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Psalms 46 was the favorite Psalm of Martin Luther, — the psalm that inspired him to write “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” God is a stronghold and a tower, a bulwark never failing! I must say that one of the most exciting experiences I ever had was to worship in a German Church when they sang “Ein Feste Burg.” They sing it about a third of the speed that we sing it here with great solemnity and power, great authority and great thought on every word. When I sing that song, I always think of what Luther was going through when he wrote it. I can understand what a great thrill and great joy Psalms 46 was to him. It’s a psalm that tells you what to do when trouble comes.
Some people seem to lead charmed lives … trouble rarely comes their way. When it does come, they’re the kind of people who can check it off quite easily. But one thing that every human being needs to beware of is that real trouble will come one day! There is no way that a human being living in a troubled world, in troublesome times can avoid real trouble. It’s very important that we be prepared when trouble comes.
It may be that as I preach on the subject When Trouble Comes you will say to yourself, “I don’t have any trouble, everything is fine by me.” Don’t be so sure that what I say won’t be worth remembering one day.
On the other hand, some of you are going through times of real stress and difficulty. Psalms 46 will be a blessing to you. In poetic language, the psalmist describes the way trouble can come. He talks about the earth being removed, and the mountains being carried into the midst of the sea. That is a picture of an earthquake. Sometimes trouble comes with the sheer finality of an earthquake. All of a sudden it’s there, and there’s nothing you can do.
People who have gone through earthquakes say they don’t know of anything else that makes a human being feel quite so helpless. When we were bombed during the war, we figured if we could get into a deep enough hole, we would be all right. We hurriedly got there, and we got our head down. We took a book along and read until the thing was over.
With an earthquake, you can’t even go into a hole because you have a nasty feeling that the hole might be shaking, too. You run out of a building because the building might collapse on top of you. There’s no place to go!
Sometimes trouble comes to people like that — without any warning, with no way of resisting it, with total finality, and suddenly they find that every thing has dropped right out of the bottom of their life.
I talked to a lady like that just this past week. She was very gracious, probably in her middle 50s. There was a special look on her face as she listened to the messages we brought. She was there every time we had a meeting. Someone introduced me to her at the end. I enjoyed talking with her. She seemed to have a very mature Christian attitude and faith.
After she had gone, the person who introduced us said, “Do you know about her?” I said, “No.” She said, “She’s one of the most remarkable ladies in this whole congregation.” A short time ago, her husband, who was in excellent health, suddenly died without any warning. She was terribly shaken by this. A few weeks after this happened, her only son went to school and was shot fatally by one of his friends who suddenly pulled a gun on him without warning. I looked at the lady, and I thought, yes, there’s been something like that in her life. There was a caliber and a depth about her that was absolutely unbelievable. She knew what it was to have trouble come with the finality of an earthquake and learned how to cope. Do you know what she did?
The first thing she did after she heard that this boy had shot her son was to go to the prison and ask to see him. She got on her knees and prayed for him. When trouble comes with the finality of an earthquake, there are some people who can cope like that. I would suggest to you, it is because they have a working knowledge of Psalms 46. It may not be come with the fearful finality and awful shock of an earthquake, but it’s going to come — be ready for it!
He uses a second poetic expression after he talked about the earthquake. In Psalms 46:3, he says, “though the waters thereof roar and be troubled.” Here he’s talking about the trouble which comes with the sheer fury of a storm. You know there are very few things I miss living here in America, but one of the few things I do miss is the smell of the salt of the sea. I was raised in a small town on the Northwest coast of England, and we were never more than a few yards from the sea. We swam in it all summer — well, we jumped in it, and jumped out again before our limbs froze — that’s what we call swimming in England. We played on it, or on the side of it all winter, and we had ozone in our lungs all of the time. I miss that smell!
I miss the storms as well! It was an exhilarating experience to be out on the side of the beach when one of the great Atlantic storms would come rolling in. The rain clouds would come over and the winds would shriek and the waves would come in rising up to 20, 25 feet high, and the whole thing would come crashing in. It was rather nice to watch it from where we did, on the security of a sea wall.
It was unpleasant to be caught in a storm quite like that. The nearest thing, close to it, that I ever did was to be caught in a storm in a small boat on a large lake one day in the middle of Sweden. I had 40 teenagers with me from England. I thought we were all going down. It was an unpleasant experience, to say the least. Sometimes, trouble comes like that! It comes to some people with the finality of an earthquake when the bottom drops out of every thing. For others, it comes with a shrill, shrieking violence and the irresistible force and fury of a storm.
