What do you do when leaders of nations are talking about shooting missiles and unleashing the dogs of war? What do you do when you feel powerless and the people in power seem to be intent on inflicting destruction?
One thing you can do is read Psalm 46. This was Martin Luther’s favourite Psalm. Reading Psalm 46 inspired Martin Luther to write the hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”
When trouble comes, or when it looks as though trouble is on the way, this psalm is the instruction manual for what to do. I’ve had to prepare this sermon not knowing what troubles might come to you before the moment I preach. Troubles can come suddenly. The time to prepare for troubles is yesterday.
The people of power who talk the language of war act as though it is their strength that matters. Having a strong military is their answer to North Korean aggression. Having nuclear weapons is North Korea’s answer to any threat to its existence. The world says that military superiority “is our refuge and strength.” The world says industrial might “is our refuge and strength.”
The Bible says, “God is our refuge and strength.” God is always ready to help. The trouble will come. The psalm is not telling us that God will stop the trouble from coming. The psalm is telling us that when people insist on war, war is what they will get. It is saying that when it is time for the earth to quake, it will quake. God is the source of the strength we need in times of trouble.
Verse two reminds us that trouble can come like an earthquake. Or like a missile from the sky. One moment you are standing on solid ground, the next moment the ground is shaking and it’s not solid any more. The trouble is not a small problem. It’s something that shakes your whole world and removes all your normal assurances. It is so powerful that mountains crumble and fall into the sea. It’s so powerful that the sea roars and foams. Nowhere is safe.
Have you experienced and earthquake in your life, or seen video of a tsunami. Did you know that mountains near Mt Everest moved half a meter to the north in the earthquake in 2015. And the capital city of Nepal was raised by over one meter.
When trouble hits us in life, it’s like this. These are the big things. These are the things that change our lives. When all that seemed certain is taken away. When all you trusted is gone.
That’s when we need to know that God is still there.
At times like this there are people who blame God for not protecting them, but God’s promise is to allow these things to happen. And his promise is to be there to get us through them. Don’t worry about nuclear war, worry about being close to God. “Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble,” as the psalm says. They can’t injure our souls or steal our hearts. God keeps us safe. God is always near and he is more than strong enough to protect us. So be not afraid. No power of hell or earth can separate you from the love of God.
If you have at this moment doubt in your heart, ask God to give you faith. If you have worries, ask God to help you trust him. Make sure your treasure is in heaven, where it cannot be stolen or destroyed.
Not only does God keep us safe when we trust him, he gives us joy in the midst of trouble.
“A river brings joy to the city of our God,
the sacred home of the Most High.” (Verse 4)
Verse four gives us a picture of a river flowing into the city of God. The City of God was how the Jews referred to Jerusalem. They thought that God lived in the tabernacle, and Jerusalem was God’s capital in Judah. As long as God dwelt in the city, it couldn’t be destroyed. As long as the people were righteous, God would not leave the tabernacle.
Of course, God did leave. The people became unrighteous and God departed. Today there is no tabernacle in Jerusalem. Ezekiel had a vision of how God’s glory departed.
“Then the glory of the Lord moved out from the entrance of the Temple and hovered above the cherubim.” (Ezekiel 10:18)
“Then the glory of the Lord went up from the city and stopped above the mountain to the east.” (Ezekiel 11:23)
There is nothing that specifically says, but it’s thought the mountain to the east is the mount of Olives. It was from this mountain that Christ beheld the city and wept over it, in the foresight of its last destruction by the Romans. And in the book of Acts it is described as the place from which Jesus ascended to heaven.
There is however no river in Jerusalem. The river that brings joy is not a river of water, but a river of glory flowing from on high down to the tabernacle. Jerusalem the city of God sits on one of those mountains that will crumble and fall.
Since our Lord came to earth and rose again, we can see a new meaning in these ancient words of hope for people in times of trouble. The tabernacle, the “sacred home of the Most High”, came to earth. Jesus came and tabernacled among us. John 1:14 says: “So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.”
The greatest good news is that since Pentecost, all believers are now tabernacles.
“For we are the temple of the living God.” (2 Corinthians 6:16)
You are the ‘sacred home of the Most High’ into which a river flows from on high. God is pouring out his glory into you, the living tabernacle. The city that cannot be destroyed as long as God dwells in it is you.
“The nations are in chaos,
and their kingdoms crumble!
God’s voice thunders,
and the earth melts!” (verse 6)
Doesn’t this sound just like the way the world is now. Throughout all the world there is chaos. But for those who trust in God, a stream of living water flows into them. They shine with the glory of God. God’s word dissolves all the power of the kingdoms of the world.
Those who don’t turn to God have no strength and no refuge. For those who reject the Good News there is no place of safety when troubles come.
“He causes wars to end throughout the earth.
He breaks the bow and snaps the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.” (Verse 9)
Wars will not end when the nation with the most powerful army subdues all other nations under its control. That is what many empires have done in the past – the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Mongols, the British, and the Americans. Wars will end only when our God reigns in the hearts and minds of men. God ends war when we turn to him in times of trouble and trust in him for our salvation. War and troubles come to an end when we are the sacred home of the Most High God, and we are filled with his glory.
Please open your heart now to be filled with God’s glory, and turn to him only for refuge in these days of trouble. Let the world be flooded with joy.