Psalm 46 God is with us

I expect that you, like me, are still trying to come to terms with what is going on at the moment. I’ve never known such a crisis. 

Is this really happening? Some don’t seem to believe it’s serious. 

I heard the pubs in Bovey were packed on Friday night before they were shut down.

 I’m self-isolating, because some of my family are showing mild symptoms, and it’s strange trying to do everything by phone, email, Zoom and Skype. Some of you will be worrying if you or your family have the symptoms. How will I cope with isolation on my own, or with a house full of children?

My generation has never experienced anything like it, and don’t know how to respond. But I want to reassure you this morning that God’s people have suffered many such crises, and can testify that God has brought his people safely through. The bible reading we just heard is a Hebrew song written over 2500 years ago, and sung by God’s people- Jews and Christians- ever since: we sing an English version of it almost every year on Remembrance Sunday: God is our strength and refuge, Our present help in trouble, and we therefore will not fear though the earth should change, to the rousing tune of the Dambusters March.

These songs in the bible are called Psalms, and this one calls us to stop and remember who God is, what he’s done and what he is doing, and encourage one another. 

God is our strength,  God is with us; therefore we should not fear.

But perhaps that is not what if feels like for you today, 

So let me ask you three questions:

What are you afraid of? 

Who could calm your fears? 

and Who do you trust?

Let’s look more closely at the psalm and hear the answer from God’s people through the ages as to why God can be our strength.

If you have a bible, why not open it-you’ll find Psalm 46 almost exactly in the middle.


What are you afraid of?

Every generation has its own nightmare. I grew up in the cold war with the fear of nuclear war: this generation is rightly concerned about climate change, so this epidemic has taken us all by surprise. 

Now we are worrying about whether we or our family have the symptoms, whether we’ve got enough food and toilet paper in the house, whether we’ve got a job to go to tomorrow, or a business still to run. And for our hard-pressed doctors, nurses, cleaners, drivers, shopkeepers, how long can I keep going?

The Psalm writer has his nightmares too: 

v.2 the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

we take the ground beneath us for granted: we assume it is solid. There was a minor earthquake under Haytor 9 years ago, but it did no damage. But the writer imagines the mountains slipping into the sea, and the waves crashing into the coast: we’ve seen the TV pictures of disasters elsewhere, but surely it couldn’t happen here?

He imagines political turmoil:

v6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

We’ve seen that turmoil this week as markets have crashed, international borders closed, and governments around the world struggle to keep order. This is a time to support  and pray for our leaders, as they struggle to respond to an unknown threat with the best information they can find, rather than criticise their decisions.

the writer imagines wars around the globe- armies marching on his city, with bows, spears and shields. I read these words and images from Lord of the Rings spring to mind: Minas Tirith under siege from evil hordes. So many perils - natural, political, military - and now an invisible enemy in this virus- is it on my hands, my face, the doorknob? why shouldn’t we be afraid?

But after each little nightmare, the writer stops and reminds himself -and us- these are big nightmares, but God is bigger.

God is our refuge. the Lord almighty is with us: therefore we will not fear.”

Does that work for you? Who could calm your fears?

Today is Mothering Sunday, when traditionally we give gifts - cards and flowers - to our mothers as a token of our love and gratitude. When we were small, and something frightened us, mother would hold us tight and comfort us. We have a delightful grand-daughter  who was 1 yr old this week, but if we laugh too loudly, she takes fright and her mother has to comfort her. Do remember your mum  today- call, but don’t visit!

But who can calm us now? The government is doing its best, with medical advice and extraordinary measures to stabilise the economy, and delay the spread of disease. The prime Minister believes that with good hygiene, social distancing, and a quickly developed vaccine, we can send coronavirus packing. But the empty supermarket shelves show that there is still much fear, panic buying among us.

But the writer of the psalm has found something to calm his fears. 

He says:

v4 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.

After the quaking mountains and raging waters, it is good to find a gentle flowing stream that makes the city glad. The writer is thinking of his home town of Jerusalem of course, where the Temple of the LORD once stood. But no river has ever run through Jerusalem, which is built on a steep hill, and the lack of water made Jerusalem very vulnerable to long sieges. So what does the writer mean? This is a poem, and the river is an image of the strength and peace which God gives to those who trust him.

Jesus stood in that Temple and said: (Jn 7.38)

Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”  By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. 

Even when the earth is quaking, and the waters raging, God’s people have been able to say with joy and gladness, God is with us. Perhaps you need to turn to Jesus and ask him to fill you with his Spirit of peace to drive out fear. 

Final Question: Who do you trust? 

We are facing a new disease and the scientific facts are still unclear. I think the scientists and the government are acting sincerely and to the best of their knowledge. I trust them- rather than much of the nonsense and misinformation on Facebook - drink hot water, smear olive oil on your door to stop the virus- rubbish! Only time will tell if the government strategy is right.

But why should I trust God, or trust Jesus? Is the Spirit just some sort of religious Prozac to dope us against the reality of what’s happening? No: there is a reason for our trust. God is not just an internal, spiritual comfort. He is the LORD almighty, the creator of the hills and seas, the Lord of history. The writer invites us v.8 

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 writer summons the raging nations to come and see what God has done. The LORD, the God of Jacob has a track record through history of rescuing his people.

He rescued them from slavery in Egypt and destroyed the Egyptian army in the waters of the Red sea. He helped them at break of day.

He rescued Jerusalem from siege by a vast Assyrian Army in one night, and at break of day the army had gone. 

Jesus showed the power of God in his own life- calming a storm with a word of command: Peace - be still. We may be filled with fear of dying, but Jesus has defeated death itself. He died on the Cross, then rose again on Easter Day. Whether we can meet to celebrate Easter this year or not,  the fact remains that Jesus was dead, and  is alive!

See what God has done- and be still - shut up and stop panicking.

Even this turmoil, this pandemic will end, sooner or later.

The way we choose to behave will influence how quickly that comes, with our hygiene, social distancing, medical research, but ultimately we are in the hands of the LORD Almighty. 

Perhaps God is telling us something at this time

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

We do not have ultimate control of this world. We cannot conquer all our fears. We cannot conquer death. In thinking that we could, we had forgotten and diminished God, not given him the glory he deserves.

So in the long days and nights of waiting ahead of us all, remember these words from Psalm 46

Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted in the earth.

If you had forgotten God, to exalt and honour him, to ask him for peace, we would love to help you find your peace with God through Jesus. That is why He came, in love to save us.

We’d love to help you reach out to Him through prayer, through reading God’s word in the bible: please get in touch - we too have time to talk - online after this service, or on the phone.

What do you fear? Who can calm you? Who will you trust?

God is our strength,  God is with us; therefore we should not fear.

God is our strength and refuge 
Our present help in trouble 
And we therefore will not fear 
Though the earth should change 
Though mountains shake and tremble 
Though swirling floods are raging 
God the Lord of hosts is with us evermore

There is a flowing river 
Within God's holy city 
God is in the midst of her 
She shall not be moved 
God's help is swiftly given 
Thrones vanish at His presence 
God the Lord of hosts is with us evermore

Come see the works of our Maker 
Learn of His deeds all-powerful 
Wars will cease across the world 
When He shatters the spear 
Be still and know your Creator 
Uplift Him in the nations  
God the Lord of hosts is with us evermore

CCLI Song # 2607575 
Richard Thomas Bewes 
© 1982 Richard Bewes - The Jubilate Group (Admin. by Jubilate Hymns Ltd)
CCLI Licence No. 309195