In Matthew 1 the angel told Joseph that one of Jesus’ “nicknames” would be “Immanuel”, which means, “God With Us.” That is no small thing. In fact, it means everything that God is with us. He created us originally to always be with Him, but our sin separated us from Him. The good news of the gospel is that through Jesus we can experience His presence in our lives again through His Holy Spirit. It is the single most important thing in a Christian’s life, that we can know that no matter what, God is “with us.”
And we see this in Psalm 46 tonight. Psalm 46 is favorite Psalm for many people, and for good reason: it is realistic about the difficulties that we face, but encourages us that God can be with us through them, which makes all the difference.
I. The Presence of Difficulties
One thing that Psalm 46 makes plain is that the people of God are not immune to difficulties. Bad things will still to and around them:
— :1 talks about “trouble” — if God is “present” in “times of trouble”, it means first of all there WILL BE times of trouble! We are not going to be immune to them.
— :2 talks about how the earth might change, and the mountains slip into the heart of the sea, verse 3 “though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at it swelling pride.”
This is the picture of an earth-changing natural disaster that alters the face of the whole earth.
You may have seen the satellite pictures they showed, of the Houston and Southeast Texas area, both before and after Hurricane Harvey. You could literally SEE from space, the brown, flooded areas of Houston, and that same-colored water draining out into the Gulf of Mexico. This is JUST the kind of thing that Psalm 46 is talking about. We may face earth-changing tragedies.
And we are not promised as God’s people that we will not go through these kinds of times.
This morning at Ashley Duncan’s school chapel over in Valdese I shared my testimony of how God worked in my life through my illness with POTS. One of the things I shared with them is that being a Christian does not make you immune from difficult things happening to you. It doesn’t mean that you won’t get sick, or have any of a myriad of other problems. And we DO face a lot of problems in our world today, don’t we?
Probably one of the best things we have ever done for our family communication is start a family chat group on Facebook Messenger. I think one of the kids set it up for our family fantasy football draft a couple of years ago, and we’ve just kept up the conversation — it must be tens of thousands of lines long now, and we add to it every day. It started for Fantasy Football, but now we talk about everything on it — what’s happening in our lives, what somebody said on Facebook, everything. It is a super means of communication for us; I’d recommend it. But this morning one of our kids pointed out that Hurricane Harvey is just barely over, then here comes Irma, and right behind her are two MORE hurricanes, Jose and Katia. We may be in for some difficult times as a nation — and that doesn’t count international crises, like North Korea’s threat with nuclear weapons, and the mountain they may have disintegrated with their nuclear tests that may contaminate the world, and on and so on.
And that’s just the phenomenological and international disasters — not counting all the crises we face in our individual lives, our families, our jobs, our schools — all kinds of things. How many of us today could raise our hands and say, “I am facing some kind of hardship or difficulty in my life right now”? Many of us!
One thing is for sure: Jesus said in John 16:33, “In the world you have tribulations.”
And Psalm 46 recognizes that. It is not a “pie in the sky” chapter; it very much reflects the reality that difficulties DO face us as the people of God here on this earth.
II. The Presence of God
But IN these difficulties, it says there is a “difference maker” — the presence of God in the midst of what we are going through. This is the second great characteristic of Psalm 46. The first is the presence of difficulties that are mentioned all through the Psalm. But the SECOND great characteristic of Psalm 46 is the PRESENCE OF GOD with His people in their trials. Notice how many times this Psalm refers to the fact that God is with His people:
— :1 says He is a “very present” help in times of trouble. That means that He is there with us through our problems. There is a kind of “friend” (and I use that word lightly) who, when you come into a difficult time, you look around and somehow they aren’t with you any more! We call those kinds of people “fair weather friends” — they’re only with you when things are good. But the Bible tells us here that God is no “fair weather friend”; He is not only “present” in trouble, but VERY present! In fact, many people testify that they never really sensed the presence of God before as much as they did in a time of difficulty. He is VERY MUCH “with us” in times of trouble.
— We saw that :2-3 talk about the earth-changing upheavals that may come — well after :3 there seems to come a big CHANGE in tone: all of the sudden :4 starts talking about “there is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.” It goes from the “roaring” of the waters in :3, to this “peaceful stream” in :4. What is the difference? It is the presence of GOD:
— :4b says it is “the holy dwelling place of the Most High.’
