Let God Be God
Those of you who know me well, know that I like to work hard. Many of you here today also know of the satisfaction one gains by pushing your body and mind to the limit. This is how we get things done. This is how progress is gained--so we think.
If there is one thing I have learned in the last few years of my life, it is that, in life, we often meet challenges that cannot be overcome by hard work. There are problems we face in life that cannot be resolved by simply gritting our teeth and trying harder.
Some of you here are aware of the personal and professional challenges I have faced over the last little while. I can assure you that working harder eased none of these challenges.
This is true of many of life's trials: when a family member or friend becomes terminally ill; when a marriage breaks up; when a close friend is admitted to a clinic for alcohol addiction; even worse--when a loved one dies. In life, there are challenges that cannot be overcome by hard work. We know from experience that personal competence will be of little help in the day of trial.
Some people think they will be secure in the day of trial if they have enough money. This is why we are so diligent to lay up our money in bank accounts, stocks, and RSP's. At the sametime, you do not need to be a theologian to understand that money cannot shield us against heartbreak. Financial security cannot protect us from failure, disease, or disaster in this world. God may very well say to us, "This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?"(Lk.12:20).
What I want you to see this morning is that the cisterns we have hewed for ourselves do not hold water.
Some of us trust our security to our own personal competence, while some of us rely on the competence of others. Some of us think we will be secure because of our many assets, because of our specialized skills, and because of our education. The truth is that none of these things hold water. None of these things can protect us in the day of trial.
In the day of trial, we need something bigger than ourselves if we are to get by. In the day of trial, we need God. This is the message of Psalm 46.
Many of you are aware that this psalm inspired Martin Luther's hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God, and so you will hear me expound on, not only the Scripture this morning, but also the hymn.
The first question we need to ask, even before we examine this psalm, is whether this is our God. This is an important distinction. Virtually every survey I have ever come across affirms that most people in North America believe in God. The problem is not that we live in a land of atheism. The problem is that most people believe in a god of their own invention. Most people believe in a god that they have created in their mind--a god they can manage, control, and change to suit their needs.
The God of Psalm 46, however, is not identified in these terms. The God of Psalm 46 is twice identified as "the God of Jacob"(v.7, 11). This is the God of the covenant. This is the God revealed in the Scriptures. Martin Luther's hymn is even more specific as he answers the question, "Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus it is He".
Psalm 46 then, is a song for all who truly belong to Christ. As Charles Spurgeon has said, "(unless we) belong to the believing company . . . (we) cannot sing the song of peace amid commotion and calamity." In short, the benefits promised in Psalm 46 are for Christians.
What then, are the promises of Psalm 46? We are told, in the plainest of language, that "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble"(v.1). Or, as Martin Luther has put it, "A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; our helper He amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing."
What is a "bulwark"? A bulwark is another word for "fortress"--it is a place where people can go to be protected from their enemies. Friends, knowing that such a great fortress awaits you, why would you ever delay to take refuge in our God?
Do not think that you can overcome the challenges of life by your own power and strength. As Charles Spurgeon has said, "If we look to ourselves for courage we shall fail in the hour of trial". As Martin Luther has written in the hymn, "Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing".
We must always remember that the hymn reads, "A mighty fortress is our God"--it does not read, "a mighty fortress is our self-sufficiency". All of Scripture, and all of the great hymns, confirm the truth that we will perish without God's help.
Think of the great hymn, "It Is Well With My Soul"--we should ask the question, 'Why is it well with your soul?' Is it because you have worked hard? Is it because you have lived a good life? No! The reason for our soul's wellness is given, "tho' trials should come, let this blest assurance control, that Christ has regarded my helpless estate, and hath shed His own blood for my soul".
We need something bigger than ourselves if it is to be well with our soul. We need to take refuge in that Mighty Fortress. We need to retreat to that Bulwark never failing. We need to stop trying to control things and let God be God.
We should take tremendous comfort in the fact that God is "a very present help in trouble." We know God is always present, but He is also present to the heathen. To His children, however, God is not simply present, He is very present. He is not watching from the sidelines, but He is actively sustaining us. Spurgeon reminds us that God is even more present than our nearest friend because God is working within us.
For this reason the psalmist writes, "we will not fear"(v.2). John Calvin does not take this to mean that we will be exempt from all fear, but he takes verse 2 to mean that "(we will) never (be) overwhelmed with terror", but rather, we will be provided with "courage sufficient to allay all fear."
Our courage then, is not the hardness of the Stoic who boasts that he does not feel anything. The Christian is not called to be destitute of all feeling. We are called only to recognize the unreasonableness of fear when God is our refuge.
I don't know about you, but I can relate to this. I know what it is like to be afraid, but not really afraid. I know what it is like to wait anxiously for the doctor's test results, yet be, at the same time, confident that that the Lord is working all things for my good and His glory(Rom. 8:28).
The reason, of course, why we retain an element of fear is that we know that in God being our refuge there is no promise of earthly prosperity. When the Scripture declares that God is our refuge that is not a promise of exemption from every kind of hardship. It says He is our help in the midst of trouble.
The psalmist speaks of trouble, he speaks of mountains being carried into the sea, he speaks of roaring waters, and he speaks of nations in uproar(v.2-6). It is quite obvious that the psalmist is not promising a life without hardship. What I would argue, however, is that the psalmist is promising us Divine comfort and spiritual preservation in the midst of the life's most challenging trials.
To say that God is our refuge and strength then, is not to promise a life free from pain. It is to promise comfort and spiritual preservation in spite of our outward circumstances. This is why we can say, "Therefore, we will not fear"(v.2). It's not that mountains being carried into the heart of the sea doesn't scare us, it's just that we understand that our ultimate prosperity---eternity with the Lord--is never in jeopardy.
If I were to summarize verses 7 through 9, I would say this: 'God has everything under control'. The psalmist is aware that, metaphorically speaking, your mountains may be uprooted and thrown into the sea. The psalmist is aware that, metaphorically speaking, the roaring and foaming waters of life are threatening to breakdown your walls.
Even still, the psalmist wants us to consider something bigger than trembling mountains and raging waters. In verse 10 the Lord Himself speaks, "Be still and know that I am God. I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth."
The text literally reads, "Cease striving and know that I am God." This is not a command to do nothing, this is a command to "cease striving". This is a command to stop hewing for yourselves cisterns that hold no water. This is a command to stop building fortresses that do not protect in the day of trial. This is a command to let God be God in your life. There is no fortress like Him. Our self-constructed fortresses are like a house of cards by comparison. As Jonathan Edwards has said, "In that He is God, He is an absolutely and infinitely perfect being; and it is impossible that He should do amiss."
God will not do amiss in your life. Yes, the mountains may tremble, yes, the waters may foam, but your outward circumstances are not the point. God, our Mighty Fortress, is preserving something far more valuable than our outward circumstances--the Lord is preserving our faith in Him; He is preserving our soul.
If we understood this, we would see our self-constructed cisterns for what they are--temporary containers containing temporary blessings. Martin Luther understood this as evidenced in the conclusion of his hymn, "Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also, the body they may kill; God's truth abideth still; His kingdom is forever."
Our sin is not that we have desired too much. Our sin is that we have settled for so little. We must stop our striving and take notice of who God is. Only then will our souls be satisfied. Friends, this is my prayer for you: that you make God your refuge, and that, in doing so, you might find satisfaction for your soul. Amen.