OUR HELP IN TIMES OF TROUBLE
by Jeff Hagan
(Tacoma, WA, USA)
Psalm 46:1-2, 10 - “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea...Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
Introduction: The famed Reformer, Martin Luther, used Psalm 46 over and over as a source of comfort. In fact, he used the chapter as the basis for his well known hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” This chapter of Scripture can be just as useful for us today if we take a minute to look at the contents within. I've selected three things for us to look at.
Trouble – We read that the author of this psalm describes God as a “very present help in trouble.” What's interesting to note is that the Hebrew word for “trouble” literally translates “a tight place,” or “a tight spot.” I can only imagine that everyone here has found themselves in one of life's “tight spots.” You know, when you feel pressure coming from both sides as well as from the top and bottom, as if you're being squeezed. In these situations we feel our options are limited, our freedom is stripped away, or any progress we've made has crashed head first into a wall. The author of this psalm mentions two of these kinds of situations in particular.
First, he speaks of uncontrollable circumstances. We read in verse 2, “We will not fear even though the earth be removed, and though its mountains be carried into the midst of the sea,” and what is being described is natural disasters such as violent storms, dangers of the ocean, and catastrophic earthquakes. Because God is our help, we don't need to fear when the foundations of our world are shaken. When we find ourselves in circumstances we literally have no control over, we need to trust in God by resting in Him and His Word. We need to turn to Him for our peace and refuge.
Second, he speaks of overwhelming opposition. We read in verses 8-9 the mentioning of war, bows, spears, and chariots. What's being portrayed here is basically, “Even when confronted with an army and I'm outnumbered and unable to fight, I still will not be afraid.” And of course the reason for this is God, who is our comfort and refuge, our oasis, our very strength, fights for us in ways we cannot even comprehend.
Mighty Fortress – Sometimes God uses these kinds of struggles to get us to a point where we'll say, “I don't know what to do. I'm at a loss.” Our culture is one where we are so pressured to feel we must come up with all of the answers ourselves. We have become a self determined people. If we are lucky enough to have a job and are then given an opportunity to change to another career what do we do? We pull out a pen and paper, well, I suppose I should say laptop, I-pad, or cell phone, and make a list of all of the pro's and con's in order to logically and robotically work through our choices in an attempt to come up with best possible decision. When things in our life get out of control we turn to books, online searches, reach out to consultants, and figure out what “techniques” to use.
When it comes to church, oh brother, when a difficulty arises in a church we'll delegate some kind of task force, develop a half a dozen committees, hold countless meetings, do research, recruit volunteers, set goals, and then beg for money. The point I'm making is that far too often we live out our lives, in church and out of church, as if we don't really need God. But I've got some news for you, you can never really know Him, your faith can never really grow, your trust can never fully develop, until we come to a place where we humbly confess, “I don't have a clue of what to do. God I need you, I turn to you, my eyes our fixed on You.”
Strategy From Above – This brings us to the question, “How do we get help from God?” The answer might not be what you think. The answer: Be Still (v.10). This word means, believe it or not, to stop striving, stop working so hard at it, or to put it positively, “relax.” You ever notice how often God's ways are not our ways? Has it really ever hit you that God's ways are quite often counter-cultural to the “norm” and expected in America in particular? Just think for a minute about the pace with which we live our lives. It's becoming too extreme, almost fanatical.
Consider family life, and if you have kids, it's unrealistic and unhealthy (the pace of life that is, not the fact of having kids). School, carpools, church, sports or other activities, cleaning, chauffeuring, PTA, shopping, and the list goes on. Or what about the pace at work? The hours spent thinking about work, the commute there and back, thinking about work when you get home. And many of you when you get home will open up your briefcases, or turn on your computers, and get ahead on the work you have for the next day. Then, the next day you start all over again, one activity after another, one appointment after another, one phone call after another, all in a continual blur until Sunday. And it's not as if Sunday is a day of God, church, family, friends, and relaxation like it use to be. All of this combined is in direct opposition to Psalm 46:10's “Be still.” So, how Do we “be still?”
First, we start with our schedules. We are at a point in our culture where we need to simplify, we need to prioritize. We need to erase some of our “have to's” and shorten some of our “must's.” It is essential to find, no scratch that, to make time for prayer, for Scripture, for rest, for reading, for relaxing hobbies. When we let the Holy Spirit take control of our schedules and calendars, He'll always leave a block of time to spend with Jesus.
Second, we do it with our spirit. I know this is a cliché and far easier to say than do, but we need to release our cares and concerns to God. It is God alone who can “solve the insolvable, storm the impregnable, and change the unmerciful. Only He can bring sunshine out of storms, and flowers from mud. He can protect you on the outside (God is our refuge) and strengthen you on the inside (God is our strength).”*
Conclusion: So, how about you? Do you have areas in your life where you've reached your limit or almost reached your limit? If so maybe you should learn to relax, admit you don't know what to do, make some schedule cuts, and “be still.”
*Morgan, Robert J., ed. “Nelson's Annual Preacher's Resource Book, 2003 Edition,” p.88.