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Lent 2015 Devotional—Day 14

2015LentCoverWebHolding Me Up

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”
Psalm 46:1-3, 10

What to do when trouble hits suddenly, when the bottom drops out, and everything we thought we nailed down is coming loose! That’s just what this psalm text is about.

The psalmist paints vivid, poetic images of how trouble can blindside us, as well as how to tackle trouble. He describes how trouble can shake like an earthquake, the ground turning to Jell-O and mountains slip sliding into the sea. Here is a whole tsunami of trouble washing over us without warning. That is the way trouble can hit us. People who have gone through earthquakes say that there isn’t a feeling more helpless than feeling the earth move under their feet. There’ nothing they can do. They are going about their day when the earth gives way.

The psalmist adds to the feeling of helplessness by drawing on two images familiar to the Hebrews: the mountains and the sea. The mountains surrounding Jerusalem represent all that is stable and secure (36:6; 90:2; 125:2), while the sea represents chaos (Job 26:12; 38:8-10; Psalm 104:6-10). So here is a picture of everything we trust as sure and stable slipping into chaos. It might come with a phone call in the middle of the night about an accident, a doctor’s diagnosis, or a relationship coming apart. We don’t know what to do.

But this is when the Spirit of God steps in and tells us what we must do: “Be still.” Yes, be still! It sounds almost crazy to be told to be still while the world is coming apart. The psalmist once again draws on striking imagery to convey what the Spirit intends. The Hebrew word charaph translated, “be still”, pictures letting the arm go slack, letting it relax. It is a word used for a soldier letting go his sword, or a worker laying down a tool. It is to relax, to stop striving, to stop hurrying, and yes, to be still.

When I was a chaplain to juvenile offenders, the young men grasped the meaning of this, translating “Be still!” as “Chill out!” They got the idea of what the Spirit calls us to do when our world is falling apart. Only when we chill out will we learn that God is truly “our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

I am also helped in understanding what God means when he says, “Be still,” by remembering the time I learned how to float in water. My father assured me that the water would hold me up, if only I would relax, be still, and trust that it would hold me up. Up until then the harder I tried to keep myself afloat, the more I sank. Then came the day that I finally became still, relaxed, stop striving, and actually experienced that the water would support me.

When the world starts falling apart, and everything you thought stable and secure slips into chaos: Be still. Be still and know that God is holding you up.

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