I think it was sometime in mid-2005…..Associate Pastor Steve delivered the sermon at First United Methodist Church in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Steve was probably a native Oklahoman, or maybe a Texan or Kansan. I don’t recall, but he had what I’d describe as a cowboy accent–I always thought of him as representing the cowboy preachers of Christianity. Salt of the earth and committed to Christ. One of the workhorse preachers.
Steve didn’t preach very often. Quite honestly, he wasn’t what you might call a great orator.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the sermon I recall most vividly from my four years at FUMC Stillwater would be Steve’s. It’s really just one vignette that he shared that Sunday that contained a truth God meant for me to hear that day and to remember for the rest of my life.
At some point in his sermon, Pastor Steve began telling the story of an elderly woman who’d been the victim of a carjacking or kidnapping or something like that. I think it happened in a shopping center parking lot.
The woman was so terrified as her abductor drove away with her that all she knew to do was pray. However, she was SO terrified that she couldn’t remember “how” to pray or “what” to pray.
So the old lady simply cried out from her heart: “Cover me with your wings….cover me with your wings….cover me with your wings.” Over and over.
The abductor guy was so taken aback by this old lady’s prayer that he let her go unharmed. If I remember the story correctly, the abductor said he was letting her go because she was “crazy.”
At that point, I suspect (but am not really sure) Pastor Steve read from Psalm 91. Maybe it was Psalm 17:8. Maybe it was Deuteronomy 32:11.
Before that sermon, I don’t recall having ever paid a great deal of attention to any of the Psalms or other passages of scripture that describe God’s protection as akin to that of a mothering Eagle, hawk or hen sheltering me, sheltering us, beneath his wings to keep us safe.
The story of how the old lady who was taken captive and then released in safety because she prayed without ceasing was, at first, just a novelty to make a point. I wasn’t awestruck by the message.
I already trusted God. I knew that I was redeemed, but I also knew something something wasn’t quite finished yet. I was trying, as much as a human can in her own strength, to draw closer to God. He was drawing nearer to me, for sure. [James 4:8].
It wasn’t until those words about being protected by the wings of God kept coming up again and again in my Bible reading that I started to understand better that God was trying to tell me something.
Earlier in 2005, I’d purchased Phyllis Tickle’s first installment of a 3-book series, The Divine Hours. I had become interested in the “Benedictine way” several years before and decided to start taking a more liturgical approach to prayer as a way to keep prayer front-and-center throughout my day. I wasn’t legalistic about it, but I liked the structured approach to prayer that included a series of verses and readings. That was long before I’d heard the phrase “praying the Scriptures.”
Those liturgical prayers regularly include one of the Psalms that invokes the protection of God, the cry to be given shelter beneath his wings.
Every time I read or prayed one of those verses, I thought about that old lady and imagined being nestled underneath the wings of the God who cares for the sparrows, the meadowlarks, the ravens, the lilies of the field, and for me.
Eventually, I got the point.
God offers more than just physical safety from physical harm.
God’s safety is comforting and nurturing.
The shelter of God’s wings are where we grow into the Swan he designed each of us to be.
Fear not, when you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze….Do not be afraid, for I am with you;… Isaiah 43:1-2, 5
Because you are what God says that you are! You are enough!
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Sheree Martin is a lawyer, entrepreneur and digital media consultant. She’s on a mission to help others Discover, Grow and Shine. Sheree is mom to multiple furry creatures and aunt to three awesome young adults. She loves spending time outdoors, especially at Shine Springs Farm, doing anything fitness related, and cooking real food for friends and family. Click here to read more about Sheree.