do and burdens you could not let down, and he has given you rest. What is more, you will have the opportunity to share the gospel with your examiner, whether he is fierce or gentle, kind or mean. You will be able to share the gospel with your prison roommates. Regardless of whether they are senior executives or career thieves, whether they are brilliant or illiterate, they want to hear your story, and they have never heard such a good one before. Tell them how God sent you behind these high walls to be a messenger in chains.
3) Because God is our refuge, we must never doubt or turn away from him. We must not believe the devil’s lies, and so walk out of our refuge and face the temptations of the evil one on our own.
Dear brothers and sisters, since God is your only refuge, do not think you can deceive the devil and send him off with an easy lies. Your easy lies will become a heavy weapon the devil will use to dominate and accuse you. Let your yes be yes, and your no be no. Don’t try to be a hero, don’t play dumb, and don’t ever think that betraying the Lord, friends, or the church is a trivial matter. If you are unfortunate enough to fall into the schemes of the devil, do not be afraid and seek refuge elsewhere.
God is your refuge! Repent and return. The reappearance of the prodigal son is worth more than gold.
I pray the Lord will keep us, his own church: he is our refuge and strength. In him, we will not fear affliction or persecution.
Greetings from Elder Li Yingqiang, hidden in God, his refuge
Elder Li Yingqiang is an elder of Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu. He and his wife have two children.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Pray for the brothers and sisters of Early Rain Covenant Church as it has now been three years since the intense persecution against them began. Pray they will find refuge in the Lord their God.