[This post depends largely on yesterday’s exegetical consideration of Psalm 46.]
If the first step in troubled times is to take refuge in the Lord, it is not the last step. Only by reading Psalm 46:10 (“Be still and know that I am God”) in isolation from the historical context of the Psalter or the whole counsel of God found in the rest of Scripture could we walk away from Psalm 46 and believe passivity is proper.
Rather, the best reading of that classic devotional verse is to see that it is a word spoken by God to the nations that he will subdue them (cf. vv. 8–9). For us, in other passages then he tells us to take up arms—the sword of the Spirit and the prayers of faith (Ephesians 6)—to engage in the battle we find all around us.
Indeed, to believe in God is not “nothing.” Rather it is the foundation of all good works (see Galatians 5:6; Ephesians 2:8–10; James 2:14–26). Likewise, Word-inspired intercession is not “nothing.” To the world, prayer seems like pious but powerless chore. Yet, James 5:16 rightly corrects us: “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” Therefore, as we abide in the shadow of his wings, we find that abiding in his Word and prayer are two powerful actions. Still ,such Godward devotion is not a cul-de-sac but a rest area that leads God’s people from the church gathered to the church scattered, from worship to work in the community, the state, the nation and beyond.
Indeed, with that centrifugal framework in mind, we are ready to move from the safety of God’s refuge into a sin-cursed world desperately in need of redemption. And to help us think about how to move into the culture from the firm foundation of refuge in the Lord, let me suggest five ways to labor from rest.
Five Ways to Labor From Rest
First, we must preach the gospel to one another.
Psalm 46 is a glorious Psalm for the way it reminds us of God’s presence and power. He is with his people, never to leave or forsake us. He is also working for us, never to fail in his redemption promises. Yet, our hearts can falter and faith can fail if we forget his promises. Therefore, we who believe the gospel must preach it to one another.
This is not a tangential point, but the very essence of being the church. We who are the pillar and buttress of the truth must remind one another of the Lord, his plan, his promises, his presence. If we fail in this task, our ability to impact the world for (eternal) good will soon cease.
Second, we must take this good news to others.
The comfort and security of God is only experienced by those who have believed the gospel, but such refuge is offered to all humanity. Therefore, we who know the promise of his presence and power must share it with others. Often God’s judgment on the earth causes people to loosen their grip on their man-made security systems. Idols look paltry when their hands and feet fall off. In such moments, we are tempted to hide ourselves from the world, but we must also look for ways to share Christ with others.
When the world rocks, God’s lost sheep are more ready to flee to their Shepherd. As C.S. Lewis once said, God shouts through the megaphone of pain, and we must be ready when pain comes to share the good news of Christ. This is true at a personal level and a national level. Thus, Psalm 46 leads us to draw near for refreshment and then to go out into the chaos with a message of gospel hope.
Third, we must personally give mercy.
Charity work is not restricted to those who believe the gospel, but it is something that the church must also be engaged in. Church history bears witness to the good works of God’s people. In the early church, Christians cared for infants that were exposed and left for dead; in the plagues of the Middle Ages it was the Christians who nursed the sick, at risk to themselves. And today, it is Bible-believing Christians—not liberal progressives—who have created and funded thousands of clinics to care for abortion-minded women.
Indeed, in the spheres of influence God has placed us, we must continue to minister to the suffering. Before we can call for Washington or any other political structure to solve poverty and immorality, we must consider the way(s) in which we are personally caring for our neighbors. This is what it means to let faith work itself out in love—to be personally involved in the lives of others and to seek the good of our neighbor. Such individual care may not radically alter the culture, but if every Christian was doing that, it would.
Fourth, we must provide shelter for those on whom the mountains are falling.
Because mercy and justice require social and even political structures, we must think more than just personal care for others. Until the Lord returns, God’s people are to subdue and rule creation such that we bless others. This is true at the personal level (point #3), but also the societal and political level. This is what it means to seek the welfare of the city (Jeremiah 29:7) and to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13–16).
To be sure, history reminds us how God’s judgments may overwhelm any attempt to do good. This is a mystery of his providence, but not a reason to give up in despair. Rather, because we walk in the light of God, we must love our neighbors through the vocations God has given us. And if we see systemic evil and societal needs, we are called to seek the relief for sufferers. This does not replace the gospel. Instead, the gospel liberates us to think of more than just ourselves; it propels us to bring relief to others, just as God did to us in our need. Of course, mankind’s greatest need is the relief of eternal suffering, but that doesn’t give us the right to ignore physical suffering.
And how do we do that?
It is tempting in our inter-connected, international age to think of social progress in terms of national laws and international policy. So much of what we see in our media comes to us from our nation’s capitol. But in contrast to that, we must remember that some of the most important social justice and political work is local. While some Christians may be called to Washington, most never will. But you are called to be salt and light in your community. Thus, those who have the hope of eternal life in Christ, should labor to improve their communities and be a light for Christ, with the aim of relieving suffering, especially eternal suffering through gospel proclamation.
Fifth, we can trust that God will bring aid to his world through the care of his people.
Until Christ returns, there is no hope for longterm shalōm. True righteousness and lasting peace are only brought by Christ alone. That being said, those who know righteousness and peace can help others pick up the pieces. It may be that God is bringing judgment on our nation. If so, let us intercede for his mercy and prepare ourselves to be peace-makers when the morning dawns.
Psalm 46:5 speaks of a morning after, when the light of the dawn comes to expose the damage of the night. In point of fact, Americans may be entering a new season of life where darkness rises. But if that is the case, it doesn’t change the fact that we who know the light of the world have a calling to share that light with others, even when they resist.
This sort of light-giving, life-giving work is a means by which God, in his common grace, grants relief to people throughout the world. Ultimately, God’s greatest mercy comes through faith in the gospel–the death of Jesus for sinners and his resurrection granting eternal life. But even in this fallen world which rebels against God, his calling upon his people is to do good to everyone, especially those in the household of faith (Galatians 6:10).
Laboring from Rest
In truth, as we look at the world around us there are many reasons for worry and unrest. Yet, the secret of the Christian life is this: we know that God is working all things together for the good of those who love him and have been called according to his plan (Romans 8:28–29). That’s not just a hidden gem of God’s providence; that’s a truth he wants every believer to know. For in that assurance, we can find rest.
Indeed, what Psalm 46 teaches us is that as the mountains crumble into the sea and leaders and nations rise and fall, we have no reason to fear. Our ultimate hope is not in the success of this world or our place in it. Rather, Christ’s kingdom is our hope and even today we are promised that his Spirit is with us and his Word is bringing into effect his righteous rule. For that reason, we can be still before God, because we know that he is subduing the nations, even as they roar and foam today.
That confidence changes the way we approach the world and it prompts us to serve others with energy, because in Christ we are fully supplied.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds