I have written in my Bible a little note next to Psalm 46. It’s in green ink and it says, “Duke Medical Center – 2/19/92.” And then in parentheses I have, “Mom is dying.”
And then highlighted in a green highlighter pen it says, “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 the waters roar and foam, and the mountains quake with their surging.”
That was 1992 and I was at the Brown Shoe Inn with all my family, my mom went in for just a very normal checkup. She had battled a very rare blood disease in the lupus family. She took only an overnight bag. It was just for some additional tests and she never left.
I got a call, she got a systemic infection in her blood and we did what families do. Before long, they were talking about amputating huge body parts to save her life. She was on life support. And we stayed in a little room, like many of you have been in, next to the ICU where you discuss and try and figure out when do you pull the plug and why?
And then, you begin to deal with issues in your heart and in your life, internally, that you’ve never thought about until then. Especially when it happens to be a real key family member. My mom was the glue of our family. She held everything together.
And then as you sit there in quietness with brothers and sisters and some relatives and father, you deal with family issues you’ve never dealt with in all the years that you’ve been there.
And I needed God, up to that point in my life, more than I ever needed Him. And I experienced more of God in 1992, up to that point, than I’ve ever experienced.
I learned that God is my refuge, that God would be my internal strength giving me moment by moment whatever I needed to go through, facing inward issues and external issues, and that He was available. He was a very, very present help in my time of trouble. Therefore, I didn’t have to be afraid.
What I experienced is what God desires all of His children to experience in various times of need.
And we’re going to look at Psalm 46 because I think if there’s a classic portion of Scripture about how to overcome fear when we’re paralyzed and overwhelmed by fear, I think it’s Psalm 46. But this will be the first of eight that we’re going to look at.
And what I long to do, and the reason I’ve chosen this is I believe we’re living in a day where there is incredible need. We’re living in times of amazing uncertainty, sometimes we get so busy day to day, you forget what’s going on. There are issues in the Middle East that could break any moment. Terrorists, and some countries that have never had nuclear capability, have it now.
We’re seeing things line up with Europe moving in situations and their economy with Asia and everything is so interlinked. We’ve watched the stock market, we don’t even think about it when it drops and goes up a hundred points in a day.
We are living in uncertain times. And not only that, we live in uncertain times when I believe the view of God among believers, let alone unbelievers, has fallen to an all time low.
So, when we really have trouble, when we really have a need, we run to God but we don’t even know what He’s like. And we not only do we not know what He’s like, we don’t know how to experience Him. We’re living in a world of almost biblical illiteracy.
People don’t know where to go in the Scripture and once they get there, how do you experience God? He wants to meet you. You hear He wants to love you. He wants to uphold you. But you know what? That doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
And so my dream, when we get done with this series, is that you will have eight stakes, eight stakes that, when you have these critical times of need that I believe everyone will have sometime in their life, that you will know, when fear begins to grip your heart, you can open your Bible to Psalm 46, and you can drive a stake and you can go through Psalm 46 and you’ll know, that truth, God will meet you. And week by week we’ll look and we’ll see.
Now, you have fears and I have fear. What do we mean by fear? Webster says, “Fear, literally, is sudden attack. It’s a feeling of anxiety and agitation caused by the presence or nearness of danger, evil, or pain. It’s to be frightened, timid, apprehension, terror, or dread.” It’s to have those feelings.
Now, for some of you, you’re concerned about your loved ones, for others of you that feeling of fear comes when you think about the future, for some you have fears concerning your marriage, for others you have fears because you’re not married.
Some have fears of being alone, some have fears of the dark, some of you struggle with panic attacks and no one knows it. You lose your breath. Some of you hate crowds and overwhelmed by fear. Some of you are just fearful of loneliness and when everyone leaves you turn things on all over the house.
Others of you have financial fears, job fears, you have fears about aging parents, you’ve got fears about your kids and how they’re going to turn out and who they’re running around with.
You have fears about retirement and how you’ll ever pay the bills. You have fears about where you’re going to live and if you can keep affording what you’re doing.
But there’s one fear, I think, that’s universal. When you hear the word, when you go to the doctor and you hear this one word, fear strikes your heart. Because it happens to six and eight year olds and it happens to sixty-eight year olds. And that word is, “cancer.”
