“Be still and know that I am God.” That familiar phrase from Psalm 46:10 has been my guide through all the craziness of the last year. Even now, with the worst of the virus over and life starting to return to normal, I still need to hear it every day. I don’t think I’m the only one.
Our deepest yearnings for peace in anxious times
The verse is printed on everything from peaceful scenes in nature to sleeping babies and captures our deepest yearnings for peace. Especially in times of high anxiety like we’re in now. A wooden shingle containing the words in white ink hangs on our kitchen wall where I see it every morning.
In the original Hebrew language of the Old Testament, “Be still” means “to sink down, relax, let drop, abandon” and allows for a wide range of interpretation. For example, the NASB renders the verse as, “Stop striving and know that I am God.” The Living Bible on the other hand says, “Stand silent! Know that I am God!” The Message gives the most unusual twist: “Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything.” You can find more information on understanding the verse here.
But what do the words mean? Do they describe some inner space where we give more of our attention to spiritual things than to whatever outer events are causing us angst? Are they a reminder to keep our priorities in better order, remembering that earthly chaos is temporary while God is eternal? Or are they one of those churchy slogans that sound hopeful but don’t connect with real life?
A natural world out of control and governments at war
The rest of Psalm 46 gives the answer. When you read the whole Psalm, you don’t find positive thinking, religious clichés, modern psychology or a Pollyanna perspective on life. What you find instead is a natural world that’s out of control and governments at war. “Though the earth be moved, and though the hills be carried into the midst of the sea” verse 2 says. Later, verse 6 observes that “the nations are in an uproar.”
This larger context tells us that to be still and know God is more than advice to give when life is overwhelming–the religious equivalent of “You just need to calm down” or “Stop worrying so much.” It’s instead an invitation to live in trust and friendship with the One who is unchallenged by natural and man-made chaos alike. It’s faith by another name. A faith maybe deepened through anxiety and tempered in the crucible of fear, but faith all the same. You can find some simple, practical ways to build that kind of faith in one of my previous blogs here.
That’s why Martin Luther used Psalm 46 as the inspiration of his hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” that became in turn the theme of the Reformation:
A mighty fortress is our God, A bulwark never failing:Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.
There have been times this last year when, like every other leader I know, I hit the wall and gave in to fatigue and fear and didn’t know what to do. Too much instability and uncertainty, too many decisions to make, too many conflicting opinions. But each time the promise of “Be still and know that I am God” was what I came back to. He never let me down.
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