— :5 says “GOD is in the midst of her … GOD will help her when morning dawns.”
It makes all the difference that GOD IS WITH THEM.
— Then after :6 describes how “the nations made an uproar; the kingdoms tottered”, it says in :7, “YHWH of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.” Again, God is described as being “with them” in the turmoil.
— Then :10 admonishes us: “Be still and know that I am God …” — in all these trials, don’t forget Who He is — AND that most important thing, that He is WITH YOU!
— And then :11 closes the Psalm saying ONE MORE TIME: “YHWH of hosts is WITH US; The God of Jacob is our stronghold.”
So over and over, Psalm 46 reminds us of the presence of God with His people. It is not that because we’re God’s people that don’t have any trials; it is that because we are God’s people, He is WITH US through our trials:
— It is not that you won’t be in the wilderness like Israel was; but that like Israel, God will go with you there.
— It’s not that you won’t be thrown into a lion’s den, but that God will be with you there.
— It’s not that you won’t get cast into a fiery furnace, but that the Son of God will stand with you in it.
— It’s not that you may not be driven, like some of the early Christians were, to the ends of the earth — but that even then you have His promise: “Lo, I am WITH YOU always, even to the ends of the earth.”
The difference is that God is with us.
As I told Ashley’s school today, being a Christian did not make me immune from getting sick; but it made me know that God was WITH ME through it no matter what. (It was funny; as I was telling the story to the school chapel I used a rhetorical question, which you can’t do with kids, ‘cause they’ll answer it! So I said, “Here I was, laid out on my back, sick for a whole year, but did I still believe; did I still know that God was with me?” And a little kindergartner on the front row hollered out; “YES!!”)
Well, that was true. I DID know that God was with me; I knew even at the worst that He was with me, and that He had a plan that would somehow further His work in me and in the world. That didn’t mean I wouldn’t get sick; that didn’t mean we wouldn’t lose the house; didn’t mean I wouldn’t lose my job; didn’t mean it would all be fun & easy — but HE WAS WITH US! And that made the difference for us.
And the same thing is true for you. “In this world we have tribulations.” Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. But IF you know Jesus as your Lord & Savior, you have this amazing thing: you know that God is WITH YOU in whatever you go through. Just like Psalm 23 says: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, FOR YOU ARE WITH ME.”
And that’s how the last part of Psalm 46 ends, with :11: “YHWH of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.”
This is a great Psalm for many of us today. We should read it over & over; study it; memorize it, and quote it when we need it. It reminds us of the certainty of difficulties in this world; but that for the one who knows Him there is also the certainty of His presence, which makes all the difference.
— Read Psalm 46
— Sing: “Be Still And Know That He Is God”
— In our own difficulties, ask God to be REAL to you, to show you that He is WITH YOU, and to make the difference for you.
— Confess any sins that might be separating you from the sense of His presence
— Pray for someone ELSE you know, who needs to know that God is with them in a difficult time:
— Pray for those affected by Hurricane Harvey, our SBCDR, our offerings … and lift up those in the path of Irma … that they would sense God’s presence WITH THEM.
— Pray for wisdom for our President, that God would be WITH HIM, and Mike Pence, and the other leaders
— Pray for our Pittsburgh mission churches: Ken, Adam, John, Eric, & Cliff … God to be WITH THEM as they work in that difficult Pittsburgh area. (We’ve got some opportunities to give and pray and go … pray for US to respond in the days ahead)
— Pray for our services Sunday, that more than anything, GOD WOULD BE WITH US and that people could tell it. It’s the one thing we need more than anything else. It’s the one thing people who come need more than anything else. (We had a guest Sunday who sent me note after the service saying they can’t believe they’d been missing these services, that the Spirit of God was in this place Sunday. THAT is what we want; that is what we have been praying for; that is what we need more than anything else. Let’s ask God to make Himself manifest among us through His Spirit Sunday.
— And pray for our discipleship classes and teachers. Maybe you still need to pray about getting in a class (I could use 2-3 more in ML …)
— Pray for the student you adopted, that God would be WITH THEM this year — and lift up a teacher/admin as well.
— CLOSING CHORUS: “Be Still And Know That He Is God”