Updated: May 29
Not long ago, I was with a friend when we heard about a tragedy. I honestly don't remember what happened; I just remember his response. It was something like, “So much for Psalm 91.” He wasn't judging God or the scriptures, but simply making the point that we don't fully understand the ways of God. And while I agree with that—there is mystery in life—I'm not sure that he has read Psalm 91 with careful attention, and, thus, has come to a wrong conclusion.
Are you in the Secret Place?
If you're not familiar with the famous Psalm, it is all about God's protection from the enemy, plagues, being shot, trapped, even from tripping—from anything deemed a disaster. It is one of the most quoted and misinterpreted Psalms. Just look at the first two verses.
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” (Ps 91:1–2)
This is not a general promise to anyone who has prayed a sinner’s prayer. It is a pledge to the person who has made God his or her residence—one who is dwelling in God's secret place. The word translated shelter in the NIV is b’seter, which means in secret. Most translations call it the “secret place.” But it could also mean, “The one who dwells secretly,” which reminds us of Yeshua’s words on prayer—“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matt. 6:6).
Sadly, not everyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus has found or even looked for the “secret place.” It seems to be talking about someone like young David. When he served as a lonely shepherd, he spent much time in worship and prayer. He developed a powerful relationship with God in secret. It was because of this, that he understood how to dwell in the secret place that he was able, without sword or spear, without protective armor, to slay the giant.
The promises of Psalm 91 will not be realized in the life of the person who checks Facebook and Instagram first thing in the morning or is more concerned about the world news than the good news. John Mark Comer says, “If we are constantly feeding our brain dopamine hits (from social media); then we go to pray, and it feels like crickets. [It’s] because we have literally trained our brains to experience God’s absence.”
Believe me, I'm including myself amongst those who justified putting God second or third, or even further back than that, in my list of morning priorities. I was not living in the secret place. And while I was very successful in “ministry,” my inner life was suffering. I was not experiencing God’s presence on any consistent basis.
So I decided to find the secret place. And I discovered a few things. Consider these six tips to find God’s presence—his secret place.
1. It is nearby
It's not like the secret place was hiding from me. One of the most important goals of discipleship is to subdue the flesh. The body is not sinful, but the image of God in man was corrupted through sin. And that is the whole point of redemption. Paul expects it to affect our “spirit, soul and body” (1 Thes. 5:23).
The believer is to train his body. Paul said, “I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave” (1 Co 9:27). He was not talking about masochism, but mastering his will so that his body would be an instrument of righteousness (Rom. 6:13). He also said that the life he lives in the body is to honor Yeshua (Gal. 2:20). The secret place is not hard to find, but your flesh does not want to go there—at least initially. But the good news is that you can master your flesh, and when you do, you will find freedom from anxiety and enter into God's peace.
Think about it this way: Is it easier to eat fast food or cook a delicious healthy meal? Obviously, fast food. But once you get into the habit of eating healthy, you will look forward to the preparation because of how good you feel. You might even get nauseous at the idea of a fast-food-prepared burger or taco. Once you spend time with the Lord on a consistent basis, your body will look forward to getting up early.
2. User Friendly vs. the Secret Place
It takes time in the secret place to be changed. A few weeks ago, we were worshipping at our congregation, Tiferet Yeshua, in Tel Aviv. The first 20 to 25 minutes were OK, but then we entered into something special. Our congregation worshipped for an hour and fifteen minutes. It was one of the more powerful services I can remember. But what was more exciting to me, was that the entire congregation, for the most part, stayed connected.
I know there are many congregations today that have reduced corporate worship to three songs in 15 minutes. In fact, some churches that I really respect have adopted that model. But I don't think you're going to ever find one of those churches in an extended awakening with 15 minutes of worship. It takes time to develop intimacy. If you have to hurry everyone out of the service within one hour, there is really no place for the dove to land.
Now I understand, some services are so long that maybe even God gets bored! I don't want to have long worship times just for the sake of having them or to feel better about myself as a minister. I want God! I want a lasting visitation!
Whenever my friend Asher Intrater goes to preach, he likes to arrive at least one hour early so he can pray in the sanctuary before the service. If we want to find the secret place corporately as congregations, it helps if we have been marinating in the secret place privately.
3. Slow Down!
Earlier this year, I had a rude awakening. I was overworked. More about that in another blog. I was on the go all day long, leading several organizations and initiatives. It may sound impressive, but I can guarantee you it is not healthy. I resigned from 50% of what I was doing.
The great Christian philosopher Dallas Willard said, “Hurry is the enemy of spiritual life. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” Renowned psychiatrist, Carl Jung, said, “Hurry isn’t of the devil, it is the devil.” And the beloved Corrie ten Boom, who rescued the Jews of Holland from Nazis, said, “If the devil cannot make us bad, he will make us busy.”
We live in a world that doesn’t slow down. There are more options for entertainment than ever before.