There’s a fellow I like to think about in the Old Testament. He’s one of David’s mighty men. He got up one morning, and was going out to battle. Unfortunately, they had a snow storm. We all know what happens when we have a snow storm. If we want an excuse, we have a beautiful excuse when the snow storm comes — we cancel everything! This man didn’t cancel anything, he kept going. As he was going along in his snow storm suddenly he fell into a pit. I can imagine him lying in the bottom of this pit, having struggled through the snow storm, wondering how he would ever get out. Then he heard a noise behind him, and looked and there was a lion. He probably said to himself, “This just isn’t my day!” I start off with a snow storm, I fall into a pit that I can’t get out of, and down in the bottom of this pit, there’s a lion. I quit! I give up!
What do you do when trouble comes with a fury of a storm from every angle — the snow, the storm, the pit, and the lion? The beautiful thing that he says about this mighty man of David is that he slew the lion, in the pit, on a stormy day, and lived to tell the tale. That’s what you do when trouble comes! You learn to cope with it, and you learn to overcome it when you apply the principles that we have here in Psalms 46.
Sometimes it comes not with the finality of an earth-quake, or the fury of a storm, but with the force of a flood. So in the end of Psalms 46:3, he says this: “Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.” Here you have the pic-ture of everything shaking, with the swelling of the flood and everything being absolutely overwhelm-ed. When I was thinking of this, I thought of Job. Have you read Job recently? Maybe you ought to sometime soon. You might get a bit bogged down with its philo-sophers and his comforters, but you start by reading the beginning of the story. It’s fascinating. Job was a remarkable man!
He was a success. He had a large family and large everything. You name it, he had it! He was the greatest! Satan was a bit worried about him, and he wondered if he could knock him on his nose! So he had a word with God about Job. God gave him permission to do certain things. The philosophy of Job is vital to the understanding of trouble.
There is a Satan. There is a power of evil in the world. Things do happen, but they always happen under the jurisdiction of God. In other words, God never allows anything to happen to His children outside of what He believes they can cope with — remember that!
Satan was given permission by God to do certain things in order that Satan might be an instrument of blessing — funny enough — under God’s overwhelming grace in Job’s life. He took everything — all his sons, all his daughters, all his lands, all his buildings, all his camels, all his asses, all his oxen. Then in the end he even took his health. We now see Job sitting on the trash heap outside the city scratching himself with a shard because he had developed a chronic disease and was about driven out of his mind.
Trouble does come — sometimes with the force of a flood like it did to Job. But now listen to this: “God Is Our Refuge and Strength, a Very … Present Help … In Trouble.” Now what do we do when trouble comes? Three things are outlined for us in this Psalms 46.
First, realize when trouble comes that God is a Refuge for His people. Secondly, realize, according to verse five, that God is Resident among His people. Thirdly, realize that, according to verse four, God sends a River of blessing to His people. It is the understanding of these three things that equip people to cope with the trouble that either will come, or has come, or is still here.
What do we mean by saying God is a Refuge for His people? It suggests to us this idea of something like the Cities of Refuge that they had in the Old Testament. You can read about it in Numbers. God, who gave instructions for the building of His ideal nation in Israel, insisted that they should have certain cities dotted around that land that were “Cities of Refuge.” In those days, they had pre-summary justice. They worked on the principle of an “eye for an eye,” a “tooth for a tooth.” If anybody touches their eye, they had better look out! If anybody pulls their tooth they had better watch out!
In the Cities of Refuge, there was a touch of mercy, though. If a man killed somebody by accident, he could flee to a City of Refuge. So, for instance, if you’re working, and the head of your ax flew off and hit someone between the eyes and killed him, the thing to do immediately was to move as quickly as you could for the City of Refuge.
If you could get there, open the door, drag yourself in, and get them to slam the city gates behind you, you were safe! You spent the rest of your days there, but at east you had a “City of Refuge” (Numbers 35).
This is the picture that we have of God being a Refuge who is continually available to His people. In other words, it might seem sometimes that the flood, and earthquake, and the storm are coming after you, and you know you’re going to be totally engulfed.
Don’t try to argue with a flood. Don’t try to argue with a storm and don’t try to rationalize when everything is shaking like an earthquake. Don’t try to deal with the power of Satan, and don’t try to cope with trouble yourself. Admit when you’re beaten, and head for the “City of Refuge.”
The first thing that you must realize is that God is continually available. This is an Old Testament passage, but the New Testament amplifies it even further. The Lord Jesus Himself said that we must come unto Him, all of us who are weary, and heavy laden, and He will give us rest. So the simple message as to what to do in time of trouble is this: admit that God is your Refuge, and you can’t cope. Christ is the One who opens His arms to you and says, “Come to Me with all your burdens, roll them upon Me, give Me the problem, and I promise to be what you need.”
