I love word pictures. Maybe it’s from growing up on hours of being read aloud to—Narnia, biographies, historical fiction—that forced me to imagine a picture painted with the beautiful strokes of words.
Thus I’ve found scripture’s imagery some of the most sweet, deep comfort during difficult and uncertain times. Within the artistic masterpiece of the Bible’s poetry, there are three descriptions of God as our refuge during difficult times that I have found to be precious. These are not merely paintings to admire or stories to enjoy from a distance; they are our life, realities we are invited into, not merely truth to agree with. May these images feed comfort to your soul as they have so often to mine.
1. A fortress during battle
In the middle of the night last night, I was unable to get back to sleep, so I turned on the audio Psalms on my phone. I randomly started them at Psalm 30 and was blown away by Psalm 31—I listened to it at least three times before pulling out my Bible to read it and underline the whole thing! I have never before noticed the refuge motif spread so clearly throughout David’s prayer.
Be a rock of refuge for me,
A strong fortress to save me!
For you are my rock and my fortress;
And for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me;
You take me out of the net they have hidden for me,
For you are my refuge …
Oh, how abundant is your goodness,
Which you have stored up for those who fear you
And worked for those who take refuge in you,
In the sight of the children of mankind!
In the cover of your presence you hide them
From the plots of men;
You store them in your shelter
From the strife of tongues. …
Imagine standing in the middle of a battle scene. And more specific to David’s context, not only are you in hand-to-hand combat with the enemy, your own comrades are accusing you of wrongdoing. You feel overwhelmed—like being trapped in a besieged city with no way to escape and death by starvation or execution by the enemy your only options (vs. 21). The enemy’s arrows, lies, are pouring down over your head, and it’s all you can do to focus on making sure your armor stays in place enough to avoid a skull fracture or sword in the chest. The attack is so constant there is no time or energy to think of offensive strategy. You’re wondering whether you’ll survive the next few moments.
Then you see something—a fortress in the middle of the open field you are fighting in. This is no mere trench but a stone, impregnable buttress having withstood the test of centuries, battle after battle. Why have I not run yet to the fortress? You ask yourself.
Now you have several options. Many of your fellow soldiers tell you running to this fortress is ridiculous. There are refuges that are much more popular, they tell you. They put on cardboard armor or just try to forget the battle altogether by inventing diversions to talk about amongst themselves. Will you run to the only fortress that will offer safety in the battle, the only sure means of escape and victory?
I have constant access through prayer and the Word to this refuge, a fortress that can withstand every attack of the enemy, every internal doubt, every accusation of others, every uncertainty and pain and loneliness and despair that comes in life. He promises not only to “not deliver me into the hand of the enemy” but also “set my feet in a broad place” (vs. 8)—a place of victory in the spiritual battle at hand.
2. A rock in sweltering heat.
I vividly remember the hot summer day I had the crazy idea of running the 8 miles from my house to church (I was home alone). I’d run a similar distance a few weeks previously, so I didn’t think it would be a big deal at all. But I had no idea until about two or three miles down the dry, dusty roads how sweltering hot it was. And I hadn’t brought a drop of water. For some reason, I had the idea that I couldn’t turn around since I’d already come so far, so I had to just keep running.
At that moment, running up yet another dry, dusty hill and feeling like I was going to faint, shade (and water!) sounded like the best thing in the world! I kept going two hundred feet at a time just waiting for a few feet of shade from trees near the road. I needed a refuge—I was weary, hot, and exhausted.
One of Jonathan Edward’s favorite verses was Isaiah 32:2, a picture he believed spoke of Christ as a rock for his people in the midst of a desert of sweltering heat:
And a man shall be as a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.
This picture of Christ as that shade in a weary, hot desert is also found in Isaiah 25:
“For you have been a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat; for the breath of the ruthless is like a storm against a wall, like heat in a dry place” (Is. 25:4, ESV).
When you a weary and parched for Living Water, run to Christ. He is the Only rest, the Only refreshment, the Only refuge, the Only relationship, the Only source of joy who can ever satisfy our souls and give us strength for the journey.
“Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
In whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the Valley of Baca (the Valley of Weeping)
They make it a place of springs;
The early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
Each one appears before God in Zion” (Ps. 84:5-7).
(And in case you’re wondering, I did end up calling a friend to come rescue me from my impossible eight-mile run in the summer heat of Colorado, and I got quite a talking to about bringing water with me next time!)
3. The secret place of the stairs
The imagery of the secret place of the stairs appears in an obscure passage in the Song of Solomon and is painted beautifully in Isabel Kuhn’s Stones of Fire. The best way to describe it might be from a journal entry I wrote several years ago in college, during a particularly difficult time when I was struggling with my singleness in light of a developing relationship between two of my friends.
“January 31, 2019.
I have learned a sweet secret—that of the “secret place of the stairs,” as Isabel Kuhn calls it. No matter what is going on around me, I can ascend the stairs to an upper room and meet Jesus, and there the communion with Him. He is truly a shelter in times of difficulty!
Today, I was settling down to eat my lunch in the school library and glanced out the window only to see my friends sitting together on a bench right outside the window. Truly I’m happy for them but at that moment, I certainly felt a twinge of hurt. Will the Lord ever send me someone? Then, I ascended up my mental stairs and met Jesus, and how sweet I was to settle down to my lunch in full joy that He loved me and that I could truly be happy in Him!
… The Lord has brought me near to Himself as I daily climb my secret stairwell.
“O my dove, you are in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see they countenance, let me hear they voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely” (S.S. 2:14, KJV).
“There is a viewless, cloistered room
As high as heaven, as fair as day
Where though my feet may join the throng
My soul can enter in and pray.
One hearkening even cannot know
When I have crossed the threshold o’er
For He alone who hears my prayers
Has heard the shutting of the door.”
I pray these words pictures would become as sweet a comfort to you as they have been to me. So many times, in the midst of a difficult conversation, temptation, or trial, I have closed my eyes just long enough to picture myself running up my stairs or resting under my Rock, Christ, and what joy and relief it has brought!
 From an unknown author, quoted by Isabel Kuhn in Stones of Fire.