Today, on my fiftieth birthday, I am doing some reminiscing. As I look back over the last five decades, I can see God’s grace and power and provision in my life in so many ways, and I am very thankful. My more recent memories are informed by a passage from the Psalms that God brought to my attention just weeks after tornadoes tore a path of destruction through Alabama and took the life of a very dear friend here in Ashville.
Psalm 34:8 reads, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.” It struck me that this verse does not say “reason” or “judge” or “prove” or even “believe” that the Lord is good. It says “taste and see.” So I began to reflect on what this might mean.
Now, for example, if I am eating an apple and crunching and smacking and expressing my opinion of how good that apple tastes, you might think that it must be an apple with excellent flavor and even believe that it is a good apple. But you really don’t know if the apple is crisp and juicy with that tart sweetness that makes an apple so appealing, or if it is soft and bland and maybe has a worm in it, or worse - half a worm! No, the only way you would know if it is good is if you taste it. It seems that Psalm 34:8 speaks of a spiritual tasting and seeing of the Lord’s goodness that is discovered through experience, and the context of such experiences is shown in the second half of the verse: “...blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.” Circumstances in which we have the opportunity to take refuge in the Lord - hardships, loss, sorrow, heartache, illness, suffering - these are the experiences where we may taste and see that the Lord is good.
Another thing I noticed about the verse is that it says “Taste and see THAT the Lord is good” - not “...IF the Lord is good,” or “...WHETHER OR NOT the Lord is good.” This is a positive declaration of God’s goodness and, ironically, the circumstances in which a person might be most tempted to doubt or even reject God’s goodness are the very conditions under which this spiritual tasting and seeing are experienced and God’s goodness is assured to us. Once again the key is found in the second half of the verse, and it is taking refuge in the Lord. If we take refuge in the Lord the way that He has instructed us to do, we will taste and see that He is good. If we do not take refuge in Him as He has instructed, He will still be good, and we may even believe that He is good - that is, the truth that God is good may be part of our “belief system” - but we will not “taste and see” it. What He wants for us is to taste and see His goodness. As Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote, “Thank God if you have been led by a rough road; it is this which has given you your experience of God’s greatness and lovingkindness. Your troubles have enriched you with a wealth of knowledge to be gained by no other means; your trials have been the cleft of the rock in which Jehovah has set you, as He did His servant Moses, that you might behold His glory as it passed by.”
How then has the Lord taught us to take refuge in Him? It occurred to me that He provides some insight in the first three verses of the same Psalm: “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be on my lips. My soul will boast in God alone; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. O magnify the Lord with me; let us exalt His name together.” Here it seems is a practical, logical, progressive strategy for taking refuge in the Lord. It begins with worship welling up from the heart and expressed by the lips. The words “at all times” and “continually” convey that this includes during the darkest and most difficult of times. The next insight speaks of boasting, but this clearly is not a sinful boasting, because it is not focused upon self but upon “God alone.” The idea indicated here seems to be that, instead of yielding to the temptation to question God’s purposes, timing, and fairness and looking to others to affirm our doubts in their own agnostic tendencies, we would “brag” on God’s sovereignty and rights of ownership over us in such a way that the “afflicted” would be pointed to these truths and find joy in them. The third is the next logical step in the progression: to invite others to join us corporately in the expressions of worship which began within us as we sought first to take refuge in the Lord in our hearts.
A powerful lesson, wouldn’t you agree? This is what God put on my heart to share, just weeks after the April storms, with those who had lost their homes, all their possessions, and in one case, husband and father. It was also what God prompted me to communicate as a substitute Sunday school teacher a few weeks after some suspicious symptoms put me in the emergency room and led to the discovery of an electrical abnormality of my heart, and just two days before a routine MRI prescribed for frequent headaches led to the discovery of an aneurysm in my brain. It is interesting how the Lord often uniquely prepares us to face the difficulties in our lives. Perhaps you can see why this passage has been for some time at the forefront of my mind. And in keeping with the Lord’s instructions from this passage, I want to invite you to join me in exalting and magnifying the Lord and His sovereign superintendence and goodness in all our lives all the time. This is the testimony of my life and ministry in what has been a year in which I have had the greatest and most numerous opportunities to “take refuge in the Lord” than ever before. I can’t deny that I hope 2012 might be a less eventful year, but at the same time, I want very much to taste and see that the Lord is good, don’t you?