Be still

Good morning, Friends!

We’ve been looking at the Psalms together for about a month now. This got started because at our Wednesday night Bible study, it turned out that people weren’t familiar with most of them. A few people remembered Psalm 23, but that was about it.

Reminds me of something that happened at a Sunday school. They had a very active program, and one of the things they used to do was to get the kids to memorize Bible verses.

This one little boy they had was a real live wire. Always saying something funny without realizing it. Kind of like a few kids we have here at Springfield.

Anyway, one week they had all the kids up in front of the meeting so they could share their memory verses. This one little boy must have been giving the teacher a lot of problems, and she must have decided to go for the bare minimum.

So, when it was his turn, this little boy stood up in front of the whole church, and shouted out, “The Lord is my shepherd, and THAT’S ALL I NEED TO KNOW!”

I guess when you come right down to it, that is all we need to know. But I think we really ought to get to know the Psalms just a little better than that. So, this month we’re reading a different Psalm every week, and I hope that some of you may remember a verse here or a few words there, and claim them as your own.

The first Sunday we looked at Psalm 19, with its beautiful message:

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.

They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.

Yes, God really exists, and God is all around us. Another week we looked at Psalm 139, which talks about how God knows everything and sees everything. The words I encouraged you to remember were:

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.

We looked at Psalm 23, the “Good shepherd” psalm. Last week we looked at Psalm 33, which says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord!”

This morning, we’re going to turn to Psalm 46, which talks about trust, and faith, and courage.

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, 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.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within [the city], she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.

Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
God lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

– Psalm 46

Quakers are the ones who are supposed to know all about quiet and stillness. You know, in case of an emergency, Quakers say, “Sit down!”

Quakers seem to feel that just about any problem in the world can be solved with just a little more quiet prayer or a little more time to think. Our all-purpose remedy for most of the problems of the world is, “Just take 30 minutes of silence and turn your problem over to a committee, and call me back in six months.”

Anyway, I started out this week thinking about all of the different things which throw us off-balance and upset us – the family emergencies, the disasters we’re always hearing about in the news, conflicts of all kinds, financial worries, you name it. And then I started remembering a bunch of different Bible passages which basically say, “Be still”.

Quakers are supposed to know about quiet and inner peace, but we don’t always practice what we preach. George Fox, the founder of the Quaker movement, was always counseling people to step back, to get centered, to go into the quiet, and wait for God to show the way. But Quakers are just as capable of getting anxious and upset as everyone else.

That hymn we sang just a few minutes ago is based the Psalm we read today. “Be still, and know that I am God. . .” That’s pretty good advice sometimes.

Part of anxiety is feeling that there are just too many things which are all going wrong at once. Sometimes, it’s one really big thing which has gone wrong, which completely dominates our physical or spiritual landscape. We keep trying over and over in our minds to figure what to do.

We worry over and over about what somebody else is going to say. We worry and worry, until we’re almost sick and distracted. The thing we’re worried about grows and grows in our thoughts and in our imagination, until we forget about everything else we do, and everything we want to be.

And God’s advice is, “Be still, and know that I am God. . .

Remember who God is. Remember what God has done, in your own life and in the lives of other people of faith. Remember what Jesus promised – “I will be with you always, even to the end of the world. . .” Remember all of God’s other promises. Remember God’s teaching. Remember God’s words of love.

But don’t just remember things from the past. The advice in this morning’s reading is supposed to draw us into the present. “Be still and know that I am God. . .

We need to stop, and take our foot off the gas for a while, and turn off the key in the ignition, and turn off the radio, and roll down the windows, and get out of the car, we realize that we’re not running the whole world.

Who is running the world? God is. The Bible is always saying that God makes the sun rise and set every day, that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, that God feeds the birds and dresses the flowers, that God was there when all the morning stars sang together for joy.

Being physically still helps. All the rushing around we do, all the restless activity, all the errands and e-mail and texting and business and busy-ness, gets in the way of our being present with God. We need a full day off, every week, to rest and to remember who made the world, who it is that cares for us, who it is who saves us.

I am probably not the best person to be telling you all this. I’m very detail oriented, and some of my best friends tell me that I’m a micro-manager. Sitting still comes hard to me.

When my wife and I are out eating at a restaurant, I usually eat faster than she does. My wife likes to linger, and I usually finish at least 5 or 10 minutes before she’s done with her meal. I’ll be sitting there with one foot under the table and the other foot out, ready to head over to the cashier, while she’s still enjoying her dessert or peacefully finishing her beverage. And she’ll say to me, “Stop tapping your foot at me! We’re not in a hurry! We’ve got plenty of time! And besides – you’re here with me, aren’t you?”

And she’s right, of course. The whole point of going out to dinner is to spend time with someone whose company you enjoy. The waiters can wait. That’s their job. Sit back, don’t get up, take a little more time, and remember that you’re here to enjoy yourself with someone you care about.

