As a Jesus follower, life can be challenging as we strive to live WITH, LIKE and FOR Jesus in the world. We face struggles from the world itself, but also struggles within our own sinful nature. And Satan loves to stir up trouble for us – to discourage or distract or disturb us, and ultimately to defeat us as Jesus followers. How do we stay strong and focused on the Lord when we face the many challenges and trials and crises of life?
Psalm 46 reflects these challenges, but also encourages us in how we should respond to them. In the words of v.10, we are urged to “be still, and know that I am God”. I would suggest that the practice of ‘being still’ is a helpful and empowering way of staying strong when the world is falling apart all around us.
This psalm was written by the sons of Korah. This family belonged to the line of those who served in the temple (Numbers 3, Korah was a son of Kohath). Although Korah himself got mixed up in a rebellion (Numbers 16), his family came to prominence in David’s time as expert warriors (1 Chronicles 12:6), and eventually as leaders in temple worship. Eleven psalms are attributed to them (Psalms 42-50, 62, and 72-85).
The actual occasion for this psalm is unknown. The song indicates a time of severe crisis for Israel – the very foundations of creation are shaking. One suggestion is that this song was written in response to God’s miraculous rescue of Jerusalem in 2 Kings 19 (see vv.35-37, also 2 Kings 20:20), when the besieging army of Sennacherib was decimated by death, and Sennacherib himself killed after he returned to Assyria (around 701 BC). “He makes wars cease” (Psalm 46:9) is exactly what happened at that time.
One of the reasons for tying this psalm to Hezekiah’s day is the reference to “a river whose streams make glad the city of God” (Psalm 46:4). It was in his time when it was decided to undertake a major engineering feat, to dig a tunnel under the city redirecting the water supply to the city center, so that even in a siege the city – and not the besiegers – would have access to fresh water (see 2 Chronicles 32:1-5). That tunnel which runs 1750ft still exists today, often called Hezekiah’s tunnel. In times of war and siege, that river would certainly make the city glad. This psalm points to God as the source of that ‘living water’.
The psalm is divided into three stanzas, each one ending with the musical term ‘selah’: vv.1-3, 4-6, 8-10. The second and third stanza end with this refrain: “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” (Psalm 46:7,11) One suggestion is that the first stanza (vv.1-3) also ended with this refrain at one time, but that it may have been accidentally dropped through the centuries of copying. This refrain tells us what the Psalm is about: no matter what happens, the God who was with Jacob is our God too, He is with us and will protect us!
This is true, even in the most difficult and even apocalyptic circumstances. Imagine a time when the earth gives way and mountains fall (earthquake), when the oceans rise up to make even the mountains quake (hurricanes, tsunamis). Even under the most extreme, ‘end of the world’ scenarios, God is still God, God is still with us, God will still be exalted over all… and us with Him!
God is described as a “refuge” (v.1) and a “fortress” (vv.7,11). As the walls of Jerusalem protected the people from their enemies, so God protected them too. Believers are urged to see themselves as surrounded and supported by God, no matter what happens.
The most famous line in this psalm is v.10, and it serves two purposes. On the one hand, it tells the enemies of God to stop their noise and violence, and to know that no matter how they rage and fight, God will always be greater than them, and will always be exalted in the end. But this line also encourages believers to stop their anxious panicking, and instead quietly rest in God’s presence and power. Be still, calm down, breathe deep, and know that God is God!
One final observation. For the Jews, the story of Jacob was a reminder of how God protected and served His covenant children. To call God the “God of Jacob” (vv.7,11) brought back to mind that God was on their side, that God was with them through trial and tribulation, and that God would establish them and their children – just as He did for Jacob. As Jesus followers, we can be encouraged by Jacob too. But it is also fitting for us to update this confession by saying “the Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jesus is our fortress!” Jesus is our ultimate confidence, and we see through Him that NOTHING can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:31-39).
So how does this speak to you? Can you relate to times when you feel you are under attack? Or times when your world is falling apart all around you? Maybe its not so dramatic, but maybe you live constantly with a sense of anxiety or fear or hardship or pain… and maybe you wonder, ‘where is God in all of this?’
I can’t tell you how to ‘fix’ your problems. But I can tell you what I have experienced and learned as I have gone through my own struggles and hardships. One thing I’ve learned, I don’t usually handle struggles and hardships well. I go into panic mode. I become a manic controller, I take charge, I do, do, do, or I think, think, think and I worry, worry, worry. My breathing becomes quick and shallow and my blood pressure rises. Its almost as if I think I am God, and only I can fix or solve my problem. I experience a mild-grade anxiety all the time, and once in a while it gets overwhelming. The people who are with me can tell I am tense, my responses to them become short, and I become emotionally reactive. Honestly, though my response sometimes gets things done, I am not healthier or stronger because of it. Over the years, God has taught me that the best thing for me to do – on a regular basis – is establish a healthy pattern of ‘being still’, so that when hard times come, I’m in a better place to respond to them.
There is a huge value in developing the habit of slowing down, stepping back, breathing deep, and putting yourself in the presence of God. Stop what you are doing or thinking – even for a moment. Pause and rest (relax) in the reality of God. This is something we can do on the spur of the moment (try it right now), or something we can schedule into our daily rhythms. To be still is not just an idea, it is an activity. Something that we can and should do. It is actually one of the blessings we can enjoy as we live life WITH the Lord as His followers.
Jesus modeled this kind of ‘being still’ Himself. “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:16) He also urged His followers to go away alone to pray (Matthew 6:6). This is how Jesus was able to stay strong, even when His world was falling apart around Him. Even when He was abandoned by the disciples He loved, He still found strength WITH God. “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. (John 16:32) It was because Jesus regularly paused with God that He felt God’s presence and power, even in His tough times. He carried a portable “quiet space” within Him, wherever He went. Because of that stillness within, He was able to handle attacks or challenges in a calm, confident way. Even when His disciples were worried or frantic, He had a quiet peace within Him that let Him rest through the storms.
‘Being still’ is not something we start when we face crises; we won’t have the strength to stop in those tough times. ‘Being still’ is something we develop before the crises hit. We build our lives on solid foundations BEFORE the storms come, so when they come, we will have something solid to hang on to.
The following are some ways that I have experimented with ‘being still’, in order to strengthen my soul for challenging times:
- Use a Calming Prayer: Find a short, simple prayer that you can carry with you on a small card. Whenever you feel led, just pause and pray that prayer. I use the “Quiet Space” prayer, and I have found it very helpful in bringing me back into a quiet space. You can also use Psalm 46, or Psalm 23, or the Lord’s Prayer… whatever works best for you.
- Learn how to breathe deep: When our anxiety rises, our breathing become shallower and quicker. Many of us have actually developed the habit of quick, shallow breathing, so that this is how we normally breathe. Pausing and taking a deep breath in through your nose, then slowly releasing that breath through your mouth – and repeating this regularly – is very calming and healing. You can feel the oxygen filling and strengthening your body and your mind.
- Set a healthy pace: Don’t rush from meeting to meeting, and avoid driving too much over the speed limit. Don’t cram your agendas or fill your whole day with activities. Make sure there are spaces in your day where you can slow down, breathe, and remember that you are not God. If possible, walk instead of driving whenever you can. Not fast walking but a gentle pace. Pause and feel the presence of God with you as you walk.
- Listen to calming music: Even the music we listen to, plus all the other noise going on around us, can increase our adrenaline. Calming, quiet instrumental music of any style can penetrate your body and mind and draw you into a more peaceful frame of mind.
- Set aside specific times to pause and pray: You can pause at any time, and in any place. But there is also great value in developing a regular rhythm in your day where you sit in God’s presence. Not for bible study, not for talking and talking through prayer. Just sitting and being for a few minutes in the security of God – your refuge, your fortress.
In all of these ways (and there are more), we are actively taking steps to ‘be still and know that He is God’. By developing the habit of being still, you are strengthening your relationship WITH the Lord. You are learning and feeling more and more that you are not alone, even when everything around you is coming undone.
As you may recall, living WITH the Lord is the first part of being a Jesus-follower. I believe it is the foundational part. As we learn to remain (or abide) in Christ (John 15:1-17), we are slowly changed. The Spirit helps us in these times to live more and more LIKE the Lord. And in this renewed placed, we are equipped to live in this troubled world FOR the Lord, in His strength. We cannot live LIKE the Lord or FOR the Lord unless we first live WITH the Lord. And ‘being still’ is an important part of experiencing life WITH the Lord! “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jesus is our fortress!”
Spending time alone WITH the Lord is not a mere command. It is an invitation. It is not a mere duty, it is a blessing. We are like batteries that need recharging. The best place to go is the source of power. Plug in, and let Him renew your strength. Spend quiet time with Him (or wait in Him), for “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31).
Lord Jesus, I want to learn how to spend time with God like You did. I want to know the feeling that You had that I am never alone, even when things get hard. Help me to make the effort to ‘be still and know that You are God”, that I may better handle the troubles in this world, and live WITH, LIKE and FOR You in a healthy, positive way – no matter what happens. Amen.