When I talk to people, I often ask the question “How’s life.” I hear a lot of different answers, but what I don’t often hear are answers like “slow,” “easy,” or “boring.” More than perhaps ever before, we are packing our lives full. Work, community activities, sporting events, performances, social gatherings, church events, volunteer work…the list of things we jam into our lives goes on and on.
With our schedules this packed, our priorities are almost impossible to order – so many of these activities are pressing, important, valuable, demanding, necessary, or just good things that we struggle determining which ones are the most important. So we spend our time rushing from activity to activity, barely taking time to breathe. We push ourselves for so long that our bodies shut down from the stress and exertion. We even drive ourselves through a schedule on our vacations!
The Psalmist that wrote Psalm 46 recognized the stress and pressures around him as well. Over the first 9 verses, he lists a series of anxiety-causing events surrounding him; troubles, the earth giving way, mountains moving, waters roaring and foaming, nations raging, desolation, and war and violence. In the list there are massive natural disasters and human-caused strife. As you read it, you can almost feel the tension building – earthquakes shaking, floods roaring, sounds of riots and war, all building in an overwhelming crescendo to verse 10, where there is a sudden stillness. From this dramatic silence, a calm voice speaks:
Be still, and know that I am God.
At the hearing of these words, we receive comfort and peace. We feel that sense of tension and pressure disappear, and we have a building confidence that everything is going to be ok.
But what is this simple statement actually telling us? I think there are three parts to this simple Bible verse that we need to keep in mind if we want to avoid having life overpower us.
We need to take the time to stop everything, to shut down whatever we are working on, to silence our phones, computers, games, TV, and brains, and simply be still. Put away all the busyness and all the distractions and focus on something other than ourselves.
God loves you. There is no question about that. But we do not always feel that love. We sometimes feel like He has forgotten us. Especially when things are raging out of control, we think He is leaving us on our own to fend by ourselves. That just simply isn’t the case.
In 1 Kings 19, the prophet Elijah is in a bit of a pickle. He is in a battle by himself against a terribly wicked king and queen who have vowed to kill him. He feels the tremendous pressure of trying to serve God, but he also has the pressure of a death sentence and a profound loneliness because he has no one to share his burden. God has Ezekiel walk for 40 days, bringing him to a mountain. There God puts Ezekiel in a cave and tells him to wait.
And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Elijah heard the roar of the wind, felt the shudder of the earthquake, and saw the violence of a great fire. Being on a mountain and in a cave, these were violent, terrifying events! The cave could collapse, a landslide could have buried him, and the fire could have cooked him! But Elijah rightly recognized that God was not speaking to him in any of these loud, dramatic events. It wasn’t until Elijah heard the whisper, a quiet voice that he had to strain to hear, that he came out to meet with God. Ezekiel had walked for 40 days, but God waited until Ezekiel was still until He spoke to him. Ezekiel had done great things for God, but in his exhaustion, fear and loneliness he forgot that it wasn’t his desires that were important, it was God’s plan.
When we are pushing ourselves in our daily lives and sprinting from one appointment to another, we tend to forget that life isn’t about us, it’s about God. We forget that God has a plan for our lives, He has called us to serve Him, and He is in control. No matter how out-of-control life feels, it never is. God has everything covered. However, God often waits until we stop pushing and start listening until He speaks to us.
Eventually, when we stop and listen to His voice, we can have a confidence and assurance that our lives otherwise lack. We can have faith that His plan is better than ours, that God is in control of everything, and that He will guide us and take care of us. Over and over in the New Testament we are told that to have faith means we have an assurance of our beliefs, that we do not doubt that God is good and is in control. That is often hard to do, but when we are drawing closer to God and listening to His voice, we can and will feel a peace and comfort that will lead to renewed confidence and faith in Him.
“…that I am God.”
This part is tricky, because it involves not only recognizing a truth about God, but also about ourselves. It is easy for most of us to say, “He is God.” He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and in control. We can say that without a lot of hesitation and thought most of the time. But the tough part is being willing to recognize the second part: “I am not God.” I am not all-powerful, all-knowing, or in control.
We may be willing to say that, but do we believe it? Are we living like we know that we aren’t God? When we try to take control, to run our lives and fill our schedules without going to God for guidance, we are taking that control from God. When we do that, often times He sits back and waits. He wants to speak to us, to guide us and protect us, but He isn’t going to send an earthquake, windstorm or fire to get our attention. He will wait until we listen for the whisper and then, when our hearts are open to hearing Him, He will speak.
There are tons of good things in our lives, things that are valuable and honorable that we can support, but the tricky thing is that we sometimes have to say no to good things in order to prioritize the best things. It’s great to volunteer with an after school program; it gives an opportunity to build relationships with young people that can encourage them and affect their entire future. However, God does not want everyone to work in an after school program. Some people just shouldn’t do it, not because there is anything wrong with it, but because God has something better for those people. If we decide to work in that program anyways, we are trying to do what we want and what God wants, and that doesn’t work.
God will not be multitasked. He will not be worked into a schedule. He will not settle for what you are comfortable with “sacrificing” for Him. He will not compromise or negotiate with you.
He will have all of you, or He will sit back and wait until you come around. He will not bend – He will get what He wants for His glory alone.
The question is this – are we going to embrace our role in His plan and place Him as our highest priority? Will we fully and passionately follow Him, or are we going to continue to try to put Him in the passenger’s seat?
Are we prepared to stop everything, shut up, be still, and know God? Are we going to listen for that still, small voice, that whisper of truth in a crowd of confusion?
He is waiting for us. We can see His passionate, desperate love for us displayed in His son Jesus Christ. He wants a deeper relationship with all of us, and I pray that we will get ourselves out of the way and allow Him to speak to us.