How would a shepherd from 2,000 years ago deal with 1,000 channels on cable? What would he think of Twitter or TikTok? To share his political opinion with someone else, he might have to travel several miles. We just turn over and grab our phones. While these things can be used for good, many have become addicted. It's the first thing they do in the morning and the last thing they do before going to bed.
We have to slow down. Richard Foster, who many consider the modern father of “spiritual formation,” wrote, “In contemporary society, our adversary majors in three things: noise, hurry, and crowds. If he can keep us engaged in ‘muchness’ and ‘manyness,’ he will rest satisfied.” It is hard to find the gentle Holy Spirit in noise and traffic.
Once I slowed down, I was able to rebuild my spiritual life. Again, Dallas Willard said you must be ruthless in dealing with “hurry.” And I was!
4. You have time
When Comer (see above), moved the emphasis of his church towards spiritual formation (developing an intimate relationship with God through spiritual disciplines), he submitted his plan to an older Ph.D. The wise doctor told him that the biggest resistance that he and his people will face is “time.” As in, lack of. But here is the dirty little secret: We do have time! “Even in a very busy, very distracted world, people still make time for what really matters to them,” claims Tyler Staton, in Praying Like Monks, Living Like Fools.
When I enrolled to get my master’s degree in theology, I was terrified that I would not be able to keep up with the class. I quickly found out that I didn't have to cut out anything important to make time because it turned out I had many unimportant things that I was allowing to consume my time. By limiting social media and our streaming subscriptions, we can find time.
I've seen preachers on TV making a lot of money selling doomsday food buckets. I just hope they're going to share some of that soup and rice with their unsaved neighbors! But the truth is, while you may have some limited supplies for your body, the one who is going to survive difficult times is “Yoshev b’seter El Elyon…” “The one who dwells in secret with the most high.”
I wrote in Birthpangs that if we are indeed in the Matthew 24 season of birthpangs that precedes the coming of the Lord, then it is time to prepare. And by prepare, I mean time to build our faith and trust in the Almighty. We need to live a life of prayer. Paul said, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thes. 5:17). He means that we live a life checking in with God several times a day. Peter and John were on the way to prayer when they healed the beggar (Acts 3). They lived a life of connection with the Holy Spirit. You can too!
6. Fear Not
I'm not writing this to make you afraid but to encourage you that the triune God has given each of us an open invitation to his secret place. But it's going to take discipline. The flesh must be tamed. Here are a few ways that you can start your day that will change your life.
1. Have a daily appointment with God that is sacred. For me, it is in the morning.
2. Spend some time reading the Psalms. See how the psalmist is very honest with God about both his victories and defeats, his joy, and his pain.
3. Take some time and be silent before the Lord. Be still and know that the Lord is God (Ps. 46:10). Try and do it for 1 to 5 minutes. Work your way up to 15 minutes or more. I will be writing a blog in the coming weeks on the spiritual benefits of silent prayer.
4. When it's time to use words, use the Lord's prayer as an outline.
5. Throughout the day, as you feel the cares of this world loading up and feel impacted by all the noise around you, take a moment and close your eyes. Focus on God and ask him for more of his tangible presence in your life.
Please don't do this out of legalism. Legalism and the Spirit of God are opposites. Do it out of hunger for God. Do it out of desperation. Do it from faith. And as you do, let me be very clear, God's love for you is unchangeable. God will not love you more for seeking him, but you will experience his love at a much greater level.
I don't seek God to get him to love me more. I seek him to get more of his love in me. Most of us live our lives thinking that God is just a bit disappointed in us. This is one of the greatest tricks of the enemy. When you spend time with God, imagine him smiling over you. You are dear to him.
Pete Greig, who started the 24-7 Prayer Movement, writes:
Your power in prayer will flow from the certainty that the One who made you likes you, he is not scowling at you, he is on your side … Unless our mission and our acts of mercy, our intercession, petition, confession, and spiritual warfare begin and end in the knowledge of the Father’s love, we will act and pray out of desperation, determination, and duty instead of revelation, expectation, and joy.
Tyler Staton shares, “The most important discovery you will ever make is the Father’s love, and it’s just that—a discovery. It cannot be taught. It has to be discovered, and everything else flows from that discovery.” That is where this journey begins.
 John Mark Comer, “Live No Lies Podcast | Episode 3 with Rich Villodas,” YouTube, September 29, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xWZORHLkq2A  Dallas Willard, Living in Christ’s Presence: Final Words on Heaven and the Kingdom of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2013), 144.  Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978), 13.  Staton, Tyler. Praying Like Monks, Living Like Fools: An Invitation to the Wonder and Mystery of Prayer (p. 13). John Murray Press. Kindle Edition.  Pete Greig, Dirty Glory: Go Where Your Best Prayers Take You (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2016), 53.  Staton, Tyler. Praying Like Monks, Living Like Fools: An Invitation to the Wonder and Mystery of Prayer (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Books, 2022), 24.