The last two years have been the hardest of my life. Those months, days, and seconds were “interesting” to say the least. If you will allow me to, I’d like to share with you a little bit about that time. To give you some background information, I had just received my first call as a pastor after the 8 years required at Martin Luther College and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. To my delight, I was called to Salem Lutheran Church in Stillwater, MN. Does that place sound familiar to all of you? Oh good. After three months, things were running smoothly. I had a lot to learn, but I was so excited to spread the Word of God and to try new ideas and urge the congregation to get involved and...well...all that was cut short. In October of 2017, I suddenly came down with some sort of illness. I had pain running all the way up and down both legs. It felt like I was being constantly electrocuted. The pain affected my concentration and ability to serve as a pastor. I would forget how to speak correctly and struggle to make sense of simple things. I could no longer sleep at night. During certain periods, I couldn’t remember what was even happening in my life. It was bad. Often, I had no clue what was going on. I’d blank out for large periods of time, then come to and realize I was trying to put my shoes in the refrigerator or about to take a bite out of a heating pack. I was losing vision in my right eye. Some days I couldn’t even move my legs at all. This is not how I envisioned the beginning of my pastoral ministry. Let’s look part of verse two and three of our Psalm for today.
“...though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.”
That’s what it felt like! Like my world was crumbling away. It felt as if there was no steady ground for me to stand on and anything I did caused another ripple of trouble to cascade through my life and turn everything upside down. I wish I could find the words to describe it to you, but all I can think of was it just plain stunk. People would tell me they understood, but how could they? They weren’t going through what I was going through. Nobody understood... NOBODY really understood at all.
And I was mad. See, when I got out of Seminary, Me and God, we had a deal. The deal was that I was going to spread his life-giving Word to a whole bunch of people. I was going to tell everybody about Jesus. I was going to teach people how Jesus died for their sins, how their faith in him was an avenue for his grace to them, how God wants all people to be saved. And all God had to do for his side of the bargain was to keep me healthy and completely happy...and make me the best pastor ever. I realize now that it was only my plan I was trying to push God into. That wasn’t his plan. But I didn’t realize it then. And I was so miserable I was ready to die. What good was I doing there? I just wanted him to end it.
Some of you are probably horrified by what I just said, but others of you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you’ve ever been in excruciating pain and someone came and said to you, “I’m sure it’s not that bad” or “I understand” did that make you feel better? Probably not, because even though they meant well, they didn’t know. They couldn’t possibly know what you were going through. Or some of you out there have lost a child. I want to say I get it, that I feel your pain, but I can’t. I can’t possibly imagine what you’ve had to endure. Those of you who had to say goodbye to your spouse after 50 some years of marriage. We can empathize, but unless we’ve gone through the same thing, we can’t even begin to feel the pain you have to live with each day. Or those of you who have experienced spousal unfaithfulness. That empty feeling and betrayal that replaced the hole where you heart should be is something most people will never understand. None of us truly understands what is going on in another person’s life because we are not them. You are not me and I am not you. And life is simply more painful for some than it is for others. For some, the days just seem too hard to bear.
The worst thing is, that pain and sadness is what we deserve. Because of the sins we have committed, I don’t get to say, “This is unfair” or “This is unjust!” Ephesians 2:3 tells me, “we were by nature deserving of wrath.” And I think that’s the worst part; knowing that everything we’ve gone through is exactly what we deserve. In our relationships with God, it’s not him who doesn’t hold up his end of the relationship. It’s us. We sinned against him and we are not holy enough to deserve anything good from a perfectly holy God.
I think that is what it is to have the world crashing down around you. I think that is what it is to feel what the Psalmists felt when they wrote this Psalm. The pain and guilt is so horrible that no one understands. No one, except one.
