Some of the most enlightening and enriching times in my own life have been times when I have been still – in quiet contemplation. I’ve had epiphany and “aha!” moments waiting for the El train or sitting for long periods of time waiting for the doctor or dentist. Why is that? Perhaps a better question is “Why don’t I seek that more often?”
There is a command I know that I tend not to follow: “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10).
On the surface that seems like a pretty doable command, right? Heck – I don’t even have to do anything! Just hang out, right? Maybe it’s not so easy. Maybe you’re a much more trusting and humble person than I am, but I know that at the first sign of danger I immediately respond. I react and try to manage the situation. I plan for contingencies, I seek support from others, I make sure everything’s going to be OK. In a tough situation, or worse yet in a crisis, the one thing I am not is still.
What would you do if “the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea”? The response in Psalm 46? “We will not fear” (Ps 46:2).
This idea, to not fear, is at least counter-cultural, but at its worst it is completely foreign to us. We are bombarded with scare tactics in advertising and political campaigns. Try typing “anxiety” into Google and see that there’s an entire market based on fear! We use fear to propel us toward decisive and informed action assuming that there’s safety in certainty. As I often do, it’s easy to get swept up in planning and making sure we “know” what to do. But is this what God intended?
Right now it’s pretty easy to let my fear guide me toward what I define as safety, but I think more often than not I’m letting it guide me to manage the situation and eliminate unknown variables rather than seek out more honest and vulnerable relationship with God and others. I might feel less vulnerable to what makes me afraid, but I’m not as safe as when I’m honest and broken before the God that “makes wars cease” (Ps 46:9).
Notice the two equally challenging parts of this command. First, we need to be still. This means stopping, taking a breath, and not running off in the first direction we think will lead to safety or harm reduction. Next, He tells us know that I am God. We are to remember that we don’t have everything put together. All we can hope to do is guess what might be best for us. We can never know for sure. Put them together and it means that we are to stop, recognize our place in the grand scheme of things, respect that at the end of the day we don’t really know what’s best for us, and finally we need to trust God for leading us in a direction aimed at Truth and Love.
Here’s the full version of Psalm 46:
1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
7 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
8 Come and see what the LORD has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10 He says, “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 Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.