Secondly, we must realize that God our Refuge is not only continually available, but He is thoroughly adequate. For it says in this verse, God is our Refuge, but also our Strength. It will be no good to go back to the Old Testament picture of the Cities of Refuge. It would be no good if they had a City of Refuge and the gates were all broken down, because the guy who was hot on your tail wouldn’t worry about those old gates. If they wouldn’t keep him out, they needed to have a place of refuge. They also needed to have strength to hold it up. There would be no good saying that “God is our Refuge” if He weren’t strong enough. It would do no good to say “God is continually able,” if God were not adequate.
We have to stick our necks out here, and say, “There is no way trouble can come into a person’s life — however overwhelming it might be — there is no way it can come and be greater than the strength of God to enable you to survive it. There is no way trouble can come your way outside the permissive will of God!
Satan can throw all the forces of Hell at you, but God is your strength. The Risen Lord is adequate. If you closely relate to Him, there is no way that you can be finally and ultimately defeated. I know that’s sticking your neck out to say a thing like that, but I believe that is exactly what the Scriptures teach. We must realize that God is our Refuge, not only continually available, and thoroughly adequate, but thirdly, readily accessible as well.
I love what it says in verse one. Not only is God our refuge and our strength, God is “a very present help” in trouble. In other words, as far as the Old Testament sage was concerned, he knew he didn’t have to reach further than the tips of his fingers to be able to lay hold of the hand of God. As far as the New Testament saint is concerned, he doesn’t even have to reach that far, for he believes that the God who loves him, sent Christ to die for him, raised Him up and put Him into his life is alive within him. You can’t get anybody more present than that — “in you.”
This is the lovely message of what to do in trouble. Recognize that God is my Refuge, and turn to Him. I met two people this last week with the same pressure upon them. They had the same background. They both have blood throbbing in their veins, they’ve had the same education, they’ve had the same spiritual experience. The remarkable thing about it was this: one went one way, and one went in exactly the opposite direction. Why is that?
When trouble comes it’s like the sun. For some people, it can harden them like clay. For others it can soften them like wax. It all depends on what you’re made of and how you respond to the heat of the furnace when it comes upon you. This is what we have to do, realize that God is our refuge.
Secondly, we have to realize that God is resident among His people. Verse 4: “There is a river, the streams whereof, make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is in the midst bf her; she shall not be moved.” The term “The City of God,” as far as the psalmist was concerned, was a picture that he loved to use of Mount Zion — his favorite place. Mount Zion was the place where The Temple was going to be. Mount Zion was the place where the Tabernacle of the Most High was going to De. This was the place.
Some of us who were there not too long ago, will remember the certain sense of awe that you have as you stand on Mount Zion. You realize that as far as the Old Testament people were concerned, this was the site of the City of God. However, further on in the New Testament, you discover that the City of God is another term given for the Church of Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, the City of God on Mount Zion, ancient Jerusalem, was a picture of the fact that God in His Tabernacle was resident among His people. So then, we should understand that the Church, which is composed of people born again of the Spirit of God, baptized in the Body of Christ, is the “City of God”, and God is resident in our midst.
What do you do in trouble? First, you recognize and you realize that God is your own Refuge. Secondly, you reckon that God is very much alive in the fellowship of His people. In the fellowship of His people there is support; in the fellowship of His people there is concern and compassion; not because they are special people — they’re not, they’re just like everybody else — but God is resident in those people.
I further believe one of the great things we must do in the time of trouble is to realize, not only, that God is a Refuge continually available; but we must also realize that God is resident in the fellowship of His saints, and very much alive here on earth. We can go even further than that, and we begin to discover that God is not only resident in the fellowship of His church, but in real Christians also, God is alive through the Holy Spirit.
What do I do in time of trouble? I run to God as my Refuge and I come to Christ, who opens His arms, and who says, “Come unto Me all ye who are weary and heavy laden” and at the same time I relate to Christ who by His Holy Spirit is in me. I say, “What a joy the Lord is actually resident in me — this old body of mine, this old mind of mine, this old house of mine is cracking at the foundation. Under pressure the floods are coming, the earthquake is coming, the storm is coming, but the glorious thing about it is this: God is resident within me!”
In the latter part of Psalms 46:4, he says, “The City of God is a holy place where the Most High dwells.” He is the Most High! In other words, He is the One who is seated on the Throne above all thrones as the One who is ordering the universe. Therefore, He is a God of power and purpose. What an exciting thing it is to be a Christian. It doesn’t mean that you are immune from trouble. It doesn’t mean that you won’t have problems. It may mean that you will have more, but the exciting thing about it is — in the midst of trouble you know what it is to have a God alive and alert within you, who is seated on the Throne of the Most High.
