“A PSALM FOR THE STRESSED”

PSALM 46

NOVEMBER 8, 2009

 

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            A number of years ago Trudy and I were invited to a couple’s home for dinner.  While the steaks were on the grill, the husband said, “Come here I have something I want to show you.”  We went into the house over to a cabinet in the living room, and he removed the drawer from the cabinet and carried it over to the coffee table.  He set the drawer on the table and said, “Check this out.”  The drawer was filled with old books.

            I began thumbing through the books ... old bibles, old hymnals, old Sunday School curriculum ... and in the process of thumbing through the material I came across a devotional book written by a women named Florence Hobert Perin.  The preface of the book contained these words:

 

            Once family devotions were general, now they are rare.  There are reasons for the change.  One reason is that the simplicity of the old family life is gone.  It is not easy to get all the members of the family together at one time in the day.  A part of that is due to less leisure now than formerly.   Indeed, the more rapid pace involved in these modern times renders the more necessary some pause in the day for prayer, some upward look, when for a moment the soul may find an open way to God.

 

            Florence Hobert Perin penned those words in 1910.  If Florence were living today I wonder what she would say about our pace of life 99 years later?  A year in which it’s estimated that 60% of all medical visits are stress related.  A year in which one in five Americans suffer from stress related insomnia.  A year in which 70% of all clergy, who are supposed to help us cope and deal with life, wonder if they have what it takes to stay in the ministry.[1]  These clergy say they have difficulty keeping up with the needs of the people in their congregation.  And many of us can relate to the cartoon where the guy’s hair is sticking straight up.  His brow is furrowed.  His lips are pressed tight and he says, “God put me on this earth to accomplish a certain number of things.  Right now I am so far behind I will never die!”  What would Florence Hobert Perin say to that?  What would Florence Hobert Perin say to today’s pace of life?

            This morning we have the privilege of studying a Psalm written for today’s pace of life.  It’s a psalm for the stressed, the busy, the overwhelmed.  The Book of Psalms was the ancient Hebrews hymnbook.  It was David’s hymnbook, it was Solomon’s hymnbook, it was Jeremiah’s hymnbook, Daniel’s hymnbook, Mary’s hymnbook and Jesus’ hymnbook.  And as we turn to this 46th psalm, I want to pose a question.  When we are stressed, when we are in a bind, when our lifeboat springs a leak, when the last penny is gone before the last bill is paid, when we are overwhelmed by life’s demands, what is God doing?

            It’s an important question.  What is God doing?  When the earth shakes beneath our feet, and when the waters of our lives roar and foam, what is God doing?  I know what we are often doing.  We are often biting our nails like a cob of corn.  We are pacing the floor.  We are taking pills.  We are checking health insurance policies to see if it covers burnout, but what is God doing?

            That’s an important question, a real important question.  If God is sleeping when all this is happening to us, we are in duck soup.  If God is laughing, we are lost.  If God is crossing his arms and shaking his head, we might as well saw off the limb because it’s time to crash.   

            So what is God doing?  The Psalmist tells us that God is doing three things.  First, God is providing a safe place for us.  He reminds us, “God is our refuge.”  In other words, when the world is spinning out of control God says, “Come to me.  Come away for awhile.  Rest.  Take a break.  Hide out.”

            Do you have any McGruff houses on your block or in your apartment complex?  It’s part of the national crime prevention campaign, featuring the dog McGruff who takes a bite out of crime, and someone who enrolls as a McGruff safe house for children place a sign in their window, so a child, if she or she is in danger, can go to that house and find refuge.  Parents are to instruct children as to the McGruff safe houses in their neighborhood so a child can find one quickly if they need protection or assistance.

            All of us, not just children, hunger for safe places.  Brian Wilson even wrote about it.   Remember Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys?  He wrote such American standards as  “Surfin’ USA” and “Help Me Rhonda,” and “Good Vibrations.”  He was a great songwriter, but he grew up in a emotionally abusive home.  His father was terribly critical and physically abusive to him.  But even in Wilson home there was a safe place, a place of refuge, where he could go.  Remember him singing about it?

 

            There’s a world where I can go and tell my secrets to,

            In my room, in my room.

            In this world I lock out all my worries and my fears,

            In my room, in my room.

           

            The Psalmist reminds us that God provides a similar type of place to us.  He says,

 

            God is our refuge ...

            Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change,

                        though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;

            Though it’s waters roar and foam,

                        though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

 

            In other words, when the world goes crazy around us, we can get away for awhile in God.  And the great thing about this refuge, we can take this safe place with us wherever we go.  We can access this safe place on a bus seat, in the midst of rush hour traffic, in an office filled with appointments, in a sickroom with a suffering child, at a lunch counter.  This safe place is only a prayer, a heavenly conversation away.

