If you had not read Psalm 46 prior to these days we are in, you would think that God had written it for this time. And He has.
Before you read any further, I would encourage you to read Psalm 46.
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah (reflect)
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah (reflect)
Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire.
‘Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!’ The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” Selah (reflect)
Although it feels the earth has given way, and that the mountains have been cast into the heart of the sea; and even though it seems as though the oceans roar, and the mountains tremble; though nations rage, and kingdoms totter, there is One who is a refuge and strength; a very present help in times of trouble.
In recent days, we have collectively felt this. What seemed stable is not just tottering, it has collapsed. What once was our comfort, false as it was, has been drowned by the roaring and raging seas of uncertainty and anxiety.
But the hope in this is that even though all that once was firm beneath our feet, and seemingly immovable has been stripped away, there is a God who promises to be our refuge and strength, and a very present help in our time of distress, struggle, hopelessness, and trouble.
He is very present.
He is not distant.
He is not uncaring.
He is very near.
And He deeply cares.
His name alone reminds us He is Immanuel, God with us. His promise, as well, reminds us that He has not, and will not, abandon us. He has not left us.
“The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Come, behold the works of the LORD, how He has brought desolations on the earth; He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; He burns the chariots with fire.” Psalm 46:7-9
The promise of this psalm reminds us that He is the LORD of hosts, the self-existent, redemptive God who commands the armies of heaven. Although we as a people are battling an unseen virus, do not be fooled into thinking that what is taking place in our world is the real battle. There is something much bigger, and spiritual, that is taking place. There is a war raging in the heavens, and on earth. But the certain hope we have, as children of God, is that the LORD of hosts, the commander of the armies of heaven who does not know defeat, or ever will, is with us. At ground zero, be it in Italy, Iran, New York City, Los Angeles, Seattle, New Orleans, or anywhere else in our nation or the world, He is with us; He’s at ground zero of your unemployment, your financial distress, your health issues, your anxieties and fears. He is very near. And although it may not seem that way, He cannot and will not deny Himself or His promises. You can know, and trust, that He is at work using all that is going on to do something that is far greater than can be imagined, and much greater than we could ever hope.
And then God gives the psalmist, and us, wise counsel and something that we need to consider, and heed:
“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” Psalm 46:10
The other night, I briefly caught some of the iHeart Music Concert that was hosted by Elton John, and had several other artists who where doing songs within their own homes. There was nothing fancy about their performances; no lights; no over-the-top video montages; no dancers. It was just the artists, and it was noble and good. They were raising money for the First Responders Children’s Foundation, and for Feeding America, both in need of resources and our support. It showed the compassion of people for people in need.
But there was part of a statement made by Elton John that fell short of giving us the best, and most real hope. I’m certainly not here to bash Elton John; he is a great musician; he has been created by God, and in the image of God; and I do pray that he finds hope in Jesus, who is our only hope.
Elton said, “The universe is sending us a message . . .” I know that sounds bigger than us, and attempts to give some purpose behind all that is going on in the world with Covid-19. We’re all wanting to know why this is happening. But something bigger is going on.
When have we ever witnessed the stoppage of the world? When have we ever seen sporting events completely shut down; concert venues of every scale, from arena performances by your favorite artists, to grade school band concerts cancelled; casinos closed; bars empty. restaurants closed; the streets of New York City, Seattle, Washington D.C., all barren; and churches vacant? This is not the universe sending us a message, but I do believe it is the God of the universe, the One who upholds the universe by the word of His power, who is sending us a message. It is one of both discipline and warning; each saturated in His love.
I know that seems paradoxical, and incomprehensible. But when you accept the truth that God is good, and that He really does so love the world (John 3:16), He will do whatever is necessary to get our attention, and keep us from plunging headlong over a cliff that only leads to a death greater than physical. He is the Father who establishes boundaries, not because He is a cosmic killjoy, but because He is gracious and loving.
I get that this is a hard thing to hear, especially in a culture where discipline is often lacking. In many cases, parents have become content with allowing their children to make the rules, and have acquiesced in their disciplining so as not to upset their children. We certainly don’t need studies to verify the results of what it looks like when discipline is absent (although the stats and studies bear witness); we see it everyday. So, it would make sense that God disciplining His children doesn’t make sense to those who fail to see the love in a God who would discipline for our ultimate good, and His glory.
For those who are His, followers of Christ, the Church, He is disciplining us. What loving father doesn’t discipline his children when they do wrong, so as to teach them what is right, and correct their ways? As the bride of Christ, the Church, we have become over-accessorized with performance, programming, and pride, and have become comfortable with our playfulness and prayerlessness. God’s word is clear that we are to be salt and light in this world; and as the Church, we are the primary means by which He makes much of the gospel of Jesus to a world in need.
For too long, we have sought to blend in to this culture in which we are called to stand out. The problem, however, is that neither salt nor light are meant to blend in. It is glaringly clear when salt is either absent or present. How many times have you heard someone say, “I think it needs more salt,” or “This tastes like the Dead Sea, it has so much salt!” Yeah, you know when salt is present or absent. Listen to what Jesus says metaphorically about the lack of saltiness in our witness: “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.” Matthew 5:13
It is as equally noticeable when light is present or absent. Light doesn’t ever blend in; it stands out. Jesus said of His followers, “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” Matthew 5:14-15
As the Church, we have found ourselves drifting like a ship that has been blown off course by the hurricane force winds of culture, and we’ve lost our bearing. Instead of maintaining a heading that points us to Jesus, we’ve become easily tossed by every wind of doctrine; swept away by every cultural current; and are finding ourselves being dragged under by the unseen undertow of our pride.
We are no different than the churches mentioned in Revelation–we have abandoned Jesus as our first love; we have tolerated false teaching; we have pursued the fleshly desires of this world, and not pursued holiness; we have given the appearance that we are alive, but in reality are dead; and we have become self-sufficient, and self-reliant, with a lukewarm faith. And so now, Jesus is starting to clean His house. The apostle Peter writes, “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” 1 Peter 4:17
We would do well, as the Church, to listen to the voice of God’s Spirit. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Revelation 2:11
There comes a point, though, when we do not listen to the promptings of the voice of His Spirit, where God reaches down and disrupts our ways. The pace of an unsustainable life of busyness at breakneck speed, with no margin, had led us into a dangerous place, and God has now said “Enough.” And so, as with the churches He admonished in Revelation, He too says to us, “Repent.” Turn from our ways, and return to God’s ways.
God has interrupted life as we have known it, has sat us down, has turned His face toward us and said, “Be still, and know that I am God.” In other words, He is saying we need to recognize that He is God, and we are not.
So, rather than quickly run away and cover our ears, it would be wise for us to be still, and listen. Don’t give in to the temptation to fill this time, that God has ordained, with more noise. What a travesty it would be to pray us too quickly out of this moment, without begging God to accomplish His purposes in us, and His Church, through all of this. To allow Him to do the effective work in us, and for us to receive it, would make the difficult moments of our suffering worth the pain and sorrow, because of the exceeding joy that will come as a result of our purging.
For me, these are not easy words to hear, and certainly not easy to write. But my hope rests in knowing that God is good, and that the LORD of hosts is with us. If all of this were not of God, I would be discouraged. But, as the psalmist writes, “Come, behold the works of the LORD . . .”
We have much to behold, and One in whom we can be hopeful.