He is a God of overflowing grace and overruling serenity, and He is therefore a God of power and purpose alive within you. If you really believe that, when trouble comes your attitude toward trouble is going to be different. You realize that the God who is resident in your life is the God of power and purpose. He is the Most High! Secondly, He is not only the Most High, but it says here in Psalms 46:7, that He “the Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress; the Lord of hosts is with us.”
Psalms 46:11 is repeating the same verse. “The Lord of hosts is with us!” In Martin Luther’s hymn, you will remember that one of the lines says, “Lord Sabaoth His Name!” What does that mean? Lord of Hosts is a translation of “Jehovah Sabaoth.” Jehovah means “the Self-Existent One.” Sabaoth means “Of Mighty Armies.” So Lord of Hosts, or Jehovah Sabaoth means “God is a Self-Existent One” who has at His beck and call unbelievable resources of power.
Now then, what do I do when trouble comes? I remember that the most High is in the midst of us, and I remember that the Lord of Hosts is with us. That helps me to get the whole scene of my trouble into perspective. Not only do I see the God of purpose seated on the Throne above all thrones acting on “my behalf”; I also see that God has unbelievable power “alive” in might within the very context of my life, and that’s where trouble gets into perspective.
Jacob and I have a lot in common. The only thing is we haven’t quite finished up the same way yet, but I hope I’ll catch up with him. Jacob was a crook. Jacob was twisted. Jacob was so unbelievably bad inside, that it was too bad to be true. The lovely thing about it was this: God stuck with him, and God worked with him and over the years, He dealt with Jacob. He closed in on Jacob, and Jacob reaped the benefits of his own stupidity because God stuck with him, and stuck with him, and stuck with him until the end! One glad day, Jacob says, “I quit, God! Now do what you can do with me.” God says, “I’ll tell you what I can do. I’ll change you from Jacob into Israel! I’ll change you from the one who is twisted, and warped, and mean into “a prince of God” that’s what Jacob to Israel really means.
The lovely thing I think of every time I think of the God of Jacob is that He is a God of unbelievable patience. Now put these three things together. He is the Most High — that means He is a God of purpose. He is Jehovah Sabaoth, the Lord of mighty armies — that means He is the God of power. He is the God of Jacob — that means to me He is the God of patience. The thrilling thing about it is this: I must constantly realize that He is in residence among His people, and through the Holy Spirit He is “alive” in me. What do I do in trouble? I realize He’s a refuge, and He’s a resident, but thirdly, I must also realize that God sends a river to His people.
Psalms 46:4, “There is a river, the streams thereof shall make glad the city of God.” It’s interesting here that He is talking about a river that makes glad when in the beginning of the psalm it’s “what to do in time of trouble.” Of course, the two can be fitted together when you begin to comprehend that God is the One who sends a river of blessing to His people. If you want to check on this river, do a study of Ezekiel 47, and of John 7:37-39. If you look into these passages, you’ll see that the River of God that flows in the City of God is a fabulous picture of the activity of the Spirit of God. To be clear on this, the Lord Jesus in John 7 said, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He that believeth in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.” Then the word of explanation comes from John, “This spake He of the Spirit.”
There’s no question about it, the picture of the river, according to the interpretation of the New Testament, is a picture of the activity of the Spirit of God. If you’re in trouble today, I want to say this to you, there is a glorious river that is nothing less than the flow of the Spirit of God straight from the Throne of God. The lovely thing about this river is that it brings refreshment wherever it flows because it is a river that makes glad the people of God.
“How does it do that?” you ask. Well, the activity of the Spirit of God, through the Word of God, makes glad the people of God, when they are going through trouble, because God will always be talking with your spirit and reminding you that you are a child of God. He will always be reminding you that you are loved of God. He will always be speaking to you through the Word of God and applying the truth of God to your heart. That’s how the River of God makes glad the City of God.
What do you do in trouble? Whatever else you do, realize that the River of the Spirit of God flowing in your life must be preserved. For it is in this area — through the spiritual operation of the Spirit of God like a river in your life — that you are going to be made strong so that you can cope. I see God is my refuge; I see God is a resident; I see God sends a river. “There is a river, the streams thereof make glad the City of God.” It is a vast river with many, many tributaries. If you want to explore the tributaries as the work of the Spirit of God in your life, that will make you glad. You’ll discover that wherever the river flows it has a reviving effect.
