“Be still and know that I am God.” This is a familiar verse to many of us, yet it often seems impossible to do what the psalmist challenges us to do—set everything else aside and listen for the still, small voice of God.
One of the things I hear from faith journeyers is how different translations of the Bible can be confusing. The Bible wasn’t written in a day, or a week, or a month. It wasn’t even written in a year! Rather, it was written over the span of millennia. It was written by several different writers living in different times and different locations and in different languages. We can debate whether it was the directed Word of God, or it was the inspired Word of God, but we can agree it was written over time by different people. Even today, there are many different translations, or interpretations. This passage of scripture, “Be still, and know that I am God” is taken from a larger passage dealing with the strength and power of the Lord. The passage deals with the ending of wars. That could be why some of the translations and interpretations of the brief passage “Be still, and know that I am God” are like:
“That’s enough! Now know that I am God!” from the Common English Bible.
Today, there is much for us to hear in this very brief passage. What might it mean for you to “be still”? Where is God saying to you, “That’s enough!”?
“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matt. 18:20)
I want to look at a very brief scripture today and that is Psalms 46:10a. It’s a pretty well-known scripture passage and that scripture is “Be still, and know that I am God.”
I live in a second floor apartment near downtown Tulsa and I was sitting on my balcony a few weeks ago reading my Bible. I try to read the Bible every day, although I don’t always do so. However, I have a “Daily Walk Bible”. I bought this Bible several years ago. It starts with Genesis and ends with Revelations. Each day it has a few chapters set aside to be read, along with a daily commentary that asks the reader to look back, look around, and look ahead. About once a week there is no specific reading, but it’s a day to catch up, or to consider what you have read.
For me, it was and continues to be the best way to come to know more fully the Word of God. I am probably on my fourth time to take a year to read the Bible. My copy is starting to get worn. I have marked significant passages and each time I re-read it, I find something new and I mark it. I also re-read the passages I have marked, trying to understand why at one point in my life this passage meant something to me.
As I was saying, I was sitting on my balcony one morning, coffee beside me, sounds of cars and trucks on the nearby highway competing with the sounds of birds in the trees beside my chair and I was reading through my daily Bible reading, which that day was a portion of Psalms. The traffic noise, birds chirping, construction noise, people talking and getting in and out of cars were all noise outside of me, but there was also noise inside me. I was listening to my mind, struggling with a sermon I have always wanted to deliver, but not knowing how to deliver it. I was also thinking of my students in my summer classes and making assignments, grading papers. I was thinking of my Sunday school lesson and what questions I wanted to cover. Thoughts of my family and friends dashed in and out of my thoughts. I thought of my forever love and our growing relationship. I had an upcoming series of medical tests to check my heart. And somehow, reflections on how the greater world and the community around me with its daily parade of tragedy and controversy also found its way into my thoughts.
With all that noise going on, all those bits of noise clamoring for my attention, it was difficult to hold my attention to the words printed on the pages of the book in my hands. I caught myself a time or two having to restart my reading. I was reading Psalms 42 through 49. There were a few marks I had made previously in this passage, but I read through one that stopped me right then and there. That portion of a verse, there near the bottom of the page, was powerful enough to make all the noise inside me and around me vanish. “Be still, and know that I am God”.
Wow. All that noise was gone. The traffic didn’t stop, the birdsong was not stilled, the ongoing construction did not halt, yet all the turmoil of my mind and of my soul was stopped in that moment. I felt my breath. I heard the beating of my heart. The world did not stop. But I did. “Be still, and know that I am God”. I knew then I had to preach this moment, these Words.
One of the things I hear from faith journeyers is how different translations of the Bible can be confusing. The Bible wasn’t written in a day, or a week, or a month. It wasn’t even written in a year! Rather, it was written over the span of millennia. It was written by several different writers living in different times and different locations and in different languages. We can debate whether it was the directed Word of God, or it was the inspired Word of God, but we can agree it was written over time by different people. Even today, there are many different translations, or interpretations. This passage of scripture, “Be still, and know that I am God” is taken from a larger passage dealing with the strength and power of the Lord. In the whole, the passage is this –
He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. He says, “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalms 46:9-10 (NIV)
The passage deals with the ending of wars. That could be why some of the translations and interpretations of the brief passage “Be still, and know that I am God” are like “That’s enough! Now know that I am God!” from the Common English Bible. Or from the Christian Standard Bible, “Stop your fighting, and know that I am God”. Or even The Message version, “Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God.” These are all different, but remain the same. They are how different humans looked at what was written and applied their own experience and education, their own biases and expectations to interpret this word of God.
That is a way of trying to address the confusion others have. If you are confused, then you are in good company! The apostle Paul spent most of his time trying to interpret and clarify the confusion arising in the new church. The numerous Bible translations and commentaries that are available show we are still trying to find our way. And we should celebrate our desire and our effort to grow in our understanding.
But even with all that, when we sit down to read our Bible, with whatever translation we use, we are inviting God to come into our life. Even the most devout faith journeyer still seeks to invite God into their life. It is for me that part of a scripture passage, not even a full verse that stopped me. And in that moment, the peace of knowing the Lord, replaced all that competing noise in my ears and in my soul.
Being the somewhat scholar I think I am, after reading that passage, and realizing the transformative moment it was for me, I wanted to compare the passage with another one of my Bibles so I stepped from the balcony into my apartment and went to the first Bible I came to and that was my Wesley Study Bible. I picked up the Bible and began to leaf through it to locate the passage in Psalms. As I neared the page I needed, I came across one of the many “Wesley Core Term” boxes which are found throughout this specific study Bible. I had already thumbed past several boxes and other commentaries trying to locate the passage but as the scripture passage had stopped me a few minutes before on my balcony, now I was stopped standing in my dining room. This small box was titled “Prayer”. The part that stood out to me was this passage; “Prayer is more than a declaration of our needs and our praise. It is a return to God of the divine breath (or Spirit) that animates our life toward God.” In that moment, I was struck for the second time in just a few minutes time with an understanding. This understanding was that most of our prayers are either prayers of praise, or more often, prayers for needs. We often forget prayer is more than giving God our lists of praises or thanks or our needs and wants. There is a third part of prayer that allows us to breathe God into our lives. When we are busy, busy with the noise that is our lives, the noise we all hear and the noise we only know inside of us, it is in the silence of letting God still the noise and letting us know that He is God.
Our Lord stilled the storm on the Sea of Galilee. The Psalmist extolled the Lord in saying “He leads me beside quiet waters”. We are all challenged by the noise of our lives. We are drawn farther away from our Father by the call of distractions. We kid ourselves into believing that by taking a few hours on Sunday morning we have “stilled” those distractions, yet many of us are anywhere but in silent communion with the Lord. We take our lists of praises and concerns, blessings and troubles when we sometimes pray before a meal, thinking we are letting God in, when in reality, our lists push Him away. We push Him away, not allowing Him the opportunity to come into our lives, to breathe in us His Spirit. It’s impossible to breathe in if you are busy talking, busy praising, busy pleading. If you are just busy, busy, busy, surrounding yourself with busy noise, by letting busy noise rule your inner self, how can you let God in?
Be still, and know that I am God.