Summary: When trouble strikes, whether it be through natural calamity or human conflict, the psalmist reminds us to slow down, stay calm, and lean on God. He will get us through.
When Trouble Comes
Trouble comes to everyone at some point. No one escapes it. If you’re not having a bad day today, you will one day. And what will you do then? Will you fall apart? Will you give up on God? On the world? On yourself? The psalm writers, these sons of Korah, speak to our reaction when life beats us down. They give us some powerful verses that will help you keep your head on straight and keep moving forward, even when trouble is all around you. So let’s take them in reverse order from the poem itself. Lesson #1:
1. Slow down
I love verse 10. The psalm writers have been bragging on God for the proceeding nine verses, and then God takes over. And he says these eight powerful words:
“Be still, and know that I am God.” (v. 10)
When life is falling apart, it’s hard to be still; it’s hard to remember that God is God. We want to do more. We want to be more in control. Slow down? Be still? If anything, we want to speed up! But God says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”
Earlier we sang Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” which was inspired by Psalm 46. Later on we’re going to sing a second hymn inspired by this psalm, “Be Still My Soul.” It’s a reminder of the great truth of verse 10. When trouble comes, quiet yourself before God. Quiet your soul. Spend time at the foot of the Master, in quiet submission, waiting on him. See what he has for you in the storm. Ask what he wants you to learn.
Psychotherapy has appropriated this idea of slowing down. As a mental health chaplain, one of the therapies I learned and applied to chaplain work is called Problem Solving Therapy. And one of the most practical and easily applied lessons in Problem Solving Therapy is SSTA. SSTA stands for: Stop, Slow down, Think, and Act. Sometimes we just need to stop. In the middle of the chaos, we need to take a knee. To stop what we’re doing, to stop what we’re thinking, to slow down the craziness for a second, think through the next best course of action, and then act upon it. And this psalm says, “When you stop and slow down, do it before God. Consider what God has for you to learn.
Slow down. And secondly,
2. Stay calm
In verse 2 the poet describes an earthquake: the earth is giving way and mountains are falling into the sea. He describes in verse 3 roaring waters and quaking mountains. It sounds like hurricanes, tsunamis, and volcanoes! Creation is going mad!
Back to earthquakes—if you’ve ever experienced one—they make you feel really small and out of control. I remember experiencing two minor quakes when we lived on the Washington coast. One of them was a swaying type quake. I was on a step ladder. I got down as fast as I could. When the whole room sways back and forth for 20 seconds, and then you call your friends across town, and their world was swaying like your world was swaying, all of a sudden you feel very small.
My sister-in-law was in Anchorage when a 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit on November 30, 2018. She lived through the 170 major aftershocks to follow. She described to my wife feeling hopeless and terrified, with all the emotions returning with each ensuing aftershock.
Nature can bring fear. And nations can bring fear. Verse 6 describes nations in “uproar” and kingdoms “falling.” In the Hebrew, the verbs the song writers choose here are the same exact verbs they used to describe the calamities of nature, now applied to the destructive power of international politics and war. I guess the point is: natural evil and human evil can both turn your world upside down!
All of this brings an unsettledness of the soul. Just try watching the news right before you go to bed, and see how your dreams turn out, how restful your rest is!
But look back to verse 2. The writers know God is with them, whether in natural conflict or manmade conflict. And because of that, they proclaim,
“Therefore, we will not fear!” (v. 2)
No matter what happens in our lives, no matter how small and out of control we feel, we can remember that God is with us. When the two sets of footprints in the sand become only one set of footprints, that was when God was carrying us! After all, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).
And so, #3, we can...
3. Lean on God
That’s what the young shepherd boy David did, when he faced down Goliath. He knew this loudmouth bully was bad news for Israel. He knew his nation faced a big problem. And he knew he was no match for a giant. But he believed his God was bigger than his problem.