Peeled - Peace

Psalm 46 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. 4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. 5 God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. 6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. 7 The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. 8 Come and see what the Lord has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. 9 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. 10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” 11 The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

“The sky is falling. The sky is falling. The sky is falling.” That’s what Chicken Little said. An acorn had dropped from a tree and bumped him on the head, but no one was going to convince him that the sky wasn’t falling. No one. Consumed by a mission to tell the king his tragic news he ran. He ran and ran and ran. He bumped into Henny Penny, Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey, and Turkey Lurkey along the way and told them, “I saw it with my own eyes, I heard it with my own ears, and part of it fell on my head! The sky is falling.” Utterly convinced they joined the mission too. When they reported their devastating news to Foxy Loxy. He immediately said, “Follow me,” promising to lead them to the king. And the story ends this way: “Foxy Loxy led them straight to his den, and they never saw the king to tell him that the sky is falling.”

It’s an interesting approach to finding peace when the acorns fall, isn’t it? Don’t be a Chicken Little. Tell off your fears. Command inner security. Believe that life events are nothing more than an acorn. I only wished it worked that way. I wish that children’s book could be the childhood booster shot for the spiritual immune system. And we spend the rest of our lives deciding away dread and killing off our anxiety. So that when an acorn falls we say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” And just like that our inner Chicken Little goes poof! I think we all wish finding inner peace was that easy. You don’t have to step too far into life to figure out it isn’t.

Or too far into into this Psalm either. God doesn’t see downplaying an event as an effective way to have soul peace. Because sometimes there really is trouble. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble.” (v. 1) I think that’s so striking. When God helps us grapple with whatever acorns bumped us on the head this week, there’s no Chicken Little approach. He doesn’t tell us, “It’s not a big deal.” He doesn’t tell us, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” He tells us, “It is a big deal.” He says, “It’s such a big deal that I’m involved and I’m going to take it upon myself to be your refuge and pony up my strength to deal with it.” And why does he say that? Because sometimes there is honest to goodness trouble.

And it’s not only small or medium doses of trouble that God wants to deal with here. No, it’s not just that. He wants to deal with a big trouble – the kind where the sky really is falling. Or to switch metaphors to the more striking and biblical one: this trouble is not like watching the airy and far away sky come down. It’s far more disorienting. It’s far more troubling than that. It’s trouble where the very solid and formerly permanent, “earth gives way,” (v. 2) right under your feet. It’s trouble where you’re watching the “mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” (v. 2) That’s pretty bad. I think it’s safe to say that it couldn’t get any worse. We’re talking apocalyptic, world ending language here and nothing short of that. This is the ocean hammering away so diligently and powerfully that it takes out the most solid and most visually impressive topographical feature we know –  the mountains – and swallows them into the heart of the sea. That’s pretty bad.

Because sometimes it is. Scholars say that that’s what was going on for the Sons of Korah, the authors of this Psalm. The metaphorical mountains were crashing into the heart of the sea. They were in a situation where the most stalwart person would feel deep, instinctual and pulsing fear. They were in a situation that would make the soundest sleeper lay awake all night. Sennacherib’s general – who by the way had decimated everybody in the then known world –  was standing there. He was right outside the walls of their city. And he was shouting to them, “You will eat your own filth (although in the Bible he was a bit more colorful than that).”  

You know what Sons of Korah did about that? They sang. They sang God’s truth. Maybe you didn’t notice this before, but this Psalm is a song. It’s meant to be sung. It’s got refrains. It’s got verses. It’s supposed to be sung. To the soul. To the heart. To the emotions. Because while life beats at us like an ocean to a mountain we’re not robots. We feel. We think. We respond. When we’re sitting outside the ICU, it’s not enough to tell ourselves it’s just an acorn. When we get a break up text from the girl we thought we were going to marry, it’s not going to do us any good to tell ourselves not to be a Chicken Little. We need something higher. We need something better than self-talk. We need God talk.  

We need it badly. We have to understand something. Peace is not a choice for us. We don’t have the power to sit down in life and say to ourselves, “I have decided to have peace and, therefore, I now have it.” It doesn’t work that way. I’m telling you if it did we’d all decide to have peace all the time. But the truth is that we as humans are far too busted up by sin to make choices like that. Peace isn’t a choice. It’s a gift of the gospel. If you want proof of that, just remember what Paul said about peace. He put it in a list with love and joy and patience. He lumped it in there with a bunch of other gifts that he called the fruits of the Spirit. Not a fruit of the human soul. Peace is not from us. It’s a fruit from the Spirit. We don’t need better self-talk. We need God talk.

Spirit delivered God talk. God talk that shows the Lord as a go getter and aggressive and even militaristic. The Psalm says, “He makes wars cease… He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.” (v. 9) I love this! The Lord doesn’t just make war on our enemies. He ends war with our enemies. He doesn’t just shoot arrows back at those who shoot arrows at us. He breaks the bow that was formerly shooting. He doesn’t just blunt the attack of a spear with a shield. He shatters the spear before it can ever come our way. And he doesn’t just take out the enemy's offensive weapons. No, not just that. He takes out their defense too. He burns the shields with fire.

