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Trusting God in Times of Crisis

It's not easy to "be still and know that I am God" in the middle of crisis. But the rest of this psalm gives us clues how we can do just that.


What do you do when life takes you all the way out to the ragged edge of reality?

I grew up with a guy named Craig Stillwell. We were good friends through high school. We went to college together. We both fell in love with beautiful named Marty. We had a lot in common. Then I went to seminary, and he went in the Air Force.

When I got out of seminary I took my first church, coincidentally, in the town where Craig and Marty were stationed. Except now, Craig and Marty had decided to walk on the wild side. They didn't seem to care about God.

As God does, he chased them down. They left the wild side for God's side and recommitted themselves to Jesus Christ. They started attending our church. As they grew in the Lord, they started teaching a class.

Then God gripped them and they decided to go to Haiti and work with juvenile delinquents. They would be our first missionaries from this little church.

About three weeks after they were there, in the middle of the night I got a call from Marty.

"Today Craig dove into the swimming pool," she said. "Unbeknownst to him it was the shallow end, and his head hit the bottom. I watched it happen. I saw his back rise to the surface, with blood swirling around his head. We pulled him out and ran him to a hospital in PPrince. He's unconscious." She said, "His head is like a swollen balloon. And the doctor just told me he may not live through the night."

A couple hours later I got another call, Marty was weeping. "Joe, Craig died." There she was: , alone, no family, no friends, in the dirty ward of a rough hospital weeping the loss of her husband. A widow.

What do you do when life takes you all the way to the ragged edge of reality?


God's Word to us when we're on the ragged edge of reality: Relax.

You're saying, "Stowell, you must never have been to the ragged edge of reality. Because if you'd been there, you'd know that the last thing you can do is relax.

It's not what I'm telling you. It's what God's Word tells us. God is saying when you get out there, relax. Notice verse 10: "Cease striving and know that I am God." The King James version says, "Be still and know that I am God." I always thought this verse meant stop being antsy. I think it was what inspired my mother in church to tell me, "Sit still." I still have fingerprint marks embedded in my knee. My mother used to squeeze and say, "Would you sit still."

So I had the impression that that's what God was telling us to I discovered the Hebrew text. "To cease striving" or "to be still" literally means to relax. The word is graphic in its metaphors. It means "to let go, to let your arms down to your side." Metaphorically we want to use our hands to control and push the right buttons or use our arms to defend ourselves. Think how vulnerable you feel when you drop your arms, let go, cease striving, and relax. That's what God says.

Those of you who live on the edge of cynicism are probably saying, "There it goes again, God telling me to do impossible things." Thankfully God doesn't say just to cease striving. He describes how to do that on the ragged edge of reality. He says, "Be still and know" There is something I can know to help me cease my striving in the midst of difficulty.

It's interesting that our first response to difficulty is emotive. Many times our emotional responses tend to drive the engines of our actions and reactions. God says we need to respond by what we know, what we know to be true. He calls for a cognitive response.

My favorite sporting moment was at Lake Placid, the 1980 Winter Olympics.

In 1980, America was in the ditch. The economy was in the ditch. The Cold War was in its fury; Russia seemed bigger, more powerful than us. Our hostages were being held in Iran. Under the cover of night, we sent our crack troops to rescue them, and their helicopters crashed in a desert sandstorm.

And America entertained the world at the Olympics in Lake Placid. Part of the venue was hockey.

I remember coming home from church the Sunday that America was playing Russia. It was in the end of the first period, and we were beating the Russians.


All of a sudden I realized my stomach was in a knot. My knuckles were white, and I had this anxiety about the game. All through the second period we were ahead. Going into the third period, I knew what would happen. Russia would score five goals at the end of the game, beat us, and we would be embarrassed again. But we won!

It was such a big deal that the national networks played it again. Marty and I watched the whole thing Sunday night. Only this time I didn't have a knot in my stomach. I leaned back on the couch and put my feet up. It was the same game, same sequences, same everything. What made the difference? It was something I knew that made the difference.

I could relax because I knew the outcome. You're saying, "If God tells me the outcomes of my crises, I'll relax too." But he rarely does that, does he?

The psalm is not saying we can cease striving because we know how it's going to work out, but we know the God who will work it out. Knowing God is better than knowing the outcomes.

