By Brandon Lemons
In recent months, whenever I talk with others, check social media, or listen/watch/read the news, I sense that there are many struggles. People are stressed, relationships are strained, and the outlook is worrisome. I feel some of this angst myself. Life wasn’t easy before COVID-19, but for most of us, the events of recent months – both nationally and personally – have amplified our struggles and stress.
Psalm 46 is treasure for times like this. We don’t know the specific circumstances for which the psalm was written, but it’s clear that the psalmist was in a major trial – perhaps even of national proportion (“the nations rage, the kingdoms totter” – 46:6).
The psalm starts with a source of hope, which is still available to us today: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (46:1). Even though troubles threaten us or may seem to be overtaking us, God is there to carry us through. He is like a fortress we can run into for refuge from any storm or attack (46:7,11).
The key – and the challenge – is our response to trials. Trials always tempt us to focus more on our circumstances than on God. When we focus on difficult circumstances, we begin to sink into despair, similar to how Peter began to sink after walking on water. “But when Peter saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’” (Matthew 14:30-31) Why did Peter begin to sink? He focused on his circumstances rather than on Jesus.
In Psalm 46, God breaks into the scene and demands, “Be still, and know that I am God” (46:10). He is like a triumphant warrior, calling everyone to turn their attention to Him. “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” He is sovereign. He reigns. Absolutely nothing will change that. “Therefore, we will not fear” (Psalm 46:2).
Biblical scholar Gerald Wilson, commenting on Psalm 46, says, “This is a psalm of radical trust in the face of overwhelming threat.” Whatever threats are overwhelming us, the response of our heart should always be to “Be still, and know that I am God.” Slow down, even if only in our hearts, and turn our focus to Him. The apostle Paul’s exhortation in Philippians 4:6-7 is based on the same truths as Psalm 46: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” It’s radical trust that even though our circumstances are difficult, we turn to God by faith, because He is trustworthy. He is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.