Recently, I encountered this prayer that speaks to a common experience: “O God, so far today, I’ve done all right. I haven’t gossiped, haven’t lost my temper, haven’t been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish or over-indulgent. I’m really glad about that. But in a few minutes, God, I’m going to get out of bed, and from then on, I’m probably going to need a lot more help. Amen.”
The prayer evoked a memory of when I was a student at Northeast Mississippi Community College and was still living at home.
Because Northeast provided a transportation service to all parts of the area, students could save money by not having to drive to Booneville if we were willing to catch the college bus fairly early each morning. My bedroom was on the front side of our home, so the first “wake up” call I had was a pre-dawn screeching of the brakes of the milkman’s truck in the street as he stopped to leave a quart of milk on the doorstep.
The next nudge I received to get moving was when my radio alarm came on. It so happened that there was a daily one-minute devotional that was broadcast in that time slot. The program, “Be Still and Know,” provided a nice way to start each day. It offered some wonderfully insightful devotions that were completely free of the usual “hellfire and brimstone” fervor that characterized religious programming on the airwaves at that time.
The name of the program came, of course, from Psalm 46.10: “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” It’s a psalm that has provided comfort to many people during difficult times. Yet as St. Augustine contended, the psalm is not encouraging us to take refuge from the world but rather is about recognizing God as a constant source of strength even as we contend with the difficulties within the world. It is the difference between retreating from the battles of life and pausing in the midst of them to rely on God’s abiding presence.
The great reformer Martin Luther drew on Psalm 46 as the inspiration for his hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” For nearly 500 years, its words and lofty tune have stirred the hearts of the faithful and inspired courage during times of conflict. But while the hymn relies on several of the militaristic images of the psalm, it does not invoke the “be still and know” verse which remains, from my perspective, the primary appeal the psalm has for us.
Admittedly, as I lay dozing beneath the covers on those cold dark mornings, the command to “be still” was easy to follow. Being still was exactly what I wanted to do. The challenge would be later, during the course of the day when I was up and moving amidst the “battles” of existence. It was then that I found – and still find – a vital refuge in simply being still and knowing that God is always with me.