It’s ironic that the one person in this world who didn’t deserve any pain and didn’t have any guilt was the one to take all of ours on for us. If there was one person who shouldn’t have had to go through that, It was Jesus, but in his perfection and holiness, he chose to take it all on for us. He took our place, lived the life we were supposed and died as a substitute for our sins. He applied his perfection to all of us so that we are all holy in the eyes of God. He did this because he truly understands us and has mercy. He has our back and our soul.
I mean just look at the Bible and you can see that Jesus empathizes with our weaknesses. He understood temptation, poverty, frustration, weariness, disappointment, sadness, sorrow, ridicule, loneliness, and pain because he experienced each one of those and yet he did not sin. I mean, just listen to some of the thing Jesus said. Recorded for us in Matthew 26:38, he says, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” I don’t know about you, but that sounds like someone who really gets it.
And the best part is he cares about you. Not only does he get it, but when a tear falls from your eyes, it is like an earthquake to him. The reverberations hit him in the deepest parts of his inmost being. His heart goes out to you, he truly understands, and he has the power to do something about it.
Let’s check out the first part of Psalm 46 again.
“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.”
The world is crumbling all around and then the Psalmist changes the scene to the city of God. And do you notice something? Even with the whole world in turmoil, the city of God remains untouched. Not even a tiny ripple of trouble has reached the river next to it. The people are glad because they have life-giving water. Their city will never fall because the Lord Almighty is with his people. We are his people! That’s Our God!
Our God is an impenetrable fortress protecting us, sustaining us, and holding us up. This Psalm is not a song about misery. It is a song of hope, celebrating the certain triumph of God’s kingdom. The only people falling in the end are the people outside of the city of God. These are people that won’t acknowledge his sovereignty and set themselves against him, not believers. Believers are safe within his arms.
And to emphasize that point even further, I want to take a look at the word “Almighty.” In the Hebrew, the word used here literally means hosts. Hosts can refer to the stars of heaven, to the angels of heaven, or, less often, to the armies of Israel. A king who rules over these forces rules over everything. The NIV translates “almighty” because what it really means is that we have a God who rules over every aspect of the entire universe. So when he says he will be a fortress for you, you know that nothing has the power to change that.
I want to jump back to that Psalm for a second here, starting at verse 9.
“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.”
Right now, we live in a sinful world so the war is happening. Good vs. evil is constantly battling all around us, even within us. We experience pain and heartbreak like no other, not necessarily as punishment, but simply because we live in a world filled with sin. But one day, it won’t be like that anymore. God has the power to break the bow and burn the shield. In other words, God is going to cause this war to be over and replace it with peace. In heaven, there will be no more pain and we will constantly be praising God out of thankfulness to him. He has already won the victory for us on the cross.
So what do we do until we get to heaven, while the pain here still seems like more than we can bear? God has the answer for us. He says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” God says this to our enemies as if to say, “You can’t do anything to my people so why even bother? I will stop you right in your tracks.” He also says the same phrase to us with a different meaning. “Be still and know that I am God.” Can I offer a more contemporary translation of that for you? “Chill out, I got this.” The God who rules over all things has a plan for you and this life. I wish I could tell you exactly what it is, but I don’t know. He doesn’t always tell us the details of his plan. He does tell us two things. 1. His plan is better than ours. Our small perspective is nothing compared to his. It’s like when we look at a piece of the puzzle. It’s really hard to tell what the big picture will be just looking at a single piece. But when someone can see the final result it all makes sense. God sees all things and promises to use all the moving parts of this world, both good and bad, for the benefit of our souls. 2. The plan ends with you being in his impenetrable fortress, his city of peace. He wants you there in heaven with him.
If there’s one thing I want you to take from this sermon, this is what I want you to remember. Whatever you are going through in your life right now, God can work it out for good. He will weave it into his intricate plan. He doesn’t always tell us the details of his plan, but he assures us of the end goal of the plan: that we can be in heaven with him because of Jesus’s death and resurrection. The God who loves us so much he was willing to die for us certainly has our best interests at heart, even if we can’t always see it. Take comfort in what he tells us. “Be still, and know that I am God.” God has your back and your soul. Amen.