What is this place under the shadow of God’s wings?
And what does it mean to put our trust there?
Under the Shadow of God’s Wings
There is a place in God that He has reserved for those who celebrate His excellent loving kindness. It is a special place, near to His heart, where they put their trust in Him. Here are love relationships with God that lead to abundant provision and care, with refreshment from the river of God’s pleasures.
This is a place of mercy, where trust knows that God is good, where His people live at peace with Him, where He surrounds them with comforting and a sense of His heart beating in loving kindness. Here they stay close by His side for the sheer joy of His nearness, and thus are protected, shadowed by the wings of God.
In this place, one’s trust is safe, sufficient for the need. For here, nothing that is confusing about God matters. What matters to those who dwell here is loving Him back because of His love, seeing by faith that He is the good God He says He is––a pure expression of love, and greater than we could ever imagine.
King David sang of this place. It has existed from the beginning. It draws all who have a heart of believing in the loving kindness of God.
A Place for Growing
And yet in its loveliness, this is no place of ease and ideals. This is not shelter from weakness and failure, sorrow and loss, suffering and persecution, for Jesus promised tribulation, and tribulation is no light thing.
But those in this place won’t face these alone. As they walk through them, even if through the valley of the shadow of death, God will be caring for them. And on the journey, those who trust from this place can grow up in Christ to be resilient people of faith and love, being formed by God into the image of Jesus Christ.
Some of our struggles, however, run counter to this place, closing it off from us: hard questions of why, judgments of God and His ways, offenses against Him from the past and the present, fears of the future. For how could trust withstand such imaginings, grievances, and perceived betrayals?
Clarifying This Place
If we hold grievances against God, it becomes all too easy to misunderstand this place under His wings. We might see it as one where His less palatable realities have been filtered out, leaving only the nice stuff, so we can feel safe with Him. Or we might assign this place to some maternal side––the fabled mother heart of God––a side which by implication would contrast with some less-feeling and less-welcoming ways.
But God is not a dual God. He has no division of femaleness from maleness, nor of beautiful from not-so-beautiful traits. These would simply be us projecting our own broken humanity onto an entirely lovely God who is far, far beyond our comprehension, making Him seem more familiar to us, and therefore diminished––a God not wholly loving and kind.
King David’s Revelation
In looking at scriptures about this place, there is no better passage to illuminate it than a portion of one of King David’s songs:
How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God!
therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings.
They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house;
And thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures.
At the center of this passage is King David’s expression of people putting their trust under the shadow of God’s wings. And he sets this trust into a finely-crafted frame, surrounding it with both the grounds for that trust and the fruit of it.
David begins the frame with the grounds, the reason why they put their trust there: because their hearts know God for His excellent loving kindness, and they rejoice in Him for this. Then from here, trusting from under His wings is the only way to live that makes sense.
Seeing God in His loving kindness matters, because this is who He says He is. Throughout scripture, He describes Himself as good, loving, kind, merciful.
But, in our brokenness, we might not start by seeing God as loving and kind. Thus, many of us need to seek God for this revelation of who He is, and be taken by the Holy Spirit on a healing journey. For if we harbor views of God that are contrary to His loving kindness, it disables our ability to trust God in this way. And it keeps us distanced from Him, where it is more difficult to see His goodness.
But as we gain clear vision to see His loving kindness––with our spiritual eyes slowly being healed of the many wounds that distort our seeing––we are then able to put our trust into this protected place in God.
Next, King David completes his frame with the fruit of trusting from under God’s wings. For here in this place we will find the astounding blessings that are given to those who trust like this.
The first of this fruit of trusting is being abundantly satisfied with the fatness of God’s house. This depicts the provision and care we will find in God’s welcoming, generous, and richly-provisioned dwelling, here under the shadow of His wings. The second fruit of trusting are the drinks God gives us of the river of His pleasures, which are to reveal the beauty of God to us, to express in us the nature of Jesus, to equip us for the journey, and to comfort us in our troubles. I wrote about these pleasures in Part 2 and Part 3 of this series on Psalm 36:7-8.
These are such broad and substantial blessings––a true feast of the Kingdom of heaven on the earth––that it seems wise to take extra heed to the if that would unlock this richness of God for us: putting our trust under the shadow of His wings. This calls for a look at other scriptures that would cast light on this place where we are to put our trust.
When Jesus lamented over Jerusalem, he referred briefly to this place, saying, “How often I would have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matthew 23:37).
From here, an internet search on chicken behavior led to a woman who wrote about the social lives of chickens. She described this place under the hen’s wings as being one of warmth and comfort for the chicks.* Imagine being a chick nestled close, intimately feeling the heartbeat of its mother in the coziness of that warm and downy place. And too, the wings provide a place where her chicks are hidden and protected from harm, with those wings ready to chase off any predator, while blocking her young ones from the threat.