Tell me that’s not a powerful and militaristic scene. Clearly this is a God who isn’t interested in fighting fire with fire. Clearly this isn’t a God who is interested in continually locking horns with enemies or getting into everlasting sword duels. Clearly this is a God who is interested in something so much higher and better. Something divine. He’s not interested in winning wars. He’s interested in ending them. He’s not interested in firing back. He’s interested in stopping shots from ever coming. That’s our God. He wants to be known (Because he is!) as the God who is not on the war path. He wants to be known (Because he is!) as the God who is always and only paving the path to peace.

That’s something to get excited about. It’s enough to make you shout, “Lord, how can I get in on this? How can I help? Can I help pile the shields and make a bonfire with them somewhere? Lord, how can I help? I’m totally in.” And then bam! Right there in that moment the Lord bursts into the Psalm with his own voice - the only place in the entire Psalm where that happens. The only place that’s not a description of him or what he’s up to. It’s the Lord’s own voice that pipes in and tells us what he wants us to be up to. “Be still, and know that I am God.” (v. 10)

That’s what God cares enough to pipe up about. That’s the command to us. That’s what he wants done. Be still. Not surprisingly that’s another military term in a place with lots of other military terms. What is surprising is what God is telling us to do with it. The term refers to what might happen when you encounter an amazing combatant. If you’ve got a sword in your hand and you encounter someone like that - I’ve never experienced this before - your hands grow limp. You see your insignificance next to the combatant. You see your inability to do anything for or against him. And so what happens is that your hands grow limp and whatever weapon you’ve got in there goes clatter, clatter to the ground. Your jaw drops. You get still. And you let that amazing and overwhelming combatant do whatever it is that he’s going to do.

God wants us to know that he is that kind of combatant. He’s God. He’ll handle it. He’ll take care of it. He’ll get done what needs to get done. He wants for us to know that. He wants us to watch him. He wants our jaws on the ground. He wants us to believe his promise that he here pipes up to make. “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (v. 10) Pretty clear promise, isn’t it? “I personally will be held up before all people. I personally will be lifted up above the earth.” No matter how many national interests fight it. No matter how the earth spins against it. God will win. Even when life’s current moment isn’t a whole lot like singing Kumbuya and making s’mores. Even when it’s not constant and unending gumdrops and waterfalls. Even when God isn’t being a refuge from trouble, but rather is being a refuge in trouble. God will be exalted. And we are to be still. And watch. And wait.

Or better yet, strike the wait part. God was already lifted up over the nations. Literally. God was already exalted in the earth. Literally. God found his way. He found his way of not fighting fire with fire. He found his method of not getting into an everlasting sword duel. He found his way of not winning wars, but ending them all. His answer? He would be lifted up. He would be exalted on a cross. And there because peace was not our choice, God chose peace for us. He chose to forgive our sins. Not hold them against us. He chose to absorb our arrows. Not send them flying back. Christ is the proof that God secured our future and is fighting for our present.

What do you do with that? My best advice? Be still in your life. Let your hands hang limp and be amazed at God who fights for you in your life. The Sons of Korah did that. With 185,000 soldiers parked outside their city gates. With the world’s most powerful general shouting, “I’m going to make you eat your own filth.” You know what they did? They went to bed. They must’ve had unimaginable soul peace. They just went to bed. And this is what the Scripture reports happened, “When the people got up the next morning – there were all the dead bodies!” (2 Kings 19:35) They just went to bed. Without them ever picking up a spear. Without them ever swinging a sword. Without one iota of help, God ended the war.

Sometimes an acorn falls our head. And sometimes it’s more than that. Sometimes the most impressive topographical parts of our lives – our mountains – get submerged into a wild looking sea. Like when someone stands outside your gates and threatens. Like when you stand at a graveside. Like when you feel the deep sting of your conscience. Like when you sit outside the ICU. Like when you’re dark and lonely or heartsick. Like when you’re being sued or harassed or hurt. Sometimes it’s not just an acorn that falls on our heads. Sometimes there’s real trouble.

When it comes, self-talk won’t do. No amount of telling ourselves not to be a Chicken Little will make it so. No amount of raking ourselves about our nerves will bring us peace. Only God talk will help. Sing the psalm to your soul. Sing the psalm about the God who doesn’t win wars. He ends them. Sing the psalm about the God who doesn’t shoot arrows. He breaks bows. Sing the psalm about the God who bursts out with his own voice promising, “I will be exalted. I will win.” That’s when peace will come. Right there. Right then. Not away from trouble. Not apart from trouble. But right there. Right then. In trouble. Peace will visit your soul. When you’re still. When you know God is God. When you just watch and believe. Amen.

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