For You are my rock and my fortress; and for Your name’s sake You lead me and guide me.
We’ve all seen movies where there are fortresses. Each fortress will have a gate by which people can enter. There is usually a moat around the fortress, so that people cannot get too close to the fortress. That barrier of water would deter horses from getting close, or ladders from being raised on the side of the fortress. There would be a drawbridge over the moat and in times of invasion, that drawbridge would be raised and closed and the fortress would be completely cut off from the world, seemingly impenetrable.
Now there are a few problems that could go wrong in the fortress. First, what if the drawbridge didn’t close for some reason—the whole fort would be solid and sealed off except for the gate, which would be enough for invaders to come through and decimate the fortress and everything and everyone in it. Second, what if there weren’t enough provisions inside the fortress? With the fortress sealed off, the people wouldn’t have to worry about dying in an invasion, but they would die from starvation. So not only would the fortress need to be strong from the outside, it would actually need interior strength as well.
Now imagine that in building a fortress, the builders built three solid sides, but left the fourth side open. It wouldn’t be much of a fortress. There would be three “impenetrable sides” that no one would be able to go over or through, but they wouldn’t have to do that, they could just go around.
In Psalm 31:3, the Psalmist writes “For You (God) are my rock and my fortress, and for Your name’s sake You lead me and guide me.” Let’s reflect on the state of our fortresses. Do we have four solid sides but the drawbridge doesn’t work? Do we have three solid sides but are missing a side? Do we have provisions inside the fortress to withstand a siege? If we are honest, our fortresses are all probably lacking something. There are so many people who want their Christian lives to resemble a fortress. They start off with the best intentions of building something that will protect their hearts and their faith. However, their fortress has a weakness that if not tended to will actually make the whole thing crumble. Some people have four solid sides, but there is something wrong with the drawbridge. They’ve got a particular struggle or temptation and they leave the door open for the devil to come in and exploit that. Some people have three solid sides, but they leave one side undone. It is as if they are a solid Christian 5 or 6 days of the week, but on Friday or Saturday night, they engage in something that is unchristian. Or they believe in God but allow a sinful habit to compete with their faith. And there are people who have a strong fortress of faith but the internal provisions are running low—maybe they don’t pray much, or attend church often. They don’t have the daily food they need and might actually die from spiritual starvation.
Christianity is an “all in” proposition. A fortress of three sides will protect nothing. A fortress where the drawbridge doesn’t close is vulnerable to attack. Going back to the verse today which exclaims “You lead me and guide me,” (Psalm 31:3), is that a true statement all the time? Do we allow God to guide and lead us every day, all through the day? Or do we only look for His guidance when we are in trouble?
I saw a bumper sticker which read “God is my co-pilot.” The problem with that is that on an airplane, the pilot outranks and can overrule the co-pilot. If God is the co-pilot, He isn’t much more than a consultant—He isn’t the guide and leader. If we are really serious and committed to Him, it requires us to build a strong fortress, and to allow Him to guide us in all times and all places. Saying “I’m a strong Christian even though I’m living with my boyfriend/girlfriend” or “I’m a strong Christian who spends time each day looking at pornography,” or “I’m a strong Christian except when I’m drinking” or “I’m a strong Christian who never prays,” is like the three-sided fortress, the fortress without the door, or the fortress that has no provisions inside, as we allow God to guide us most of the time instead of all of it.
As we are still in the early days of our Nativity journey, it is a good time to assess the state of your fortress and exactly how much you allow God to lead and guide your life. The great thing about Christianity is that God offers us the ultimate repair kit, in the form or forgiveness, so that we can repent and repair ourselves at any time. Whether it is sitting down with a priest for confession, taking extra steps to sidestep temptation, or offering a genuine prayer if you haven’t done that in a while, there are all kinds of ways, large and small, to make the fortress around your heart and soul less vulnerable to attack. And any time is a great time to do that!
O Savior, You were secretly born in the cave, but heaven used the star as a mouth and announced You to all. It brought to You the Magi who worshipped You with faith. Together with them have mercy on us. (Vespers of the Nativity, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Personal Reflection Point: How would you define a fortress? How can the Lord be a fortress to you today?