And then back to the scriptures. When the nation of Israel was traversing the wilderness toward the promised land, they built a tabernacle––a portable tent––for a meeting place with God. God had specified its design, and every bit of it told a story. In an inner room were images of two mighty cherubim, hammered out of pure gold, whose great wings were outstretched, covering what was called the mercy seat of God. And there, in that place between the covering wings and the seat of mercy, God would come to commune with Moses. (Exodus 25:20-22).
In addition, the prophet Malachi foretold of the Messiah, saying there would be “healing in his wings” (Malachi 4:2). And then back to our song from King David, where we find the celebration of the excellent loving kindness of God that leads to this place under the shadow of His wings––a direct and inescapable connection.
This Is the Life of Faith
We can find the truths of King David’s revelations in the New Covenant Scriptures in the Epistle to the Hebrews. As the writer is telling stories of people of great faith, we read a description of a faith that pleases God.
But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him (Hebrews 11:6).
If we take this New Testament portrait of faith and hold it up to King David’s beautifully framed trust, it matches perfectly. First, we need faith in order to please God. This is the trust David wrote of that we might put into this place in God.
Second, we must believe that He is. This holds a sense of the I AM Name of God, which calls us not just to believe that this God exists, but to see Him rightly for who He says He Is. This corresponds to David’s celebration of God for His excellent loving kindness, the key that gives our trust entry into that place under the shadow of His wings.
And third, we must believe that God rewards those who diligently seek Him. This reflects the blessings David described, that those who trust God from this place in Him are to expect.
When we dwell under the shadow of God’s wings, we are entering into the life of faith in God that Jesus taught of. Faith in God flourishes in the celebration of His goodness. And it finds a resting place in what we find under God’s wings––mercy, comforting, shelter, protection…
But even with faith and a heart that loves God’s goodness, one thing can bar us from this place: unforgiveness. Jesus taught that if we withhold forgiveness from another person, God is not free to forgive us. “And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that Your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Mark 11: 25-26).
And if God were not forgiving us because we were not forgiving our fellow human beings, not only would we have no access to this sheltered place, but we would instead be living under the hand of the tormentor. This is the grievous cost of receiving forgiveness from God, and yet turning and holding onto the moral debts owed us by others (Matthew 18:23-35).
What Trusting in God Looks Like
After all these thoughts about putting our trust into this place in God, we need to pause and ask what trusting in God from here looks like. In its simplest state, we trust in God when we have need or vulnerability, and then, because God is excellent in loving kindness, turn to Him with our need.
And from there, the Holy Spirit helps us to grow into an ever richer trust in God. Not with our hands clenched around a what-and-how plan for Him to fulfill for us––but with hands clinging to Him in His loving kindness. For trust knows that He is working to bring good for us, making a way through, and preparing and positioning us for the fulfillment of fruitfulness.
God desires us to live here with Him always. But that doesn’t mean that trusting in God will always feel the same––the flavor of our trust will change with our mood and our circumstances. Whether our trust on any day feels snuggly or lively, gentle or intense, hopeful or fulfilled, distressed or comforted, it can, with care, hold us in this dwelling place, and never give us need to ever again venture out on our own.
And in this safe place we learn to do the work of trust. Knowing that process takes time, we wait on God, and we hope in Him (Lamentations 3:26). We listen for His still small voice and respond to the Spirit’s leading (Hebrews 3:15). We ask God for wisdom and strategy (James 1:5). We lean on scripture promises that the Holy Spirit quickens to our hearts (2 Corinthians 1:20). We boldly seek mercy and grace for our need, assured of a plenteous supply for us to find (Hebrews 4:16).
And we rejoice––tenderly, fiercely, peacefully, exultantly, even desperately––in God’s excellent loving kindness (Philippians 4:4). For rejoicing led us to this place, and is the crowning capstone that holds us here.
We do this within a love relationship, heart to heart, with God. For how could we trust in God if He were not close to our hearts and we to His?
A Revelation of Jesus
All who earnestly seek this place under the shadow of God’s wings will find themselves on a life-changing journey into the loving kindness of God. But there’s more here, for this journey also becomes a journey into the revelation of Jesus and His kind benefits for us. For Jesus said, “Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me” (John 6:45).
Thus, when we come at last to the door to this place, we will find ourselves face to face and heart to heart with Jesus, the Christ. And as those before us, we will say to Him in awe, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).
Father God, we celebrate You for Your excellent loving kindness! Open the eyes of our hearts to Your goodness, so we can put our trust into this sheltered place under Your wings! Give us revelation of Jesus! The Name of Jesus!
Read Part 2 in this series on Psalm 36:7-8: Drinking from the River of God’s Pleasures & Delights
* The Social Life of Chickens, Karen Davis, PhD.
Additions, November 9, 2019