Martin Luther, the great reformer of the early 16th Century had a number of favourite bible passages. One of them was Psalm 46. He liked it so much he even wrote a hymn based on the very first line. He and his colleague Philip Melancthon would sometimes sing this psalm on dark days when they were discouraged and needed uplifting.
Psalm 46 is a beautiful psalm.
It is beautifully written. It is carefully constructed as a piece of literature. It uses adventurous adjectives; moving metaphors; and – I understand – literary devices like: allegory; alliteration (with repeated first letters of words) and assonance (repeated vowel sounds).
It is beautifully God-focussed. God is the main player. It begins with him: ‘God is…’ and it ends with: ‘the God of Jacob is…’ And it has a central chorus, repeated twice: ‘The Lord almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress’.
It is beautifully realistic. It describes the hard times of life and the good times. It talks of ‘times of trouble’ (v.1); of feeling like the very earth we’re stand on is ‘giving way’ (v.2). And yet it talks of ‘finding help’ ( v.2); of standing firm and ‘not being moved (v.5) and of God bringing good out of bad (v.9). So it is realistic about the ups and downs of life.
It’s beautifully meditative. It guides the singer (for don’t forget it would have been sung) to do something that we all need to hear when life gets hectic and busy: to ‘Be still and know that I am God’ (v.10).
Because of is beauty, many people have found, with Martin Luther that Psalm 46 is a source of great strength, assurance and inspiration. And yet, the psalm as a whole makes a claim that to some would be preposterous. That claim is perhaps best expressed in the summary found in Study Bible of the ESV translation – the English Standard Version. This is what it says:
‘The psalm is a hymn celebrating Zion as the special city,
to which God has pledged himself and through which he will bless the world.’
So in this psalm God’s people claim that they are the ones through whom God wants to bless the world. ‘What a preposterous claim!’ some might say: ‘Who do they think they are?!’
Yet that’s what the Old Testament people of God believed. And they were right, for that is the consistent teaching of Scripture. Isn’t that what the call of Abraham was all about? For God told Abraham: ‘through you all nations will be blessed’ (Gen 22). And it’s even more clear in the New Testament because Jesus Christ came to embody God’s blessing to the whole world. To make a way to the Father. To open the gate of heaven. Which is why the people of Christ are called in the Great Commission of Matthew 28 to ‘Go into all the world’ (to all people groups) and proclaim the good news.
Since it was written some 3000 years ago, the people of God, inspired by this beautiful psalm, have believed that through them God wants to bring his kingdom. They’ve believed that through them God wants to bring his transforming power. They’ve believed that through them God wants to change lives, bring hope, and bring freedom. Through them!!!
But time and time again God’s people have qualified any claim to arrogance by saying: ‘that’s because it’s not really about us. It’s all about him. It’s about God being our refuge and strength (v1); God being our very present help (v.1); God being in our midst (v.5); God uttering his voice (v.6); God making wars cease (v.9); God being exalted (v.10). It’s all about him. And us being his people. Serving him. Following him. Rejoicing in him. Loving him. Knowing him. Joining in his work. And telling of what he has done.’
Telling of what he has done is what’s at the heart of this psalm, and is what God’s people are told to do in verse 8: ‘Come and see what the Lord has done’.
It’s about story. It’s about testimony. Telling the stories so people can see. And inviting others to find out. There at the heart of the psalm we’re supposed to sing to each other: ‘Come and see what God has done’.
As I taught The Belfrey staff about this yesterday, I got Simon Bray (our Director of Music & Worship) to sing this verse over us. He did a great job, with no notice, beckoning us to ‘Come and see what the Lord has done’ – and then, as we do each week we told some stories. We heard some great things that God had been doing in our midst – of people discovering faith in Christ, of answered prayer, of financial provision, of people struggling and yet discovering God’s presence in worship.
So when life is tough (which this psalm talks about), and when war is around us (which this psalm talks about), and when it feels like the world around us is crumbling (which this psalm talks about) you are called to tell others of what God has done. You are called to encourage others and draw them towards God through story. With testimony.
Are you doing that? If not, pray for an opportunity to do so this week. Because as you do, you will help others to see how amazing God is – so they too can say: ‘The Lord Almighty is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress.’
Let’s hear those God-stories.