I’ll never forget, about three, four years ago or so, a family that I have known well and a young man that I was very close to had medical problems, had a lot of ups and downs. And they could never figure out what was going on.
They did the GI test and the whole battery of tests. They could never quite figure it out. And I remember vividly the day when they found out what was wrong. And they let him know he had cancer.
And his mom and dad were there in the hospital room and I got word and I was in my car over to Dominican Hospital to meet with them. And I did exactly what you would do if you were in the car. What do you say to a mom and dad, let alone a twenty-two year old boy who just found out he has cancer?
And at this point, obviously, they don’t know exactly what kind, they don’t know the implications, “Is this one of those low-grade kind? Is this a life-threatening kind?” You know, all those were unknowns.
But imagine yourself in a hospital room with all the dreams you have of your son and your family and all your schedule comes to a screeching halt. And my job was to be their pastor.
And so I drove and I prayed, and I said, “Lord, what do I say? I don’t have any resources that can help them but I know You do. What could You give me that I could give to them so they could experience God?”
And I walked in the room and we had a little chit chat and then I sat on the edge of the bed and I opened up my Bible to Psalm 46.
Well, why don’t you just listen to it first and then I’ll give you an overview of it. Imagine yourself in your time of great, great fear and listen to what God would say to you.
It says, “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 her, she will not fall; God will help her at the break of day. Nations are in an uproar, kingdoms fall; He lifts His voice, and the earth melts.”
And then the refrain, “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Come, and see the works of the Lord, the desolations He has brought on the earth. He makes wars to cease to the ends of the earth; He breaks the bow, he shatters the spear, He burns the shields with fire. Be still, be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
And then the refrain again, “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”
As we look at this Psalm, I want to give you a little overview. At the top, notice it says, “A song of hope and confidence.” See, every Psalm was actually, it was a song. This is the hymnal of the Old Testament. When they got together and they did worship, they didn’t do choruses, or they didn’t have eighteenth century hymns because it wasn’t the eighteenth century.
They sang out of the book of Psalms. And this is a song of deliverance and confidence for life’s darkest era.
And there are a few musical cues that let you know where the stanzas are. Notice the little word on the right at the edge of each stanza: Selah. And the word “Selah” means, it’s a musical term but it means a pause and it means a point of quiet reflection.
And so that tells you where the first stanza, pause; second stanza, pause; third stanza, pause.
Martin Luther made this famous. In fact, as you read commentaries most of them will have either the entire story or in one commentary it says, “Psalm 46: Martin Luther’s song.” The old hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, was taken from this Psalm when Martin Luther’s life was on the line. He was condemned to death and he went up into a bell tower and was waiting to be executed and he penned A Mighty Fortress Is Our God as he, in his time of fear, went to Psalm 46.
What I want to do is read each section and then I want to give you a lesson from it and develop the text so that when we leave, you will understand it and you will know how to experience God in your time when fear paralyzes you.
The first three verses talk about God, our source of hope. Now, follow along if you have a teaching handout, why don’t you go ahead and pull that out.
It says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble.” That’s who He is. Now, notice the “therefore.” Since that’s true, “Therefore we will not fear,” and now get this. He takes the two most indestructible, stable things that He can think of, and by way of hyperbole, He says, “If all the pillars in your life, of all the things that we know we can count on, even if they are removed, it doesn’t matter because God is consistent.”
“Therefore though the earth give way and the mountains would fall into the heart of the sea; and though its waters roar and foam, and the mountains quake with their surging,” what’s He saying? God and God alone is your only security. That’s the theme. God is our source.
Here’s the life lesson. The life lesson is we don’t have to be afraid because God is for us. In verses 1, 7, and 11 there is an interesting, little phrase. The literal translation, if you have a pen you might mark out when it says, “God is our refuge.”
A literal rendering is, “God is for us, a refuge.” And then it’s, “God is for us, a strength.” See, you do not have to be afraid because God is for you. He is not against you. He is not waiting for you to mess up.
When you’re in trouble and you realize eighty percent of the trouble you brought on yourself, God doesn’t have His arms crossed and smiling saying, “See? Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.” That’s a childhood picture but it’s not a biblical one.