What must I do when trouble comes? I must respond. You know it’s possible to sit there and mark your Bible and say, “Hey, isn’t that good? God’s a Refuge, God’s a Resident, God’s a River” and go out and sink under your trouble!
We must respond by doing three things: First, by reflecting on what this means. If you check on this psalm, you’ll discover that He makes the statement, then He comes up with an application of the statement. For instance, God is a refuge. Therefore, fear is illogical. God is a refuge, therefore, I will not be troubled. I will discover that if God really is my refuge, I have no logical grounds for fear.
Secondly, if God is resident, the City of God is immovable. Psalms 46:5 says, “God is in the midst of her, or within her, she will not fall.” Therefore she will not be moved. Reflect on what it means! Thirdly, If God has the river of the power of the Spirit of God, then the Christian and Christianity is invincible.
So, what do I do in trouble? I realize these things, and I reflect on them. I begin to discover courage flowing in my veins through the operation of God by His Spirit in my life. When I have reflected on these things, then I review what God has done, Psalms 46:8-9. When you’re in trouble, let me give you an invitation — “Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations He has made in the earth.” If you want to see the bigger picture of desolation, go and have a look at that dank, empty tomb. He made the tomb desolate. He shattered it. “Come, and see what the Lord has done, and if you’re in trouble see your trouble in the light of what He has done. Then thirdly, you respond by rejoicing in what He promises. Psalms 46:10 says, “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” That’s going to help with your trouble.
What do I do in trouble? First, I realize that God is a refuge, that God is resident, and that He sends a river. Secondly, I respond to what I realize as I reflect on these things, as I review what God has done, and as I rejoice in what He promises.
Finally, here’s the funniest thing to do, isn’t it? What do you do in time of trouble? Relax! “Well,” you say, ‘It’s obvious you haven’t had much trouble.” Well, you’re probably right! My problem is this: God’s given me so much time to study the principles, I hate to think what He’s cooking up for me now. Nevertheless, I’ve had some problems, and I’ve found these principles work. But, of course, I never measure the validity of Scripture by my experience; I always measure my experience by the validity of Scripture.
So, as I look at this Scripture, I see a remarkable thing in Psalms 46:10, which surely, is a great favorite with a lot of people: “Be still, and know that I am God!” See it in its context. It’s in the context of trouble. “Be still, and know that I am God.” The words, “Be still” mean literally “relax.” Relax! Some people would say, “Heave all responsibility when trouble comes.” That is not what it means. You’ve seen the responsibility already. You’ve seen the responsibility of going to the Refuge, of reckoning with the Resident, and appropriating the River — these three it’s.
You’ve seen the responsibility of responding to what you know, or reviewing, of reflecting, or rejoicing, but the whole business of relaxing comes after you’ve done all this. We are trusting the Lord to do what He intends to do! There is your balance. I respond, that’s my responsibility alone, and then I relax! I will be still, and see what God does!
To relax in the Lord, first of all, means that you are going to have to resist the natural impulses. Be Still! Ha! in this spinning world of ours today, in its rapid pace, the last thing anybody wants to do is Be Still! When I suddenly find myself with time off, I find myself pacing up and down. But it’s not talking about physical stillness. It’s talking about “heart stillness,” simply relaxing in the Lord Jesus. That means there has to be a resisting of every natural impulse that you have, to hit that trouble as hard as you can. Resist that impulse to fight it, and relax in Him.
The second thing is this: To restore the spiritual relationship which comes through Knowing who He really is. What do you do when trouble comes? You realize certain things, you respond to certain things, and then you relax in your relationship with Him, and you will begin to discover the God of the Old Testament and the Christ of the New Testament and the Spirit of God, who has offered it Now, all combined on your behalf. And you will begin to discover “Victory” in trouble, provided, of course, you are living committed to Him. All of the above is totally irrelevant to a person who wants a quick answer to his trouble, but doesn’t want the Lord to be his Lord. You know we have many people like that in the world today.
Some folks got in touch with us once in England. They said, “A certain girl has got an awful lot of trouble. We know that you help young people. Can you help her? We said, “Yes, we’d love to.” Then they said, “But we don’t want her converting!” Then we said, “No, we understand what you mean. You simply want all the benefits of the Lord without all the responsibilities of Lordship for this person. Well, just don’t stand there, because there’s no way we can help.”
The only way that you can ever help anybody spiritually in time of trouble is when they are prepared to draw the benefits of His Lordship from acknowledging Him as their Lord. If you’re not committed to that, then much of what I have said would not be of much help to you in time of trouble. But if you are committed, these are the principles, and the obvious thing to do is this: Make the Lord, Lord. Submit to Him. Invite Him to be your Master and Savior.