The Lord is your shade on your right hand (Psalm 121:5)
During August in Southern Oklahoma a light breeze is an epiphany, evidence that there is a God in heaven and that this God is good. Add some shade from a decent sized tree, and you’ve got something akin to the parting of the Red Sea and water from the rock.
On more than one occasion I’ve mentioned the congregation I served in Oklahoma during my seminary days. In this church a “building program” meant more than raising money. It meant that we actually built the building, as in hammering things together. We started our “building program” in August, a time of year in Oklahoma in which the sun can work on your flesh like a convection oven.
Thankfully, the front part of our property was graced by the presence of a rather large tree. That may not sound like such a big deal, but trees of respectable size in southern Oklahoma are a treasure. A small rise in the ground served as a kind of pedestal for the tree, and this is where we would sit when it was time to stop work and enjoy the sandwiches and fried chicken that had been brought to us for lunch. And occasionally, just every now and then, that rise in the ground would catch a breeze, a gift of grace. Whenever I think of the way God guards us and the grace that sustains us I remember that tree. Never in my life have I been so thankful for shade.
However, the presence of that tree and the shade it gave us did not change the reality in which we lived and worked. The tree gave us shade but it did not drive away the heat or diminish the intensity of the sun. The shade gave us a refuge in the middle of the day, but it did not exempt us from the conditions of late summer in Oklahoma.
Psalm 121 says that “the Lord is your shade at your right hand.” Connected to this image is the promise that the sun will not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. But these dangers and the threats they represent are still very real. In his commentary on Psalm 121, John Calvin takes pains to explain that the Psalmist does not “promise the faithful a condition of such felicity and comfort as implies an exemption from all trouble.” We are not exempt, but we are covered.
On those blistering days of work in the flat wide-open spaces of Oklahoma, all it took was one tree. That one tree gave us refuge. Whatever conditions you’re living in today, remember that there is always shade to be found. There is a place to rest and regroup. “The Lord is your shade at your right hand.”
We give you thanks, O God, for the shade you provide when conditions are too much for us. You do not always spare us the pain of what they bring – but you cover us with grace to endure. You are indeed a refuge for us, and we find our strength in the shadow of your wings. Cover us with your grace in all that this day may bring, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.