There was an ad with a guy sitting in a New Orleans restaurant with this huge bowl of Cajun food in from of him. It was steaming, and his glasses were steamed. He had this big smile and said, "Oooh, life is good."

Life's not good. Life's far too fickle, far too slippery, far too treacherous, far too "in your face" to be good. But God is good. The fact that God is good makes life good. That's what this psalm is telling us.

"Relax because you can know that I am God."

Sometimes even devoted followers of Jesus Christ who believe in the authority of God's Word can have wrong notions about God, maybe even New A kinds of notions. We believe God is real and he's there, but he's like an accumulation of divine glitter dust in the universe, and he wafts through the universe and every once in a while we feel his presence. But we can never get our hands on him.

God is not divine glitter dust that floats through the universe. This God is a solid God. He is the kind of God you can get a grip on. In a sense, he has handles you can hold on to and never let go of through the whole ride. That's the kind of God this psalm is talking about.

What can we know about God that we can hang on to no matter how dark it gets?

"Cease striving and know that I am God." What can you know about God that is solid and real that you can get a grip on by faith and hang on to no matter how dark it gets? The psalm opens with a volley of the reality of God. Look how it opens.

Verse 1: "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." God is actively busy as your protector, providing strength and help in the midst of any crises we face. He is our refuge. He is our protector. He builds walls around us.

The Bible affirms that God never lets anything into our lives that he cannot turn to his glory and to our good.

Look at Job. Talk about the ragged edge of reality. Job chapter one says that Satan came before the throne of God. And God said to Satan, "Where have you been?" Satan said, "Wandering to and fro across the face of the earth."

God said, "Oh, have you been down there? Have you seen my man Job?" I would hope that one day God would stop all of heaven, and call the angels and everybody around his throne. "Come here," he'd say. "Part the clouds. Look at Stowell. That's my man." I'd love to think he could. That's what he was saying about Job. He said, "Did you see my man Job, how righteous he is?"

This is why Job suffered. He didn't suffer for any earthly reason. He suffered for a cause in the universe. Satan said, "I saw him. Do you know why he's righteous? Because you've been good to him." He was saying, "God, you have to buy people's allegiance. You're not worthy of a person's loyalty. You have to be good to people for them to worship you."

Having been slandered, God said, "If you really think that, then I believe someone on earth will prove that I am worthy to be God. You can do anything you want to Job, except." God placed boundaries on Satan's attack of Job. God stands like the sovereign sentinel at the gates of our lives and doesn't let anything in except that which he can transition for his glory into our ultimate good.

God is our refuge. He gives us the strength of grace. When we don't resist trouble and we're not bitter, God will flood us with grace to feel stability, strength, in the midst of the trouble. God, the text says, is a very present helper to us. We can know that about God; we can get a grip on it and never let go.

Not only is his power spent on protecting, strengthening, and helping us in the midst of crisis, but notice verses 7 and 11. "The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold." He doesn't leave you when life goes in the ditch.

Some of you remember the story of Joseph in the Old Testament. Talk about growing up in a dysfunctional family. But he had a connection with God. He went to visit his brothers, and they threw him in a pit. They sold him into slavery in Egypt.

He rose to power in one of the leading bureaucrats' homes. His master's wife, lonely, saw J handsome, young Hebrew tried to seduce him. But Joseph resisted her.

Finally she betrayed him. She told her husband that Joseph slept with her. Potiphar threw him in prison for three years.

But peppered through the story is this constant affirmation: "And God was with Joseph." He was present because he had a purpose. His power was spent on managing the situation to bring his purpose about.

The third thing you can know about God is that his reputation rides on our problems. We call ourselves children of God. Our friends, our neighbors know that we're followers of Jesus Christ. They're saying, "Yeah, right. You're a follower of God. Look what he did to you. What kind of a God do you have?"

Note the end of verse 10. God says this: "I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth." He is jealous for his reputation, and his reputation rides on my problem. You can count on it that God will bring the problem to resolution in a way that glorifies his name and brings good to us. He will not waste our sorrows.

That's what you can know about God. Getting a grip on that can allow you to let your hands down, take a deep breath, cease striving, and be still.

Scholars tell us that Psalm 46 was written about the events in 2 Chronicles 20.

