“Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything.” (Psalm 46:10)
The Latin version of this verse (I’m reliably informed) translates literally as “Relax and take a holiday!” There’s so much going on all the time. It’s good, as they say, to “get away from it all.” The Message takes it even further here: “Step out of the traffic!” Unless you do this, that is to say, you’re liable to be overwhelmed by the sheer flow of “stuff” heading your way! There is traffic flowing through your eyes, your heart, your mind, and every sense is alive and alert to a million impressions. It can be exhausting to sort it all out. So, frankly, it can be dangerous not to “be still ” and find a place “above politics, above everything.”
But how do you do it?
“And so, taking the long way home through the market I slow my pace down. It doesn’t come naturally. My legs are programmed to trot briskly and my arms to pump up and down like pistons, but I force myself to stroll past the stalls and pavement cafes. To enjoy just being somewhere, rather than rushing from somewhere, to somewhere. Inhaling deep lungfuls of air, instead of my usual shallow breaths. I take a moment to just stop and look around me. And smile to myself. For the first time in a long time, I can, quite literally, smell the coffee.”
But notice that “it doesn’t come naturally.” I have to make the decision “to enjoy just being somewhere, rather than rushing from somewhere, to somewhere.” And when you stop, and look about, then something remarkable happens: the traffic stops. Not for nothing is the time you spend with God in prayer often called a “quiet time.” That is to say, it takes both time and quiet to grow roots to your soul and to think things over. It takes time to develop any relationship that is worthwhile.
That’s what the Psalmist is referring to here. “Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God.” First the decision to step back, then the invitation to ponder deeply. It creates something amazing, which Albert Camus referred to (in a wonderful phrase) as “an invincible summer.” Here’s the bit:
“When you have once seen the glow of happiness on the face of a beloved person, you know that a man can have no vocation but to awaken that light on the faces surrounding him. In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”
I love that idea. An invincible summer simply cannot be defeated. And “Be still and know that I am God” is really the climax of the whole psalm. It’s a psalm that seeks to fill our brains and fill our souls with what is most important of all. This psalm seeks to redirect our gaze from the kaleidoscope of all that would distract and divert us and bid us fuss and fret – towards God, the “invincible summer” of calm happiness. Here’s the whole context of the Psalmist’s claim:
“God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.”
Throughout the rollercoaster of history, God has been “a help in times of trouble.” That’s the claim of the psalm. No matter what may come, the people of God can say, “We will not fear.” There’s a marvellous prospect that trust opens up. Faith makes one unafraid. There may always be room for concern and a need for caution, but for those who experience that “invincible summer,” trust prevails.
The question remains, however: In what part of your life does that message need to be heard right now?
Whilst the Psalmist acknowledges the existence of dangers and uncertainties, he also maintains the “refuge and strength” of the God who is with us. Life can be tough. We live in an unstable world – physically and metaphorically we know all about mudslides and tornados. We know the mountains shake. Waters roar and foam. All this is painfully evident in every newspaper we read.
But the psalm says, “the Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.” The same God who has been from the beginning, the same God who has nurtured and held and loved God’s people through all things continues to work and save even now.
And so we arrive at the core of the Psalm’s message.: “Be still and know that I am God.” One version translates it as “stop your fighting,” or “stop your striving.”
Did you hear that? What must you stop doing?
I guess it means: Stop your fighting and striving to have everything under control. Stop fighting with yourself, stop fighting with others, stop fighting with God, stop fighting with forgiveness or whatever else is haunting you.
When we can trust in God, everything opens us in new ways. God is in control. God is with us. God is our refuge and strength.
But there is even more here. In Hebrew, when two imperatives are linked together like this – “Be Still AND Know” – this is called “coordinate imperatives” – the emphasis is always on the second one. So when these two imperatives come together like this, the emphasis intends to be on the knowing. We can “be still,” because we “know” that God is in control. When our hearts and our lives “know” the real truth – God is the ruler of all things – we can indeed “let go.”
We stop the fighting, stop the fretting, and then it becomes clear – life is held by God. God is our refuge and strength. The summer is invincible.