God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult…
‘Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.’
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Psalm 46:1-2, 10-11
Your doctor’s nurse calls to tell you that something has shown up on your tests; the doctor wants to see you today.
Your manager calls you into her office and says that business hasn’t been good for the last year; she’s going to have to let you go.
Your best friend dies.
These are just a few of the many things that can rock our world this side of heaven, and shake us profoundly. In today’s Biblical text the Hebrew psalmist draws upon poetic imagery to describe our world being shaken. We do not know the background to this psalm, but clearly their world is thrown askew. The psalmist speaks of something happening that can best be compared to an earthquake or spiritual tsunami, as the earth is changing, and mountains shaking in the heart of the sea.
For the ancient Hebrews, the two most reliable and stable things in life were the earth under their feet and the mountains surrounding Jerusalem. The sea represented chaos. So here is powerful imagery about a time when everything they thought firm and reliable is descending into chaos. Life can be like that. Everything we thought we had nailed down is flying loose.
I have always been struck by what it is the Spirit of God calls on his people to do when life implodes. The Spirit of God calls us to do just the opposite of what I am prone to do when trouble hits, when life throws me. The Spirit of God calls you and me to be still, and to know that he is God. Yes, that’s exactly what he says, “Be still!”
It’s a striking Hebrew word that is translated as “Be still”. It literally means “to let the arm go slack”, or “to let go”, and is used of a soldier letting go his weapon, or a workman laying down his tools. It means to relax.
Years ago, when I was a chaplain for juvenile corrections, I was sharing this passage with a group of gang members who immediately grasped the meaning of the command, “Be still”. They rendered it as “Chill out!” They got it! That’s it exactly!
When our world falls apart, when everything is changing, the first thing that the Spirit of God calls us to do is relax, be still in his presence, and know that he is God.
The Hebrew word translated as “know” is also significant. It denotes not a theoretical, abstract, speculative kind of knowing about God, but a very personal, immediate, direct experience of God. It isn’t just to know facts about God, but it is to know God, as a friend knows a friend.
As I think back over my life, I now can see, that it was those times when trouble slammed up against me and I relaxed into God, that I most experienced God in my life. It was in those times that I came to know him as the Lord of hosts who is with us, and truly the God of Jacob who is our refuge.
It was in such a dark, shaken, and unsettled time in my life that I copied into my journal the following words by Frederick Buechner in his book, Sacred Journey:
To do for yourself the best that you have in you to do — to grit your teeth and clench your fists in order to survive the world at its harshest and worst — is, by that very act, to be unable to let something be done for you that is more wonderful still.
Yes, be still. Here in the command “to be still” is the doctrine of justification by faith: that it is God who saves us and redeems us, not by our good works, or by our best efforts to save ourselves, but by relaxing and resting into his grace.
I do not know the trouble you might be facing today, or how your world is being shaken, but I do hope that you make time today to be still and to relax into God’s presence. As we take time daily to do that we will come to “know” God in ways we have not known him before. It can transform our lives.
NOTE: For a helpful way of daily praying and relaxing into God, see the post Palms Up, Palms Down in our new section Tim’s Thinking.
Let Him easter into you—Tim Smith