Updated: Jan 5, 2021
The wind is whipping outside my window. Gray clouds, a cold drizzly rain and screeching crows complete the scene. Hmmm . . . an uncomfortable metaphor for life this past year with COVID-19, elections, riots fires. Memes on social media shout:
Earlier this year COVID forced a screeching “Be still!” onto the entire world. Travel ceased, businesses slammed shut, schools closed and employees—those who kept their jobs--scrambled to work from home . . . a home likely not “still” if there were kids trying to distance learn from it!
The noise of the world and the anxiety in our hearts make it so hard to be still. Yet still is exactly what God wants us to be. And, not surprisingly, the world’s definitions of still and God’s definitions don’t always align. Parents everywhere have yelled or whisper-hissed, “Sit still!” to their children. Yoga and meditation gurus encourage practitioners to "Still your mind. Focus on your breath, how your body feels. Relax your muscles. Examine your thoughts without judgment and release them into the world. Be still."
Still. A simple word with many meanings. Take a moment right now and say out loud, “Be still.” Breathe in deeply, exhale slowly and say quietly, “Be still.” What picture comes to mind for you? Without filtering or judging, jot a few words or a quick sketch of what it means in your mind to be still.
Efforts to embrace stillness have been gaining traction over the past years. Experts point to evidence of technology creep and the rise in related anxiety and stress, especially in adolescents as they encourage us to shut down our devices and be still. Practicing stillness is described in many ways, from the act of being physically at ease or relaxed, to focusing on what the world considers permanent: past positive events that time cannot alter, the vastness of the universe, or the memorable moments of calm awareness we experience at the end of a meditation session or while cuddling a sleeping child. Our relaxed muscles, the immense wonder of nature and our fixed memories are elevated as sources of calming stillness. Each of these is certainly a blessing. But we know injury, natural disasters and aging brains threaten the reliability of these resources.
Well, what does our reliable God mean when he says, “Be still?” Psalm 46:10 may be the most referenced and memorized passage on this topic: “Be still, and know that I am God” (ESV). Many take this verse as a reminder to settle down quietly with God, focus on who he is, know he’s good and remember he can be trusted with our lives. Definitely a beautiful assurance for a Christian. To be still, according to their interpretation, includes peaceful silence and a calm, literally unmoving presence. Silent? Unmoving? Really? Does God not notice these kids clinging like burrs to my ankles? Has he seen my in-box? Is he planning to drive Mom to all her appointments? Are we really supposed to drop everything and sit quietly in order to be still?
Let’s stop, add a wide-angle lens, put verse ten in context and see how the picture shifts. Read Psalm 46 in its entirety. As you read, note words that evoke emotions or stand out as important. Consider jotting them down for reference.
1 God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
8 Come, behold the works of the Lord,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Which words did you notice? Did words like fear, roar, tremble, burns, fire, foam, melt, rage stand out for you? What about refuge, strength, glad, fortress, exalted, help, cease?
This psalm was likely written as a post-battle victory song. According to Pastor Leon Bloder, the Hebrew word rapha is translated as “still” in this psalm and means "to hang limp, sink down, be feeble." Pastor John Brug states, “The words ‘Be still’ are both a rebuke to a world in rebellion against God and an assurance of peace to his people.” Other writers interpret the original as giving up, withdrawing support or putting down your weapons. It’s a “Surrender, Dorothy!” moment, happening in the midst of battle chaos. It’s also the psalm that inspired Martin Luther to write “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” And here’s the thing: you don’t need a fortress unless you’re under attack!
Where are you under attack right now? Consider which battles you’re fighting--where is there constant stress and tension in your life? What are you clutching, refusing to release . . . even while you feel God is calling you to drop it? When you’re feeling attacked, is your first instinct to run to the fortress of God’s love, or to grab your weapons and step into the gap alone, counting on your power to regain stillness and calm? What might you be clinging to and wielding wildly in order to feel like you’re in control?
Today . . . right now . . . can be the day to sink down, abandon the charade of control, drop your weapons and release your future into God’s trusted hands.
List any areas of stress or tension in your life in this moment:
Why are these things important to you?
What is God revealing he wants you to release into his hands? (What parts of these situations are solely in HIS control?)
There are times when “be still” does emphasize quietness. “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices” Ps 37:7. Quiet your heart. Don’t fret. Be patient. God works all things out in time.
But be careful as you focus on "inner stillness." Herman Hesse, a German author who embraced Eastern mysticism, echoes the sentiments of many today: “Within you, there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.” The false message here? That what you seek is within yourself. But scripture counters with Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” We are unreliable sources of inner stillness. Our source of a stilled heart must always be God.
In being still, God calls us to 1) surrender control and 2) learn to quiet our hearts because of God's love and with his power. He offers us a way to be still—inside and out--in our crazy world as we spend time with him, learning from his Word and becoming more like our Savior, Jesus.
Dear Lord, I long to have a heart that surrenders unnecessary battles, to be still in your presence, focusing on your love and power. Remind me of my victory through Jesus! Open my eyes to places I may be fighting your will for my life. Help me cling to you as the source of my protection and give me strength to put down my weapons. Bless my efforts to carve out quiet moments to learn from you and grow in your wisdom. Amen.
Point to Ponder:
God calls us to "be still" as we release our need for control, relying on his power to fight for us, provide refuge for our souls and offer calm our spirits . . . even in the midst of chaos.
Action Step Options:
Plan a time to physically sit down with no distractions: no phone, no laptop, no smart watch, no music.
Start small if this is new to you. Even just a few minutes. Small steps are better than no steps! But plan for God’s way of being still.
Plan to use quiet and surrender in order to pray, meditate on Scripture or recall the words of a praise song or hymn. The goal is to push out the chaos of the world and substitute the calm of Christ.
Or, if you’re in a season of life where alone time is non-existent,
2. Plan tinier spaces in your day to catch God’s goodness:
1 minute to read a passage instead of scrolling social media.
A quick glance with a focused acknowledgment of something beautiful in nature.
Thirty seconds in the bathroom with the door shut, quietly chanting, “God is good. All the time. Even when I can’t see it. God is good.”
Twenty seconds wherever you are to still your heart and offer a prayer for someone else.
3. Brainstorm ways you and God can continue your “be still” efforts.
4. Consider a “be still” accountability buddy. Who can be trusted to support you in your efforts?