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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. Selah…
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
 I will be exalted among the nations,
 I will be exalted in the earth.”

The LORD Almighty is with us;
 the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Psalm 46:1-3, 10-11


Those chilling headlines kept coming all weekend! What do you do when Terra Firma under your feet feels like Jell-O and nothing seems solid? What do you tell the children? What do you tell yourself? Few things seem more frightening than earthquakes. They can make you feel pretty small. You don’t even have to be near the epicenter to feel your life all shook up.

It appears then some earthquake of sort has hit as you read today’s scripture. The psalmist draws upon the imagery of an earthquake and tsunami to express the pain of God’s people. He tells of the earth giving way, mountains falling into the sea and waters rising. It is calamity!

For the ancient Hebrews the mountains and earth underfoot symbolized everything reliable and stable in life, while the sea represented chaos and evil. Some disaster has struck leaving the people feeling their lives have slipped away into chaos. We do not know what has happened to them, but it feels like, well, it feels like an earthquake! It tops the Richter scale!

The psalmist is taking up the question of what God’s people are to do when calamity hits, when defeated in battle, when the biopsy comes back cancer, when a spouse walks out, when the stock market tumbles. Or, more personally, what do YOU do when life gets turned upside down and one way and another?

I am helped in chaotic times by the Holy Spirit’s command in this psalm: “He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God.” Yes! Everything is shaking but be still! I must resist the urge to rush around trying to fix, in order to first be still before God. The Hebrew word, raphe, translated “Be still” is an interesting word. Rapha has different shades of meaning in Scripture, but the basic idea is to let go, let the arm fall limp, cease, relax. It is the picture of a soldier’s arm letting go his weapon and a farmer letting go his hoe. It’s stopping everything in order to be still. Be still and know in your experience that He is God and Lord over all. 

The year 1527 was an earthquake kind of year for Martin Luther. Roland Bainton in his classic biography on Luther says it was “the deepest year of Luther’s depression.” (Roland Martin, “Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther) He struggled. But one day, as Luther was praying today’s scripture, the Spirit spoke to Him. Luther then put pen to paper and wrote the hymn, “Ein feste Burg”, or, “A Mighty Fortress.”

Writing in his native German, Luther compared our God to a “feste Burge,” or “mighty fortress”. The psalmist’s image of God as our “refuge and fortress” in trouble, stirred in his mind the image of a “burg” or high impenetrable fortress in the German mountains. Luther knew in his troubles that he could flee to God for safety. 

I do not know what tragedy, what calamity, what setback might have blindsided you, but the Spirit of God says, “Be still and know that I am God…The LORD Almighty is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress.” Earthquake or not, calamity or not, I like to often stop in order to be still before God and to pray:

Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know that I am
Be still and know I
Be still and know
Be still

A fellow traveler,

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