Summary: When we pray, we are tapping into divine power and there is nothing to fear.
During Desert Storm, I received letters from friends and family assuring me of their prayers. I knew we had sufficient air cover—every night I could see our planes headed north to inflict serious damage upon the Iraqi Republican Guard. But my confidence was in knowing that we also had sufficient prayer cover (Note: I served as Chaplain for the 28th Combat Support Hospital).
Tennyson wrote: “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.” Prayer is the most powerful force on earth, yet we often fail to appreciate the potency of prayer. When we realize the power behind our prayers, we may take prayer more seriously and face life’s challenges with greater confidence. We need to recognize our inadequacy without God and our invincibility with Him.
This is the point of Psalm 46—likely written by King Hezekiah—who is conveying his prayerful reliance on God’s might. God is present to help His people. Prayer invites God into our world and ushers us into God’s. But prayer is more than asking for things. We need God more than anything we might get from God.
In verse one, God is called our “refuge”; the word can be translated “shelter” or “fortress”. The same Hebrew word is used in verse seven. From this psalm Martin Luther derived inspiration for his hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” All other strength is weakness, because all power is from God alone. Thomas Merton observes, “There is no such thing as prayer in which ‘nothing is done’ or ‘nothing happens.’ Work is being done whether we feel it or not.”
When is the preferred time to pray, to tap into this power? Isaac Bashevis Singer once said, “I only pray when I am in trouble. But I am in trouble all the time, so I pray all the time.” The way we follow Paul’s directive to “pray without ceasing” is by recognizing the trouble we’re in! We’re in more trouble than we realize! The channel to God is always open because verse one describes God as “an ever-present help in trouble.” Circumstances may change, but not God’s promises.
Verses two and three urge us to exercise unconditional trust. The psalmist describes the greatest calamites imaginable. “The supposedly ‘solid’ things of the world—whether mountains or nations—are flimsy. We need something more substantial than nature or civilization can provide…namely a secure habitation in God” (Eugene Peterson). Even if the earth seems crumbling around us, we can rest in God’s care. When we lived in San Francisco we met several people who had lived through the “World Series earthquake.” They were quick to tell us that the earth below may seem secure, but when it gives way, nothing seems secure. When natural disasters hit, our sense of security is tested. But if God is our strength and refuge, fear is irrational.
“There is a river”, verse four…God offers us the river of the water of life, which forever satisfies. The prophet Isaiah compared Israel’s enemies to an overflowing river, but he assured Israel that God was like a quiet river that would bring them peace. We may grow impatient during divine delays, but God will respond…in His own time and His own way.
In verse five we’re assured that God is with us. Prayer is as close as we can get to God; it’s the next-best thing to being there! The greatest privilege of prayer is not getting things from God, but simply the opportunity to talk to Him, to pour out our hearts, knowing He cares.
Verse six is one of the most awesome verses of the Bible: “Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; God lifts His voice, the earth melts.” Just picture people raging and rebelling against God…yet the One who spoke the world into existence can with one word speak the world out of existence! “In prayer we leave a world of anxieties and enter a world of wonder; we leave an ego-centered world and enter a God-centered world; we leave a world of problems and enter a world of power” (Peterson).
We can be bold because we have superior firepower, verse seven: “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” This is why we can be unmoved when earth-shaking events occur. God is our security. He is far bigger than the puny world of kings, prime ministers, and presidents. Yet the world seems large to us. When we recognize God’s sovereignty, His ruling presence we can face tomorrow with confidence. Our God reigns!
We need to recall verse eight when evil seems to prosper. What “desolations He has brought on the earth!” When we read history, or the daily news, it should be with this verse sounding in our ears. God destroys the destroyers. The ruins of past civilizations are witness to His might. Dr. David Wells of Gordon-Conwell Seminary writes: “Prayer is in essence rebellion—rebellion against the world in its fallenness. Prayer is the undying refusal to accept as normal what is pervasively abnormal. It is the refusal of every agenda, every scheme, every interpretation that is at odds with the norm as originally established by God.” In prayer we do not escape or evade the ugliness of the world—we confront it. Prayer is the only act that makes a difference.