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.Psalm 46:1-2
Psalm 46 has been an important psalm to me for a very long time, and I want to share a few personal reasons why that is so.
I remember one of the first times I preached on this psalm as a pastor was right after 9/11, two years into my ministry. The congregation I was serving, First Lutheran Church of Ridge Manor West, Florida was having a service of prayer, at the invitation of the president, as most churches were. I had selected this psalm in part because its wonderful opening words seemed so fitting at the time:
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.Psalm 46:1-3
We happened to be in the middle of a tropical storm the very day of our scheduled prayer service, and as I got ready for that service, I remember preparing my message thinking about another line in this psalm, “be still and know that I am God,” and thinking about how hard it is to be still and to trust when we are in the middle of a storm.
The biggest storm of my life occurred six years later, in October of 2007, when my sister, Dianne, suddenly and unexpectedly died. It was a Friday morning that I remember like it was yesterday. Dianne lived in Connecticut with her husband and six children, and my family and I were living in South Carolina at the time. After tears, prayer, and discussion, my wife and I decided to drive with our children through the night to be with my family in Connecticut. It rained the entire drive from South Carolina up the coast to Connecticut. As my wife and children eventually nodded off to sleep, I kept repeating to myself the first line of this psalm, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Through these tearfully-prayed words, God gave me the strength that was needed to meet that terrible storm.
Psalm 46 is also the psalm that inspired Martin Luther’s most famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” I remember traveling to Germany with my wife a few years ago and visiting the Wartburg Castle, where Martin Luther was kept safe at a critical time in the Reformation. Looking at that castle, I could see where the opening line to this hymn came from, for the Wartburg Castle is a mighty fortress itself.
This psalm, in other words, has changed for me over the years. The same words have offered different messages to me as I have needed them. And that, I believe, is the case for all of God’s word. It is always the same, and yet also changing to meet our needs.
Another line of this psalm that I have been pondering recently is this one, “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.” I have had a chance to get out on the Uwharrie River in our canoe a couple of times lately, and I have been thinking about the nature of a river. It is always there, and in some ways always the same. But every time I get out on the river, it is also different. God’s word, I realized, is much like a river. It is always there, always the same, and yet also always changing to meet our needs. God’s word, and God’s love, are much like that river. I shared a sonnet for this psalm earlier that reflected on this. Here is the link: Sonnet for Psalm 46.
Like all of the psalms, the forty-sixth psalm has been around for many centuries, and spoken to God’s people in countless different circumstances. It is a psalm that has spoken to me in many different ways, too. This psalm, one might say, is a river whose many streams make us glad, and I give thanks to God for its inspired words, which have comforted me and sustained me through life’s many storms.