When Trouble Hits

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 do you do when trouble hits, when suddenly the bottom drops out? What do you do when everything you thought you had nailed down is coming loose? That is just what Psalm 46 is about.

The psalmist paints vivid images of how trouble can blindside you, but then how to take on that trouble. He describes trouble as shaking you like an earthquake, terra firma suddenly turning to Jello-O under your feet. Mountains slip sliding into the sea. He paints a veritable tsunami of trouble hitting you.

The psalmist adds to the feelings of helplessness by drawing on two images familiar to the ancient Hebrews: the mountains and the sea. The mountains surrounding Jerusalem stood for all which was reliable and secure (Psalm 36:6; 90:2; 125:2), while the sea represented chaos (Job 26:12; 38:8-10; Psalm 104:6-10). So here is a dramatic picture of everything people once trusted as secure and stable descending into chaos. It might come as a phone call in the middle of the night about a serious accident, a doctor’s prognosis for coming days, or a spouse walking out the door. The world is coming apart and we wonder what to do.

At this point the Spirit of God steps into the psalm with a command: “Be still.” Yes, you read that right, “Be still”! It might sound crazy to be told to be still when your world is coming apart. But it is just what we need at such a moment. The Hebrew word charaph translated, “Be still,” pictures letting your arm go slack, letting your arm relax. It was a word used for a soldier letting go his sword, or a working letting go his tool. It means to stop racing around and trying to fix, so that you can be still in God’s presence.

When I was a chaplain in a juvenile facility talking to gang members about this psalm, the young men immediately grasped the meaning of “Be still.” They heard the Spirit of God saying, “Chill out!” That’s right, “Chill out!” That is exactly the first thing we need to do when trouble hits, “Be still” in God’s presence because He is truly “our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”

The Spirit’s command to be still, to stop striving, reminds me when my father was teaching me how to swim. He assured me that the water would hold me up, if only I would stop thrashing about, and trust it, and relax in it. Sure enough, my dad was right. Be still. Relax. Trust.

If you feel like the world is coming apart, or you have been hit by trouble, hear the Spirit of God’s word to you today. Turn off the television. Turn off the news. Turn off your smart phone:

Be still and know that He is God.

Be still and know that He is.

Be still and know.

Be still.

Be.

“Be still, and know that He is God. Be still, and know that He is. Be still and know. Be still. Be.

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.”

A fellow traveler,
Tim

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