“Our Strength & Refuge” (Ps 46:1-11)

Reading a newspaper or watching the news on TV can be a depressing experience sometimes, can’t it? So often they carry news of conflict, disaster and downright evil. News of human behaviour and the natural world at their worst.

The writer of our Psalm this morning lived long before facebook, twitter and 24 hour news channels, but he was well aware of the conflict and chaos that can engulf our world. Its clear from the first three verses of this Psalm that its author is familiar with all sorts of trouble and disaster:

  • Natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes that can make the “mountains quake” and the “waters roar”.
  • And personal troubles like bereavement, ill-health or redundancy that can make the earth seem to “give way” beneath our feet. They are things that can shake us to the core.
  • Armed conflicts and political crises were familiar dangers to our Psalmist too, because in verse 8 he writes of “nations in uproar”, and “kingdoms falling”. In our day he might have mentioned the civil war in Syria, the conflict in Yemen, or the threat of global terrorism.

On this special Remembrance Sunday – a century after the end of World War 1 – we all share the psalmist’s hope (in verse 9) that “wars will cease to the ends of the earth”.

Faced with such instability and uncertainty in our world, it is natural for us to seek safety, security and refuge, isn’t it? But sadly, so many people look in all the wrong places:

  • For example, many pursue ‘retail therapy’ by seeking contentment in consumer goods. They seek happiness in their material possessions and accumulated assets. But consumerism can provide no long-term contentment, no satisfying answers, no lasting hope.
  • Others put their faith in the government to help them in the face of financial hardship, failing health or foreign aggression. But no government is all-powerful or completely competent. No government has enough resources to guarantee total peace and prosperity to its citizens.
  • And so, many people look to themselves for security, whether it’s their own bank balance, their own insurance policy, their personal pension plan or their innate abilities. But inflation, the taxman and the march of time all take their toll in the end.

Against all these alternatives, our Psalm this morning tells us that only the Lord can truly help us in our troubled and war-torn world. It reminds us that only God can be our “refuge and strength” in the face of adversity.

The author of Psalm 46 wants to persuade us that God, and only God, can be both our present help and our eternal saviour. He wants us all to turn to the Lord to find security in the present and hope for the future. Let’s briefly look at both in turn.

1. Our Present Help

Firstly, our psalmist begins by promising that God can help us through all the twists and turns of this present life. In short, he can be our “ever-present help in trouble”.

You see, the God of the Bible is not a distant deity, but a person who loves to help his people. The living God is willing and able to sustain all who turns to him. Through his promises in Scripture, in answer to prayer, and through the ministry of his Church, the Lord is able to bring strength and comfort to his people.

Its interesting that verse 5 of our psalm promises that God will help his people at the ‘break of day’. That promise was most fully and wonderfully fulfilled at the ‘break of day’ on the first Easter day. That dawn in Jerusalem when Jesus’ disciples discovered the Empty Tomb. That morning when God miraculously intervened in history to raise his Son from the grave. And because of his death and resurrection, The Lord Jesus can offer us forgiveness for our past and a new beginning for our lives – if we will come to him in faith.

But forgiveness isn’t the only present help that God offers us. Verses 4 and 5 of our psalm also remind us that the Lord loves to dwell in the midst of his people, he delights to be present with his people as they face the trials and temptations of this world.

As we heard in our Gospel reading, God has done this by sending his Holy Spirit. A Holy Spirit who dwells within the heart of every believer in Jesus Christ. A Holy Spirit who can guide Christians through this war-torn world. A Holy Spirit who will be a source of strength and a comforting presence. He can give every Christian an inner peace that no shopping spree, pension plan or government policy could possibly deliver.

2. Our Eternal Saviour

As well as being our present help, the Lord can be our eternal Saviour as well. We need God’s help for the future as much as for today.

In our war-torn world, with so much sin, conflict and death, we all need hope for the future. Something to look forward to. And the great promise at the end of our Psalm today is that one day all wars will be ended, all weapons silenced, and every wrong made right. The whole Bible is clear that there will be a great day of reckoning by God, a day when evil will be judged and jettisoned, a day when the world will be recycled, restored and renewed.

Our Psalm promises that on that great day the Lord will “break the bow and shatter the spear, and burn the shields with fire”. He will disarm every army and overthrow every evil regime. On that day, God will tell the whole world to “Be still” – to be quiet, to recognise him as its rightful ruler – as its “exalted” king. On that day every war will cease. Natural disaster and disease will be destroyed. Even death will be defeated, and every Christian will enjoy eternal life forever.

Ten days ago I was able to go on-board a prototype of Concorde, based at Brooklands Museum in Surrey. This Concorde prototype flew in the early 1970s, and was used to prove that the innovative design was airworthy. It was flown to show that supersonic passenger flight was possible.

In a similar way, one New Testament story provides us a foretaste, a prototype of the peace that the Lord will one day bring to the whole world. Remember what Jesus said to the wind and the waves, when he and the disciples were stuck in a terrifying storm on the Sea of Galilee? Jesus stood up in the boat and said “Be still” – and suddenly all was calm. The wind and waves were silenced, just as the guns fell silent on the Western front one hundred years ago today.

Wonderfully, one day the Lord Jesus will say “Be still!” to every part of creation. One day all conflict, strife and suffering will end. One day God’s kingdom will truly come, and he will be its king.

But is he your king, I wonder? And so as we await that great day, can I encourage us all to learn the lesson from our Psalm this morning. Ask the Lord Jesus for forgiveness for your past, for his Holy Spirit’s help in the present, and for hope for the future. On this Remembrance day – and every day – make him your refuge and your strength.

Let’s pray: Father God, thank you that you are a refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Help us all to come to Jesus for forgiveness, help and hope. In his name we pray, Amen.

Phil Weston