One of the most comforting thoughts in Scripture is the idea of living in the shadow of the wings of Almighty God. The image of a mother bird with wings outstretched to shield her chicks from danger and the elements is one with which most are familiar. The story is told of park rangers in Yellowstone surveying the charred landscape after lightning had ignited a rather large-scale forest fire. While walking through the ravaged remains of the once lush forest, a park ranger heard the sound of young birds chirping at the base of a tree. He followed the sound to find a mother bird facing the base of a large tree with wings outstretched, singed to death by the heat of the blaze. As the park ranger moved the deceased bird, he found a number of chicks that had survived the fire because of the sacrifice of the mother. Jesus drew upon this imagery as he looked out over the city of Jerusalem: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matt.22:37). God extends to all men the opportunity to dwell in the shadow of His wings. Just what do we find therein? In the shadow of God’s wings, we find AFFECTION. The psalmist wrote, “Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings” (Psa.17:8). David’s prayer was that God might always set His affections upon His faithful children. Jehovah set His affection upon the sons of Jacob (Deut.32:10) so that through the blessed seed-line the Christ might come into the world to bless all men. Even when Israel and Judah rebelled against the goodness and mercy of the Almighty, He still looked upon them as the apple of His eye (Zech.2:8). Job asked, “What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him? And that thou shouldest set thine heart upon him?” (Job 7:17). While we are not deserving of God’s loving-favor, we are nonetheless grateful for it! The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous (1 Pet. 3:12). Since He is faithful to keep us in His affection, shouldn’t we set our hearts upon Him? “Keep my commandments, and live; and my law as the apple of thine eye” (Prov. 7:2). In the shadow of God’s wings, we find PROTECTION. During a time of great duress and calamity, the psalmist poured out his soul: “Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me: for my soul trusteth in thee: yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast” (Psa. 57:1). In another place he would pen these words: “He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler” (Psa. 91:4). We serve a God who will protect His children! He is our refuge and strength (Psa. 46:1). We can turn to Him in the storms of life, knowing that He will safely carry us through. We sometimes sing, “Dear Lord, whate’re the storm may be, I’ll simply trust in thee.” Children of God have the assurance that He will be with us, even in the difficulties of life. There is comfort in knowing that the wings of Jehovah are outstretched over the lives of His children. In the shadow of God’s wings, we find time for REFLECTION. As the psalmist had opportunity to meditate upon God and His word, he declared, “My mouth shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips: when I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches. Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice” (Psa. 67:5-7). When we stop to consider all that God has done for us, how can we not be overwhelmed? Knowing that He loves me, provides for me, and protects me thrills my soul and fills me with gladness and gratitude. God is good to His people, and living in the shadow of His wings gives us time to pause and consider that goodness.
“I’d rather die than . . .” We find some things so distasteful that we say we’d rather die than do them. Jonah meant that quite literally! The Lord ordered Jonah to preach repentance to Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire. But Jonah had no intention to obey. He boarded a ship going the opposite direction! Jonah dreaded Assyria for good reason. Conquered people suffered unspeakable cruelty from Assyrian kings. Cutting off limbs, noses, and ears, skinning people alive, and burning them alive are just a few of the barbaric ways the Assyrians terrorized and humiliated their captives. I’ve read comments by professing Christians in reference to Islamic terrorists: “I hope they die and go to Hell!” That’s likely close to Jonah’s feeling toward the Assyrians. But while righteous indignation was justified, hatred was not. And it still isn’t! Even when God sent a storm to plague Jonah’s ship, he chose death over repentance and obedience to the Lord’s command to preach to Nineveh. No doubt he fully expected to drown when the sailors reluctantly threw him into the sea (1:12-15). Jonah finally submitted to God’s order, but he still wanted to die when the Ninevites repented (4:3). Such hatred! He lingered outside the city, hoping God might yet destroy it (4:5). When the plant that shaded him withered, however, he again wished for death (4:7-9). The book concludes when the Lord shows Jonah that His own concern for lost souls was far more pressing than Jonah’s concern about shade (4:10-11). Such an abrupt ending makes us wonder: Did Jonah finally get it? More importantly do we understand that lost souls are more important than our comforts? And yes, God’s love and concern extend even to the worst of sinners. Does ours? Do we get it?
Some are motivated by money. Some are motivated by praise. Some are motivated by fear. A few are motivated by appreciation for benefits already received. Fewer still are motivated by a strong commitment to doing what is right. What motivates us? I hope that it is not money. That is one motivator that God does not seem to approve (1 Timothy 6:10). But the rest have their place. Fear is not to be our primary motivator, but it has its place. Why tell us about the fire that will not be quenched (Mark 9:47-48) if avoiding that fire is not supposed to motivate us? We should not seek the praise of men, but certainly legitimate praise is not a bad thing (Romans 2:29). Of course, we should do what is right simply because it is right, but we may need additional motivation. The highest motive is the love already shown to us. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19, ESV). It is “the love of Christ” that “urges” or “compels” us (2 Corinthians 5:14, RSV, KJV). This is why we should remember what God has done for us. This is why we need to “count our blessings.” This is why the Israelites were constantly told to remember their deliverance from Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:15). It is why we are to constantly remember Jesus and especially his death and resurrection (2 Timothy 2:8). Some think it is too much to worship three times per week. Actually it is far too little. The Bereans are commended because they searched the scriptures “daily” (Acts 17:11). We are to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We are to be “abounding in thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:7), and to be “watchful” in both thanksgiving and prayer (Colossians 4:2). If we feel unmotivated, very likely it is because of the poverty of our worship. Those who constantly remember what the Lord has done will grow in motivation. Those who lack appreciation for his forgiveness will lack motivation to serve (see Luke 7:36-47).