It's about King Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, which was in the southern half of the divided nation of Israel. He was a righteous king.

One day, somebody came to him and said, "Jehoshaphat, we have a serious problem." Three of the world powers had made a military treaty against Judah. They were marching toward the nation to take it. Jehoshaphat didn't stand a chance. There was no way this little nation could go against these armies.

Second Chronicles 20 says, "And Jehoshaphat was afraid." I'd be afraid too. But the next thing he did is probably something most of us don't tend to do: "And he turned his face to the Lord." His only hope, his only help.

He called a national assembly, and recited all the great things God had done in Israel's history to rescue them against phenomenal odds, so that his name would be glorified and that he would be known as the true and living God. The next day, the prophet Jahaziel showed up. Jahaziel called another assembly of the leaders, and he said to them, "A word from God. The battle is not yours. It is the Lord's."

At the moment, Jehoshaphat and the people believed and had a worship service. We normally say we'll worship when he gets us out of trouble. But they were singing praises to God with the armies still marching toward them. When was the last time, in the midst of your difficulty, praises flowed from your lips?

Then Jehoshaphat called them to tough obedience. He said, "Tomorrow morning you have to marshal the military together and go against these armies."

Faithful obedience to him on the ragged edge will not always be easy. This wasn''t easy for Jehoshaphat. But Jahaziel said, "Do not fear because God is with you." So the next morning Jehoshaphat obeyed.

He gathered his military troops. Then he did something off the screen of military strategy. He put the musicians first. Do you know why he did that? Because they would lead the military singing praises to Israel's God. When is the last time the praises of God led you on the ragged edge?

They came to the edge of the hill and looked into the valley where the three armies were encamped. To their shock every one of their enemies was dead. Slain. The night before God sent pirating groups to pillage the armies while they slept. The armies woke confused. Thinking they were being attacked by Judah, ripped out their weapons, and killed one another. The Bible says that "not one of them remained alive."

So Israel wrote the psalm. At the ragged edge of reality they didn't need to be striving. They knew what kind of a God they had.

Be still and know that I am God. The battle is not yours; it is the Lord's.

What are some applications from Psalm 46?

One application from the background of Psalm 46: when we're out on the ragged edge, do we instinctively turn our faces to the Lord?

Normally we tend to be consumed with the problem, and the problem seems so big; because we're not looking at him, God seems so small. But when you turn your face to God and begin seeing him, remembering him for who he really is, God gets huge; the problem starts getting into perspective.

The second application: Do you embrace him by belief? Are you willing to say, "Lord, I believe that you are present with me; I believe that you are my refuge and strength, and Lord, I believe that you will be exalted in this"? Do you embrace him? Do you believe?

When you're on the ragged edge of reality, your heart is crushed, your mind is confused. Life is shattered. Yet, on your lips you are saying, maybe with Job, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust him." Or you are saying, "God is good. I praise him in all things." Before trouble is resolved, is your life characterized by complaints and self pity, or by praise and worship?

Then, as Jehoshaphat had to faithfully obey, are you faithful at the ragged edge? A lot of times many of us have been pushed to the ragged edge by people we trusted. They've betrayed us. They've abused us. They've been the ones who have pushed us out there.

Out there God processes us. He says, "While you're out here waiting for me to work, I want you to forgive the one who pushed you out here." Do you do that? Or are you up for bitterness and revenge? Can you be faithful at the edge?

Or maybe, "I can cheat a little bit around the edges. That will fix this problem." Or you can say, "No, I want to be loyal to my God more than I want to do anything else in life. More than my comfort, more than my peace, I will be loyal to God?"

Will you be faithful at the edge? To turn your face, to embrace by belief, to worship and to be faithful.


Joseph Stowell was a pastor for sixteen years before becoming president of Moody Bible Institute in Chicgao, Illinois, in 1987. His latest book is titled, Following Christ.


(c) Joseph Stowell

Preaching Today Tape #173


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Joseph Stowell is president of Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and author of numerous books, including Jesus Nation (Tyndale).

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Sermon Outline:


What do you do when life takes you to the ragged edge of reality?

I. God's Word to us when we're on the ragged edge of reality


II. What can we know about God that we can hang on to no matter how dark it gets?

III. What are some applications from Psalm 46?


Will we be faithful at the edge?