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Emmanuel Church, Plymouth
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Tony's Reflection 24
Isn't it funny, what fragmentary memories stay with us from primary school? I wonder what has remained with you…
One of my fondest memories goes back to the third year of junior school (Year 5, to youngsters). Every Monday morning, the teacher, Mr Thomas, arranged for two exhibits to be delivered from Plymouth Museum. They would stay on display in our class for the week and then be replaced with new ones. Every week there was a painting and a stuffed animal.
Mr Thomas was the kind of teacher who could pass on an infectious enthusiasm for almost anything, to us children. I can still remember him showing us one particular painting of Venice, by Canaletto. He took huge delight in pointing out the painstaking photograph-like detail the artist had achieved. I was in absolute awe that anything like that could be achieved with paints and a brush.
Mr Thomas loved showing these exhibits from the museum and giving us children his enthusiasm for them.
In our psalm, right at the end, we see that God wants to show us something. He wants us to appreciate and enjoy with him it's amazing detail and beauty. Like any good teacher, he wants us to get enthusiastic and excited about what he has to show us. Take a look at the very last words:
"I will… show him my salvation” (Psalm 91:16)
"Salvation" is a Bible word that means "God's rescue of us".
The whole psalm is about God showing us his salvation. We have seen how we can rest under his shadow (verse 1); he is a fortress (verse 2); he will cover us under his wings (verse 3); he will be our shield (verse 4); he will keep us safe from "pestilence and plague" (verse 6); he sends his angels to guard and guide us (verse 11-12); we will even triumph over snakes and lions (verse 13). I could go on …
Given that the psalm has already showed us so much about God's salvation, why does God make this promise to "show him my salvation" again at the end? Hasn't he done this already, through the whole of the psalm?
We need to go back to Mr Thomas, to understand why.
When Mr Thomas showed us a painting, it was what the educationalists would call an "immersive experience". He didn't just put the picture in front of us and say "Look at this, children." Mr Thomas got us to experience whatever was in the painting, through the eyes, the brush and the artistic talent of the painter.
Our psalm has given us the most remarkable set of images of God's rescue and protection of us. When you add them all together, you get a rich, multifaceted picture of God's salvation.
Through this psalm, God doesn't want us just looking at a picture of his salvation.
When he says he wants to "show" us his salvation, that word means that he wants us to have an "immersive experience" of his rescue.
When you are immersed in something, you are totally wrapped up in it. It takes up every aspect of your character and personality. It becomes part of your very being.
God wants his salvation, his rescue, to be part of you. He wants to you wrapped up in the experience of his salvation.
We all need God to protect and save us. We have worries, fears, stresses, health issues, well-being concerns, material challenges… the list is endless.
We have also let God down and affronted him, personally. We need rescue from that, too.
How have we let him down? He only has two main expectations of us. They are dead simple to understand, but none of us manages to do them. They are both completely fair and reasonable.
Expectation one: we love God, with all we have, all the time.
Expectation two: we love our neighbour as we love ourselves.
Every single one of us has fallen short of these simple expectations.
We all need someone to rescue us, not just from the difficult circumstances of life, but from repeatedly falling short of what God expects. The only person big enough and strong enough to rescue us from all of this is God.
Can you see how much you need God's rescue, in your life?
I trust you see that clearly. But that is not where our Psalm leaves us. It doesn't leave us helplessly wallowing in our own failures and difficulties.
It leaves you with a promise. The promise that God will "show" you his salvation. You will experience his rescue as a powerful, life-changing reality.
God wants you to experience first-hand Him rescuing you from every difficulty, of body, mind and spirit.
More than that, he wants you to know personally his rescue from all of your failings, towards him and the people around you. He brings forgiveness is so powerful, it wipes you clean of any guilt or shame you have. He also brings power to change.
What are you waiting for? Throw yourself towards God, as you turn away from your difficulties and failings and turn towards him.
He will catch you. He will show you his salvation.