First Mennonite Church
May 24, 2020
The Refuge in Time of Trouble
Text: Psalm 46:1-11
Today, families, cities, and nations are seeking ways to protect themselves from the pandemic. We all are mindful about the dangers of being exposed, thus take the necessary precautions to stay safe from getting infected. Even the skeptics are not so skeptic when it comes to their personal safety these days.
Verse one of Psalm 46 has the most comforting and assuring words we can ever wish. As the New Living Translation puts it: God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. As we see, in this verse there is an intrinsic confession about our human condition. The need for refuge denotes vulnerability on our part. And that is exactly what our world and we ourselves have been clearly reminded these last months. Human life, so to speak, is under all kinds of threats. Human sources of security: jobs, medical and scientific advancements, institutional structures, and others, have proven wanting. The earth has been shaken and the ways we lived our lives before March of this year, might not be the same after this pandemic.
The other admission about the human condition we find in verse one is that humans are weak. We are weak, not only physically, but also in our mind and spirit. We know what happens to us as we grow older. Our mind is not only affected with the passing of time, but is also subject to the adverse effects of what goes around in our daily lives. The information we are fed with every day in the evening news, although necessary to stay informed can become seeds of anxiety if we dwell on them. The things and events in life that give us sporadic mental tranquility are constantly shattered by the news of illness, needs, and even death of loved ones or friends. Our spirit is also under constant attack. We all fight internal battles of some kind on a daily basis: making decisions on what is best for us and our families, trying to discern the truth in all we hear, and striving hard to keep our sanity in the midst of the tug of wars that divides the world. All of these are reminder of how fragile life is.
Psalm 46, verse one, comes as the most comforting and assuring news we can ever desire: God is our refuge and strength, a very help present in trouble. This verse is a reminder that peace of mind and steadfast strength are not found in those things the world tells us we will find security. Every kind of human fortification will come tumbling down. Real and steadfast protection and resilience are not found in the realm of the earthly – even the earth and the sea are not secure.
The confession and trust in God as our refuge does not make us invulnerable in life. But confessing and trusting God in times of trouble give us peace and the strength we need. As God’s people and as God’s city that we are, to us is given the promise that the raging and roaring sea will not overwhelm us. Instead, a river will flows in our midst. In the Hebrew Bible, the OT, river is the metaphor of life sustaining water. River symbolizes the presence of God among his people. Rivers are the opposite of the foaming and roaring waters of the sea.
God’s presence is what quiets our heart and mind in times of trouble. The world Psalm 46 describes is one in which not only the seas roar and foam but also the nations (v. 6). The nations roar, but in the midst of this cacophony God also speaks. He utters his voices and the earth melts (v. 6).
In the last few weeks, we have witnessed how divided people have become in regards to how the pandemic has been and is being handled. During these last months, people have been put in extreme difficult circumstances. There are, for instance, many who have been put out of a job, while others have been required to work in high risk situations. There are people have complained about their rights being violated, while other have been killed as a result of complying with the requirements. There are many who found positive aspects about not having to work, while many are having the most difficult time for not being able to work. The situation we are living today has caused an uproar. The words of the psalmist, “The people are in uproar” describe exactly what we are witnessing today. This Psalm also asks us, whose voice are we listening? The same verse also tells us that the Lord is speaking. Are we able to hear God’s voice in the midst of all the noise around us?
From a mere human perspective, the devastation of Covid-19 is real and its destructive impact is beyond anything we have ever known. Thousands of people have died. And for some, every death is only data for statistics, only a number to be tallied. But for many, it is a father, husband, a wife and mother, sister or brother or the breadwinner of an already hunger-stricken family. The effect of Covid-19 is being felt everywhere. Pantries are running out of stock, bills are stacking up waiting to be paid, and many are still waiting to hear when their job is going re-start. Normal life as we knew it might never come back. And all these make life feel like a drifting dinghy in the middle of a raging sea. We need a solid rock to hold on; we need a refuge from the storm hitting us. Anxiety, fear, and despair are feelings that can overwhelm our heart and mind. The pandemic, all the noise for or against how it is being handled, the everyday challenges it has brought forth are enough to send anyone on an emotional rollercoaster. Thus, for us, Psalm 46, verses 10 and 11 give us clear guidance on what to do:
“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Through the power and comforting presence of the Holy Spirit we can remain calm in God’s refuge. The Spirit of God is who empowers us to remain trusting and waiting in the Lord’s righteousness, justice, saving power, and loving faithfulness. We can rely on God that he is our refuge and help. We do not have to fear; we do not have to live in despair.
In his book, The Spiritual Man, (it is a free online e-book) Watchman Nee writes about how critical it is for us Christians to allow the Holy Spirit to influence our reactions when there is trouble. He writes
“One quality which characterizes a spiritual person is the great calm he maintains under every circumstance. Whatever may happen around him or however much he may be provoked, he accepts it all calmly and exhibits an unmovable nature. He is one who is able to regulate his every feeling, because his emotion has been yielded to the cross and his will and spirit are permeated with the power of the Holy Spirit. No extreme provocation has the strength to unsettle him. But if one has not accepted the dealing of the cross upon his emotion, then he will be easily influenced, stimulated, disturbed, and even governed by the external world. He will undergo constant change, for emotion shifts often. The slightest threat from outside or the smallest increase in work shall upset him and render him helpless. Whoever genuinely desires to be perfect must let the cross cut deeper into his emotion.” (P. 429)
Let us rest in the promise that God is our refuge and help in difficult times. Let us allow the Spirit of God to quiet our spirit and to fill our mind with his peace. God people and God’s city can be the sign of hope to the world that is turmoil and desperation. We can be that city on the hilltop that people can see.
Here is God’s word for us:
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear,
5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns. Amen!