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…
The LORD 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. Selah
Psalm 46:1-3, 10-11
One of the things separating humans from animals is consciousness with its ability to fear the future. Dogs cannot do it, nor even dolphins. They all rest easy in the present moment. But since Adam and Eve forfeited Paradise, fear has been our default mode for dealing with upheaval and uncertainty.
Recent troubling events in our country remind me of the wife who asked her husband, “Shall we watch the news at six o’clock and get indigestion or the news at ten o’clock and have insomnia?” We are living in trying times with fear of recurring waves of COVID, a volatile election, civil unrest, and economic shock waves.
Fortunately, one more thing separating humans from animals is our ability to trust in God for the future! We see that modeled in today’s scripture in the psalmist’s bold affirmation of faith: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear…”. The psalmist affirms this even while speaking of the earth shaking, mountains falling into the sea, and tsunami-like waves surging.
The psalmist is a poet for whom imagery and symbols are his stock-in- trade. We do not know whether he describes a literal or a metaphorical rocking of his world. He might be telling about a shaking of the seismic scarred Jordan River Valley, a foreign invasion, or family catastrophe. But his ambiguity does encourage us to insert our own personal upheaval into the text. We too can join the psalmist in our affirmation of faith, knowing God is our “ever-present help in time of trouble.”
Note how the Spirit of God speaks calming words into the psalmist’s upheaval: “Be still, and know that I am God…” Yes! Be still! But being still can feel so counter-intuitive in the face of things falling apart! We want to try and fix things and make everything turn out okay. But as we learn to be still, we come to really “know” in our experience that the Lord is God and exalted in the earth.
Being still might mean beginning your day with God and His Word, and committing your way to Him. It might mean turning off the news or Internet to pray “Palms Down/Palms Up”. It might mean going for a walk and thinking on God’s promises, or meditating on your “God-Sightings” throughout the day. Whatever helps you to be still helps you to counter the default mode of fear for the future. You can then say confidently, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear…”. Over time, practicing stillness becomes a life attitude by which you experience more and more Jesus’ promised rest and easy burden.
The year 1527 was a year of upheaval for Martin Luther. It was a year described by Roland Bainton, in his classic biography on the Reformer, as “the deepest year of Luther’s depression.” (Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther) It was a year in which Luther often read and prayed this 46th psalm. One day, as Luther prayed the psalm, he picked up pen and began writing the first words of our great hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”
Writing in his native German, Luther compared God to a “feste Burge”, or, “mighty Fortress”. The psalm inspired in him the image of God as an impenetrable fortress high in the German mountains. Luther knew that God’s people safely flee to the Lord in time of trouble. In our own difficult days we too can say, like Luther, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in time of trouble.” Let’s make this our sure default mode for safely navigating trying days ahead!
A fellow traveler,