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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.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come and see what the Lord has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Psalm 46 is one of those scriptures that you never forget once you read it, because of the intimacy of the writing and the way it grips your heart. We are in a series called Fix Our Eyes, and last week I encouraged you to put down your sword and focus more on being, and less on doing. I encouraged you to live your life backward: see the person God created you to be in the future, and then, like Joseph, don’t allow anyone or anything keep you from your destiny. When I talk about living your life backward, I’m talking less about what you’re going to do and more about who you’re going to become. Your goal should be to conform to the image of Jesus.
We’re in a challenging season of our own, and more than anything else we need to depend less on our own strength and more on God’s strength. Before we jump into the meat of our talk, I want to give you a little context for Psalm 46. Psalm 46 gives the reader clear instructions for how this psalm (or song) was to be performed in worship. Before the psalm begins, it tells us that it is written for the director of music, of the “sons of Korah.” That means that only the best singers and the most skilled musicians should perform it. (Like our worship team.) So, Psalm 46 held a place of extreme significance in the time it was written. It’s also a psalm that we can all relate to. We can see from these verses that the writer is struggling through a challenging time in his life. Maybe he was facing a difficult personal issue. It’s most likely he was living in a time of war. What we do know is that his life was filled with conflict.
The writer may have been trying to inspire and encourage God’s people to stand in the strength of the Lord. That’s encouragement we all need as we face our own challenging season. Like last week, I want you to put down your sword and reflect, because I want to tell you another story that I think can help us as we struggle to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.
In Judges 6 there’s a story about a man named Gideon. Again, I want to tell you the end of the story first, and remind you once again, God is the end and the beginning of our story as well. Let’s begin with Judges 7:17:
“Watch me,” he [Gideon] told them. “Follow my lead. When I get to the edge of the camp, do exactly as I do. When I and all who are with me blow our trumpets, then from all around the camp blow yours and shout, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon.’”
Gideon and the hundred men with him reached the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just after they had changed the guard. They blew their trumpets and broke the jars that were in their hands. The three companies blew the trumpets and smashed the jars. Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding in their right hands the trumpets they were to blow, they shouted, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled.
When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the Lord caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords.
Sometimes the best weapon to fight life’s battles is not a sword—it’s trust. Gideon is outnumbered 125,000 to 300 and he wins this battle using the most unusual weapon. God is not limited in the ways He can be our strength in times of trouble.
Now let me tell you the rest of the story. In the time of Gideon, God’s people were facing terrible challenges and they called out to the Lord for help. In Judges 6:7-11 we read:
When the Israelites cried out to the Lord because of Midian, he sent them a prophet, who said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians. And I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors; I drove them out before you and gave you their land. I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not listened to me.”
The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites.
God’s word is clear: our Lord is with us wherever we go, but difficult times cause us to doubt. They cause us to turn our eyes away from Christ. Struggles turn our focus inward. We try doing God’s job for Him, instead of just being in His presence, listening, resting, trusting. Our doubt also causes us to reach for false courage, or false comfort; we fall back into sinful habits. We reach for something other than Christ. Life’s trials can cause us to question God’s love, and His wisdom.
Judges 6:12-13 says:
When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”
“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”
But Gideon failed to realize one of the most profound Biblical truths: it’s when we feel the weakest that God’s strength is most active in our lives.
Judges 6:14 says:
The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”
Gideon’s still not confident or convinced of his own abilities or God’s, and in verse 15 he says,
“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”
God is telling him and us: it’s not about your strength, it’s about mine. Paul had the same issue when he faced some difficult trials in 2 Cor. 12:9: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
We all face struggles, so I don’t think we need to know the exact issues the psalmist was facing when he wrote Psalm 46 to understand how he felt, how Gideon felt, or how Paul felt. We just need to look at our own lives, or the lives of those we love during a loss or challenge, and we understand. In every situation described in this psalm, the writer emphasizes that the Lord is a “refuge and strength” and their “stronghold.” He was a refuge and stronghold for Gideon, and He’s a refuge and stronghold for each of us. The phrase, “The Lord Almighty is with us” is repeated twice in this chapter.
Psalm 46 is written in the third person to remind readers that God is their strength and that He is at work as they face every struggle. But when we reach verse 10, something happens. The point of view shifts. Instead of writing about the Lord, the Lord Himself addresses us directly: “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
When you’re reading your Bible and the pattern changes, it forces you to pay closer attention. God is about to share something we all need to hear. He tells us to be still. It’s most likely that Psalm 46 was written, like the story of Gideon, in a time of war. But, why would God tell them to “be still” in the middle of a struggle?
God is commanding them, stop trying to fight this battle on your own. Fix your eyes on who I Am. Some translations say, “cease striving.”
I think when something happens that causes us pain or confusion our tendency is to pick up our sword and try to fight the battle in our own strength—sometimes out of anger toward God, sometimes out of fear. We feel out of control. As we continue our story, Gideon is still struggling to trust himself and his God. So, he comes up with something unique, and I’ll tell you what it is—next week.