The same thing is true for us with prayer. We’re so busy. We’re so anxious. Even when we’re praying, we’ve got one foot out the door, ready to head off to the next thing.

But isn’t it supposed to be a joy, for us to spend time with God? Isn’t it supposed to be a relief, to lay our burdens down for a while? Isn’t it supposed to be an unmixed pleasure, a delight, for us to stop and refresh and renew our spirit?

What’s the big hurry? When we’re eating out, or doing something with someone we love, isn’t it nice just to look at them, and for them to look at us, and see each other again?

Do you remember how when we were kids, adults would say, “Just look at you! My, how you’ve grown!”

Wouldn’t it be nice to take time instead with God, and hear God say the same thing to us? “Look at you! My, how you’ve grown! How you’ve grown spiritually, and emotionally, and intellectually! How you’ve grown in kindness, and generosity, and thoughtfulness!”

Wouldn’t it be great to hear God tell us those things? Wouldn’t it be great for us to look at God again, to see how much God cares for us, to know that God listens to us?
All we’ve got to do sometimes is just be still.

There are many other verses from the Bible about stillness, which say the same thing in different ways.

In the book of Exodus, Moses and the people of Israel were standing by the shore of the Red Sea. The army of Pharaoh was hurrying towards them, and the people of Israel knew that they were all going to be killed, or recaptured and taken back into slavery. Their enemies were on one side of them, and the ocean was on the other side. There was no way out. And Moses told the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The enemies you see today, you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.

And that’s what happened. The people of Israel didn’t have to do a thing.

So many times I’ve prepared for a fight with someone I disagreed with. And God laid a hand on me and said, “I don’t want you to speak. Just be quiet. Let me do the work this time.”

It’s like God told the people of Israel – “The LORD will fight your battle for you; you need only to be still.” Sometimes that’s good advice.

Another one of the Psalms, Psalm 4, says, “In your anger, do not sin; meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still.”

I suffer from insomnia a lot. I don’t know if it’s my age, or anxiety, or if the cat jumps on me and wakes me up, or a fire truck going by, or what. But I wake up in the middle of the night, and then I can’t get back to sleep for a couple of hours.

It’s really aggravating, because I sometimes go for a week at a time with only 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night. I can function, but I really don’t feel good the next day. I can take a nap, but that only makes it harder to get a full night of sleep next time.

I’ve tried all kinds of things that my doctor and books and articles recommend. None of them seem to help much. I get up and read, I get myself a snack, I go on-line and read the news – using the computer is a very bad way to get back to sleep, by the way! Usually I go a week or two before I remember that one of the best ways to relax and get back to sleep and wake up refreshed, is to pray.

When I pray in the middle of the night, no one interrupts me. I can take all the time I want. I can pray for all the people on my personal prayer list. I can thank God for all the ways I’ve been helped and blessed. I can think about new ideas, and let God give me clues about whether they’re good or bad.

Instead of being tired and frustrated and worn down, praying in the middle of the night helps me get back to sleep again, and it usually makes the next day a whole lot better. By the end of my prayer, whether it’s ten minutes or an hour, I’m quiet inside.

If you share my problem with insomnia, try some advice from the Bible: “Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still.”

Someone else in the Bible who knew about this was the prophet Isaiah. When people were anxious and frightened, and it seemed as if God was abandoning them, Isaiah said, “Thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.’”

Those are good words to remember at any time. They’re especially good words for us to remember today.

We are never saved by anxiety. We are never saved by our fear and stress. We are almost never saved by that primitive impulse we all have to fight or run away – the “fight or flight” instinct, that kicks our adrenaline up and makes our heart race and pound.

We are saved, as Isaiah says, by rest and returning, by turning back to God, from whatever place we’ve been. Our strength – our real strength – isn’t physical, but spiritual. The strength that really matters most comes from trust and confidence and a quiet heart and a mind at peace.

And when we can’t create that peace ourselves, when God helps us. There’s a story in the gospel, where Jesus and his friends were out on the lake in a small boat, and a storm came up. If you’ve ever been in that situation, you know how scary it can be.

The waves seem so big, and the wind and the storm are beyond your control. It’s overwhelming. And in the morning story, it says that Jesus stood up in the boat, and scolded the wind, and said, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

That story is a parable for all of us.  One of the most frequent images in early Christian paintings and mosaics, was the story of Jesus calming the storm. The early Christians felt this was a metaphor, both for their trials and suffering, but also for how Jesus helped them.

I want you to remember all the different Scriptures we’ve talked about this morning.
They’re all saying the same thing, and they’re all reminding us of something important in our spiritual lives.

We aren’t saved by worry or anxiety. We aren’t saved by thrashing around in our minds, until we’re exhausted. We’re not saved by staying up all night, tossing and turning. Here’s what the Bible says to us:

  •  Be still, and know that I am God
  • Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still.
  • Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. . . The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.
  • In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.
  • Peace! Be still!

Let’s take all this into our time of open worship this morning.

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