Several weeks ago, my brother came home from gym class with influenza. He was thrilled to go and be with his friends-something he hadn’t done for months. Several days later he was lying on the couch-purple eyed, achy, coughing, and dripping. My mother principally cared for him-then she took ill. Like bowling pins, my younger sister and father eventually took to their beds.
The next week, my older sister Gabriella and I tightly controlled the bathroom (cleaned after each use by a sick person) and the kitchen (we cleaned it with orange-vinegar several times.) We did not want to catch their illness.
Often in the midst of frenzy, obeying the Biblical command, “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10a) is the last thing I want to do. I’d rather work my struggles away or distract myself.
I came upon this quote recently-it spoke to me so deeply I copied it out and set it on the little red desk I’ve claimed as my writing sanctuary.
“There are seasons when to be still demands immeasurably higher strength than to act.” ~Margaret Bottome
In the struggle of keeping the sick people mending and the healthy people well, I had allowed myself to get stressed and forgot to be still. I wanted to be active, to be fighting, but I did not want to be still.
Writing it out, I accidentally wrote “greater” rather than “higher.” It made me pause. What is higher strength? Is it a greater well of reserve? A deeper knowledge of calm or how to handle stress?
I think it is something beyond either. It’s hard to be still when people accuse you or hate you-your anger seethes and boils. Or when your sick mother calls you for tea just as you’ve finished cleaning the kitchen. Or when, days later, your own energy fades and you must spend the day resting. Inner strength isn’t available in circumstances like these. I think Margaret Bottome was rather referencing God’s gracious gift of Heavenly power.
In the oft-quoted verse, “Be still, and know that I am God,” we often impose our interpretation of the word “still-” resting, at peace, deep silence and calm. And, yes, that is part of the meaning. But interestingly, the word for “still,” raphah, in Psalm 46:10 means “to sink, relax, sink down, let drop, be disheartened.” (Strong’s definition)
Though I haven’t learned the Hebrew language, I think God is trying to say something more than, “Breathe steady, girl!”
To sink. Relax. Sink down, let drop. Be disheartened.
No, I’m not saying God is encouraging despair or worry. But there is something more in this tiny verse that I’d always passed over.
When I’m worried and tense about my huge tiny problems, I forget that He is God. But to know that He is God, I first have to stop, and realize my own weakness.
I spent most of today in bed-so exhausted, so frail. It’s in moments like these that I remember I need God’s strength. I had to let go of my expectations of what I should be able to do, and recognize that I can’t do what I’d like to do.
Before we can be at peace in the knowledge that God is who He says He is, we need to do three things.
- Be disheartened. Our ego and our image of who we are must be broken.
- Sink down. We need to realize that our own strength is empty and powerless. Then we need to let our notion that we should be able to be holy and obey God without grace fall away.
- Relax. Then, we can simply rest in God. This isn’t always a physical state of relaxation (as it was for me today) but rather, a state of trust that leads to peace.
When we stop and remember that we are not holy by ourselves-that it is only by faith in God’s righteousness because of Jesus that we are sanctified, we can stop striving for something we can’t do. Then we can cling to Him daily. Instead of fighting sin with our flesh, we will battle by the Holy Spirit.
Psalm 46:10 isn’t just about us, though. The verse goes on to say, “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” When we are truly still before the Lord, we stop seeking our own glory. We can exalt God for who He is.
We are no longer disheartened by who we are or what we’ve done, because our identity and holiness rest in Jesus. Though He sees our sin, He chooses to also see the Cross when He looks at us. We sink down upon our knees in worship. We rest in His favor and His sovereignty over our lives.
Come, be still and know that He is God. He will be exalted among the nations and earth. His love and power will endure.