The Admonition to be Still
by George Garrison
Posted: May 21, 2020
Not for the comfort of humankind, but the glory of God…
George Garrison is senior pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Warrenville, Illinois. He began writing "Thursday Thoughts" during the COVID-19 pandemic, when so much of the church's activities had to go virtual.
"Be still and know that I am God."
This verse from Psalm 46 has been quoted many times in many settings in the last several weeks, and rightfully so. This particular verse should be taken into account with a large grouping of Scripture that encourages us to calm our hearts and minds with the truth of God’s sovereignty and power. When we reassure ourselves with this powerful reminder, it can speak calm and assurance into the turbulence of our unpredictable lives.
While this verse conjures up justifiable images of reminders and reassurance in the context of COVID, there’s another word that starts with “re” of a different nature that is actually more congruent with the context of Psalm 46. That word is rebuke. The connotation of the command to be still within Psalm 46 is not a quiet, calm, contemplation to bring us comfort. In fact, a better translation than simply “Be still,” would be “Quiet!” or “Stop striving!” It’s not spoken as a gentle reminder of God’s sovereignty and power but rather a rebuke to stop acting as if God wasn’t sovereign or all-powerful.
This doesn’t mean we stop drawing comfort from this psalm or from the principle of the knowledge of God reassuring us. I’m not saying we should change our Song of Preparation on Communion Sundays to reflect this rebuke. Imagine if it was printed in the bulletin:
BE STILL AND KNOW THAT I AM GOD!!! (repeat 3x), and it was sung with the force of a rebuke in an adjusted minor key piano arrangement as the children slink back to their seats having just been scolded in song! No, we don’t need to change the way we sing the song. But we probably do need to expand the way we think about the verse.
One simple and helpful way is to consider the rest of the verse; it’s easy to forget there is more to it. In its entirety, verse ten reads: “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth!” The rest of the verse reveals that the end in view is not the comfort of humankind, but the glory of God.
The context of Psalm 46 demands that we see the command to “be still” not primarily as a way to soothe ourselves in times of trouble, but rather as a way of humbly submitting to the realization that God’s power and control over the earth will not be thwarted. All the present and potential havoc that COVID has wrought presents no threat to His ultimate plan and purpose: the global recognition of His greatness!
The rebuke in its entirety prompts the following questions: Has God’s glory been diminished as a result of our pandemic? Does the future health and economic and psychological well-being of the world He created and rules over pose any threat to His rule and power? Has the pandemic of fear and anxiety risen so high it is exalted above Him? And perhaps a more penetrating and convicting question: Are we as preoccupied with inner tranquility for the sake of His glory, or are we preoccupied with stillness for the sake of our own comfort? Thankfully, the last two do not have to be mutually exclusive.
You might recall another well-known rebuke for stillness described in the New Testament, when Jesus was awakened from a nap while He and His disciples were in a storm on the Sea of Galilee. It was there that He rebuked the winds and the seas and commanded them to be still (Matthew 8:26). Interesting that the disciples’ first reaction was not their own comfort (“Man, I’m glad that storm is settled!”) but God’s glory revealed in the Son: “What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and sea obey Him?”
Jesus’ power brought immediate comfort to His disciples once He settled their boat, but in that stillness their faith was tossed and turned by their realization of His power. Let’s not wait until the storm of the pandemic, or any storm we will face, is over before we recognize that God has power over every storm. Our hearts can be calmed now even as we heed the rebuke. After all, we know what kind of God He is.
Praying for stillness and a sense of His greatness for all of us,
© 2020 George A. Garrison
George Garrison is Senior Pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Warrenville, Illinois.• E-mail the author (ten.nairetybserpleunammi@egroeg*) • Author's website (personal or primary**)
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