Formation’s Off-button for the World’s Propaganda
“Help.” It is a four-letter word that even the most hardened and leathery person will one day speak. Back in chapter 44, while reflecting on Psalm 44, I mentioned the legitimate place of “help” in our praying. All of us, just like that famous person, Alexander, in the children’s book, have head-on collisions with “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days.” All the self-help nonsense, all the medicines, all the advertisement promises cannot give us the kind of help we want. What we want is God-saturated help.
Even if we get everything right—the right job, the right education, the right physical body, the right marriage, the right house in the right neighborhood, the right financial plan — all of that and more—we would still not have that right-kind-of-help only found in a relationship with Jesus. Listen to this prayer closely. It is no make-believe Pollyanna prayer.
To The Choirmaster. Of The Sons Of Korah.
According To Alamoth. A Song.
1 God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore, we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
8 Come, behold the works of the LORD,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
10 “Be still and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
11 The LORD of hosts is with us,
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
“Help” is our first great prayer, right next-door to “thanks.” Of all the prayers we pray in a life-time, one of the most prayed is “help.” “God help me.” “Lord Jesus help me.” “Holy Spirit do what only You can do. Help me.” We do not know the historical context of Psalm 46, but some good Bible students believe that this prayer is linked to 2 Kings 19 and Isaiah 37, when the wicked King Sennacherib, the Darth Vader of his day, surrounded Jerusalem and good King Hezekiah, with 185,000 Assyrian soldiers, choking-off the life of Judah. A Divine rescue was needed. Help of the sizable kind was required. So, God makes three giant-sized-help-promises in Psalm 46.
First, God is our Present-Help. Verse 1 tells us that there is “a very present help in trouble”—literally and a little awkward sounding: “a help He has been found exceedingly…” Verse 5 tells us that there is help in Jerusalem, the Psalmist declares—“God is in the midst of her…” “God will help…” Verse 7 tells us that there is a God who is present. “The LORD of hosts is with us…” Verse 11 repeats that line — “The LORD of hosts is with us…” The Hebrew phrase is “Yahweh Sabaot”—which means the Commander of all the Heavenly Armies is in charge and more than able to help. This is not the only place the various contributors of our Psalter remind us of God’s help (18:6, 30:2, 31:22, 44:26, 70:5, 121:1-2, 146:5, etc. ). Two hundred and twenty-six times the Bible speaks of help, helped, helper, helpers, helpful, helping, helpless, and helps. Only God is the ever-present help. I do not know how you define help, but the biblical kind means we stop whatever we are doing, and we look squarely to God.
Second, God is not only our present help, but he is also our Strong Help.
All the metaphors in Psalm 46 point to this second help promise. God alone is the just-right refuge, the needed strength, the perfect fortress. Listen again: Verse 2—when “the earth gives way”—that means when catastrophic circumstances occur…God is a Strong Help. Verse 6—when “kingdoms totter”—that means when everything is falling apart…God speaks and makes things right again. In verses 8 and 9—when “desolations” occur, when “wars cease”—that means God alone has the muscle to break the bow, to shatter the spear, to burn the chariot.
Verses 7 and 8 repeat that God alone is our fortress—a powerful image of assurance.
All of this leads to God’s Strong Help. Sometimes well-intentioned people, even people like me, come alongside wanting to help, only making matters a bit worse, and all of that is understandable…But the writer of Psalm 46 holds to the abiding conviction, the deep promise
that God’s help matches and checkmates any kind of trouble. Troubled earth—checkmate, troubled life—checkmate, troubled city—checkmate, troubled church—checkmate, even trouble-makers are ninety-pound weaklings next to the might and power of God’s Strong Help. Checkmate!
Third, God is our Trustworthy Help. Some people read Psalm 46 and scratch their head wondering why a river is mentioned in 46:4. Jerusalem does not have a river running through it. The point is a simple one, but powerful one. God Himself is like a refreshing and life-giving river. He is the river. In ancient times, especially if Psalm 46 is framed around the Assyrian army attacking, the great fear was that water supply would be cut-off by enemies. God promises that he is a trustworthy help on terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days. The Psalmist adds for good measure four key verbs all attached to God’s help. In verse 8, he says, “Come, behold the works of the Lord.” He means see Him, perceive Him, look at Him, center on Him. In verse 11—and this is key—he says be still before God—he means literally hang limp, stop whatever you are doing, let go of all your attempts to fix things, calm down, get quiet, relinquish control. In verse 11 he also says know God. He means for anyone needing trustworthy help, put your heart and mind toward having a first-hand experience with God. Know Him deeply and intimately and go on knowing Him deeply and intimately.
What Psalm 46 is leaning strongly into is what the New Testament writers call a living hope. Hope and Help are Gospel twins. Those of us who are Christ-followers have a living hope. Those of us who are Christ-followers have a lasting help. “Help me” is the perfect prayer to our Perfect God. What does all this help-talk have to do with what I am calling “Formation’s Off-Button for the World’s Propaganda?”
Psalm 46, this very prayer, is a reminder to all of us that we can turn-off the world’s propaganda machine by simply applying verse 10: “Be still.” Get quiet. Stop what we are doing. Let go of our constant attempt to fix things. Relinquish control. Turn our hearts heavenward. Be at peace in God’s presence. This is formation’s off-button. It comes in the form of God’s exclusive help. His help alone is present, strong, and trustworthy. Enough of the do-it-yourself nonsense. After all, everything is His, including the spiritual gymnasium.