            Second, the Psalmist reminds us that in the midst of a stressed filled situation, God not only provides us with a safe place to retreat, but also God charges our batteries.   Remember the Psalmist words.  “God is our refuge and strength.”  God not only gives us a safe place to go, God strengthens us when we get to that place.

            Do you know what this is?  This is a battery charger for my digital camera.  When a battery gets worn out from the demands of taking pictures, I place the battery in this little protected, safe, battery refuge.  It’s sort of a battery sanctuary.  And if this battery spoke he would probably say, “I love it here.  I am protected.  I can get away from it all.  No one is using me up.  No one is draining my energy.  I like it here, and I get recharged  whenever I come here.  I get plugged into a power source and that power source energizes and strengthens me, and in the space of a couple of hours I’m as good as new.  I am ready for action.”

            And that’s what God does for us.  God not only protects us, God not only provides us with a safe place to get a way from it all, but also God strengthens us.  God charges our battery.

            I think of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Talk about stress.  His blood pressure must have been off the charts because he was sweating blood.  He was facing the cross, and he didn’t want to go, and he asked if there was a “Plan B,” a way of satisfying God’s justice without his going to the cross.  In other words, in the midst of all this stress he sought out a safe place, a place of prayer where he could shield himself from what faced him the next day.  And remember what happened?  Remember how he was strengthened and how, by morning, he was a different person?   His knees were no longer knocking.  He wasn’t worried about “Plan B.”  He found strength in Gethsemane for the work he needed to do.

            God does the same for us.  God charges our batteries.  God gives us strength. 

            Then, thirdly, when we are pressed down, at the end of our rope?  God fights for us. 

 

            God is our refuge and strength,

                        a very present help in trouble.

 

            Did you know that a very historic church hymn found its origin in this Psalm?  Have any idea what it is?  It’s Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”  Take out your hymnal and turn to page 260, and note the second verse.

 

            Did we in our own strength confide,

            our striving would be losing;

            Were not the right Man on our side,

            the man of God’s own choosing.

            Dost ask who that may be?

            Christ Jesus it is he,

            Lord Sabaoth his name,

            from age to age the same,

            and he must win the battle.

 

            When the going gets tough, when we are stressed, overwhelmed God fights for us.  Like a tag team in wrestling God steps into the ring and points to our corner and takes over. 

            So that’s what God is doing when the earth shakes beneath our feet and the seas roar and foam.  God is providing a safe place for us, God is recharging our batteries, and God is teaming with us in our fight.

            But how about us?  What’s our job in the midst of all this?  When we are stressed, when we are bothered, we are according the Psalm, we are to “Be still and know that God is God.”

            Maybe you recall Moses interview with the Holy Land Press.  An Indiana Jones type found this interview, which was lost for centuries, stuck in the pages of an in-flight magazine on a red-eye flight out of Sheboygan, Wisconsin.  Let me get someone to assume the roll of interviewer with the Holy Land Press.

 

HLP: Tell us about your conflict with the Egyptians.

M: Oh, the Egyptians ... big people.  Strong fighters.  Mean as snakes.

HLP: But you got away.

M: Not before they got washed away.

HLP: You’re referring to the Red Sea conflict?

M: Yes, I am.  That was scary.

HLP: Tell us what happened.

M: Well the Red Sea was on one side and the Egyptians were on the other.

HLP: So you attacked.

M: Are you kidding?  With a half million rock stackers?  No, my people were too afraid.  They wanted to go back to Egypt.

HLP: So you told everyone to retreat?

M: Where?  Into the water?  I didn’t have a boat.  We didn’t have anywhere to go.

HLP: What did you tell your people to do?

M:  I told them to stand still.

HLP:  You mean with the enemy coming, you told them not to move?

M: Yep, I told the people, “Stand still and you will see the Lord save you.”

HLP: Why would you want the people to stand still?

M: To get out of God’s way.  If you don’t know what to do, it’s best just to sit tight till God does his thing.

HLP: That’s an odd strategy, don’t you think?

M: It is if you are big enough for the battle.  But if you are not big enough for the battle, you want God to take over.[2]

 

            When the mountains quake, when the seas roar and foam, when the battle is too big for us, what’s God’s advice to us?  “Be still and know that I am God.”  Put into today’s vernacular God tells us, “Relax.  Rest.  Recharge and remember you are not alone in this.  I’m fighting with you.”

            As we go from there today, let us remember this:  Sometimes God calms the storm, and sometimes God calms us in the midst of the storm.  Either way, we are better people for it.

 

 



[1] Family Circle, April 5, 1994

[2] Max Lucado, When God Whispers Your Name, pp. 154-155.