God is for you. He wants to meet you. Now, what exactly is He for you? Three things out of these first, three verses. First for you, He is a refuge. A refuge is a defensive place of protection. It takes care of the external issues. A refuge is where you can run to and once you get inside, you can shut the door, ahhh, and you’re okay.
God says He is for you. He will be a refuge. Not a big, steel building. Not some tunnel underground that has rocks all around it and food storage, but bigger than that! The God of the universe says, “I, personally, will be your refuge. You can come in to Me, and I will wrap My arms around you and I won’t let anything touch you. I will be for you a refuge.”
But that’s not all. Not only does He promise external protection, but notice He will be for you a strength. This is provision from within. This is the power to endure. By the way, He only gives us minute by minute, moment by moment.
He is not a strength for tomorrow. There is no such thing as hypothetical grace. See, we all worry about tomorrow. What about the job tomorrow? What if this relationship goes south in a month. What if I don’t have…?
And we get all anxious, we get all uptight, we get fearful. You know why? There is no grace in tomorrow. How do you know tomorrow is even coming? Your only responsibility, my only responsibility, is trust God for today. And He says He will be your strength.
If you need this much grace to make it through this hour, that’s how much grace you get. If the next hour it gets tougher, you need that much grace, that’s how much grace you get.
Moment by moment, He says, “For you, I will be your strength.” But then you might say to yourself, “Ah, I bet that’s only for superstars. I bet that’s only very selective. I bet God only gives that in real extreme situations.”
And so notice the third thing He is for you. He is for you an ever, or very, present help. When? In time of trouble. It means He is readily available in trouble no matter how great, no matter how hard.
Luther was in that tower, and he was sentenced to die. He had an agreement at the Diet at Worms when he was debating whether you could stand on Scripture alone or Scripture and the interpretations of the traditions of the church.
And they said, “Let’s discuss it. And when we get discussing it, you’re free to go.” They condemned him. They went back on their word and he was in a tower. And he was going to be executed the following morning.
And he prayed over this passage and God met him. And in confidence he said, “A mighty fortress is our God.” And when they put him on a wagon to take him from the tower to where he was going to be executed, a band of his followers came on horseback, swooped him off, took him to a German castle, and there he hid and there was a baron in the castle who had his own army, and for a year he hid out in the castle.
And in his downtime, he translated the New Testament into German. And for the first time in history, the Bible was put in the language of the common man. Amazing.
See, God showed up for him. And God will show up for you.
You might ask though, like, “How does it work?” How does it specifically happen that God is your refuge. Do you have ooey-gooey feelings? Do you just have a mystical mist that comes in the room? I mean, how does it work for Him to be my strength and my refuge and be available?
Well, verses 4 to 7 are going to answer that question and here it is. Here’s what God says. His presence, God’s presence, is the reason for your hope.
See, what He says is He will show up, right where you’re at, in His supernatural presence, He will be with you. He will enter in with you, in relationship, in your fear, in your trouble, in your hurt, in your anxiety, and He will enter in it with you and His presence, His very presence will sustain you.
Listen as I read. Now, as I read this, notice, this is written for a Jewish audience. It’s written by David. He is going to use some phrases that, at first shot, you’re going to say, “I don’t get it.” You’ll get it in a minute, okay?
“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her presence, she will not fall; God will help her, His presence, at the break of day. Nations are in an uproar, kingdoms fall;” contrast, “but He lifts His voice, and the earth melts.” He’s in control. “The Lord Almighty,” literally, the Lord of hosts, the Lord Sabaoth. It means the Lord with all of His armies, all of His resources. The Lord of hosts, where is He? He’s with us, literally, it’s the same way, it’s He’s for us. “The God of Jacob is our fortress.”
Life lesson from this: God’s presence provides an unlimited supply of joy, protection, security, and deliverance even in the midst of our most severe adversity.
God’s presence, He Himself is going to enter into your life and He has an unlimited supply, did you hear the word I used? It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Of joy, protection, security, and deliverance even in the midst of your most severe trouble.
Let me ask you before I go on, what would that be? If I gave one of those markers to everyone in the room and we had a whiteboard and I said, “Would you walk up and write on the whiteboard, what’s your greatest fear?” What would you write?