Leona’s death left us all devastated. She was only 50 and left behind two daughters, the youngest just nine years old. She was the third active member of our church to succumb to Covid in ten days. The church was not prepared for this and I was not trained to conduct three funerals in ten days.
The grief was heavy. But I still had to preach a sermon. In my sombre mood, I was reconsidering my original plan to preach on Psalm 46. After these tragic deaths I just naturally assumed that I could not preach on a psalm that begins with the declaration, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1).
How could I get up and say to our grieving church family that God had been Leona’s refuge, strength or very present help in trouble as she lay on her ICU bed, struggling to breathe, and finally succumbing to death? I thought about quietly finding a different psalm for my sermon, perhaps a psalm of comfort or lament—certainly not a psalm of confidence.
Thankfully, after further reflection, I realised I had subconsciously fallen into a trap that I often preach against—thinking that if God is really our refuge and strength then we will not experience troubles in life.
God never promised us a problem-free, pain-free or stress-free life. In fact, Jesus actually prepared us for the opposite, “. . .in the world you will have tribulation. . .” (John 16:33). Even Psalm 46 describes the world as one in which the earth gives way, the mountains are moved into the the heart of the sea, nations rage and kingdoms totter.
Through the Gospel God has given his people the great hope of a future world without any pain or sorrow. But it is unrealistic to expect a trial-free life in this world.
I realised I had subconsciously fallen into a trap that I often preach against—thinking that if God is really our refuge and strength then we will not experience troubles in life.
The Way to Stillness in Suffering
In the midst of our grief and suffering, God promises a way for us to be still. One of the most-quoted and familiar lines in the Bible comes from Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God. . . .”
Pay careful attention to these words, precisely because they are so familiar.
God does not say, “Be still and know that everything will be fine.” Nor does he say, “Be still and know that Leona will be healed.” He says, “Be still and know that I am God.” He goes on to say, “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Ps. 46:10).
What exactly is God saying here? How does it help us to be still?
Firstly, God is reminding us we are not God. We do not run the world. We do not get to decide when life should begin or end, who gets sick, who recovers, who dies, and who lives. We are not God.
Secondly, he is reminding us he is God. He is in control of everything. There is no such thing as chance, bad luck, or randomness in God’s world. He does not make mistakes and he is not prone to accidents.
Thirdly, God has the bird’s eye view of what will happen, he has the power to decide when it will happen, and the authority to permit how it should happen. He is God. He is sovereign. It is why he can be trusted.
Finally, God declares he will be exalted. God always wins. His plans never fail and his purposes cannot be thwarted.
The Secret to Stillness in Suffering
How does knowing these things help us to be still? Ultimately, we do not know what the future of this life holds. If this experience with Covid has taught us anything, it is that in this world we just do not know. Most of life is a complete mystery, and it is completely out of our hands.
If our peace depends on the “best laid plans” then our plans are shaky at best. The recent pandemic has shown us that we cannot have any confidence about life because things can change so quickly.
When we are anxious and cannot be still we must ask whether it is because the foundation is shaky—if our lives are built on something God never promised us. But there is one thing he has promised us we can be certain about—He is God and He will be exalted.
His every plan will be fulfilled, His every purpose will succeed. Our plans, our desires, our hopes may not be realised—in fact we may be disappointed, or even crushed and devastated. But God’s plans will always come to pass. He is God and he will be exalted among the nations, he will be exalted on earth.
When we are anxious and cannot be still we must ask whether it is because the foundation is shaky—if our lives are built on something God never promised us.
The good news for us is through Jesus, God’s ultimate victory and vindication will be our ultimate victory and vindication. In Christ, we will also partake in the sweet fruit of all God’s plans coming to pass and we will share in the bounty of him being exalted.
God has better plans for us than what we have for ourselves. He will be glorified, and amazingly, we will be glorified with him. Things may feel unbearably difficult right now but it will not be this way forever. Not only has God’s victory become ours through Christ, but Jesus also shows us what stillness looks like in real life.
What Stillness in Suffering Looks Like
There was a time when Jesus was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death (Mark 14:34), as he felt the weight of all human sin and sickness upon him in Gethsemane. But even as he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears (Heb. 5:7) that finally ended with a loud cry of anguish (Matt. 27:46), he was being still before God. He knew God was in control.
Being still does not mean silence, detachment, stoicism, feeling numb or being unmoved, as we can see in Christ’s suffering. It means in all our weeping, grieving, anguish and burdens, we have an undergirding hope, confidence, and assurance deep down in our souls that whatever happens God is still God. He is in control, he will be exalted, his purposes and plans will be accomplished—in the world and in our lives. Even in the heart of sorrow there can be stillness.
In his sorrow and stillness, Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).
As a result of his prayer and as a result of his sacrifice, today we can actually be still and know he is God, no matter what kind of grief or uncertainty we may be facing. Even in terrible loss and tragedy we can be still in the expressive pattern Christ left for us. God is God and he will be exalted. Knowing this, we can be still.