March 22, 2020

Psalm 46: God Is Our Refuge and Strength

Preacher: Josh Tancordo Series: Psalms: Turning Our Gaze to God Scripture: Psalm 46:1–11

Psalm 46: God Is Our Refuge and Strength

Hello everyone, thank you for joining us here on Facebook. My name is Josh, and I’m one of the pastors of Redeeming Grace Church. I certainly wish I could be with you all in person delivering this message, but I suppose this format is the next best thing. And by the way, feel free to interact through the comments section below. Maybe you have a question about something I say or perhaps you’d like to share a prayer request or maybe you’d just like to say hi to the others who are viewing this video. Whatever it is, please comment below. We’d love to interact with you and just be here for you in any way possible. 

These past few weeks have been pretty crazy, to say the least. I don’t think any of us have seen anything quite like happening right now with this Coronavirus pandemic. It’s truly unprecedented in our lifetime. And a lot of people have become rather anxious—because the fact is that we just don’t know what’s going to happen next. We don’t know how bad this ordeal is going to get or how long it’s going to last. We don’t know what headlines we’re going to read in the news tomorrow. 

Yet there’s something that we do know—which is what I’d like to talk about. We know, from the Bible, that God is still God even in tumultuous times. That’s the main idea of today’s message. God is still God even in tumultuous times. And that’s a truth we can see very clearly in Psalm 46. So if you have a Bible, feel free to grab that and open it to Psalm 46. I’ve decided to take a break from our regular sermon series and instead focus today on Psalm 46 because I believe this psalm tells us things that are vital for us to hear right now. It tells us how we can have peace and confidence and even joy in the midst of whatever crazy circumstances might come our way. 

And as we work our way through this psalm, we’re going to see that the psalmist outlines three responses to tumultuous times. First, taking refuge in God. Second, putting our hope in the city of God. And third, beholding the works of God. So taking refuge in God, putting our hope in the city of God, and beholding the works of God. And you’ll understand more about what each of those things means as we go along.

Taking Refuge in God

So first, taking refuge in God. Look with me at verses 1-3 of Psalm 46: 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. 

As you can see, it’s hard to picture a more chaotic scene than the one described in these verses. The earth giving way, the mountains being moved into the sea, the waters of the sea roaring and foaming all over the place. It’s utter chaos. And isn’t that the way life feels sometimes? Life can be chaotic. And really, it can be chaotic even when there’s not a Coronavirus pandemic. Yet even in the most chaotic of times, what does this passage say about God? “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” A “refuge” is a place of shelter and safety. It’s where you go when you need to be protected from something. And not only is God our refuge, but he’s also our “strength,” this verse says. God gives us the inward fortitude we need to get through things we wouldn’t otherwise be able to get through. Then it describes God as “a very present help in trouble.” I love that. Not just present—very present. Instead of being some distant deity who’s far removed from the struggles we’re facing, God’s right there with us—by our side, holding our hand, present through our darkest days. And that’s why “we will not fear though the earth gives way and though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea.” It’s because we have God by our side, and he’s bigger than any problem we could ever face.

If you’ll permit me to be very direct with you for a moment, I believe the biggest reason why so many people have so much anxiety on a regular basis is because their picture of God is way too small. The God they picture in their minds is just too small. You see, our lives and our emotions often have a way of revealing our true theology—what we actually think about God. And when we feel anxious all the time, that reveals how small our picture of God really is. We call this being in our minds “God,” but is he really the God of the Bible? Is he really the God who spoke this universe into existence—who set the sun and the moon in their places and commanded the oceans where they should be? Is he really the God who reigns as Lord over heaven and earth, who says of himself in Isaiah 46:10, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose”? Is he really God in fact and not just in name? What small thoughts we often have about God! That’s why I’ll say very directly, if you want to fix your emotions, you’ve gotta start by fixing your picture of God. He’s holy! He’s sovereign! He’s powerful! The pagan king Nebuchadnezzar actually said it quite well when he stated—after God had humbled him—in Daniel 4, “I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” Praise God that he didn’t get the memo that he’s supposed to be small—because he’s not. He’s big—bigger and greater and more powerful than we can imagine. So as you read headline after headline in the news about this Coronavirus, just remember that God’s bigger than all of that. In the words of Psalm 46, let him be your refuge and strength. 

And by the way, keep in mind that God’s not only infinitely powerful, he’s also infinitely good. The reason I remind you of that is that God’s power would be a nightmare if it weren’t also for God’s goodness. A ruler can have great power and be a tyrant if he’s evil. But God has great power as well as great goodness and kindness and mercy and love. And we see those qualities demonstrated with unparalleled clarity in the gospel—the message of Jesus. How do we know God really loves us? How do we know he’s really on our side? We know it, as Romans 8:32 says, because he “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all.” Then it follows that up with the question, “How will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” So the reasoning here is from the greater to the lesser. If God’s already done the greater thing of giving up his own Son to die on the cross and save us, don’t you think we can count on him to do the lesser thing of giving us everything else we need? So the God we worship is a powerful God and a good God. And bringing it back around to our main passage in Psalm 46, that’s why we can look to him as our “refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” It’s because of who he is—both powerful and good. 

You know, if this Coronavirus pandemic teaches us anything, it’s that we’re not in control. We don’t know what tomorrow may bring. That’s why we need to have a theology that consists of more than random memes and quotes we read on the Internet. We need a substantive theology that’s rooted in the Bible. And the only way we can have that theology is if we actually open a Bible and read it on a regular basis. If you’ve never done that very much before, I recommend starting in the Gospel of John. And the goal is, as we like to say, getting into the Bible until the Bible gets into you. That involves reading the Bible every day so that your mind becomes saturated with its truths. And here’s the cool thing: as you get a better and better hold on biblical truths, you’ll discover that those truths begin to hold onto you during tumultuous times in your life. 

I can’t help but remember a few years ago when a pastor in Texas named Matt Chandler was diagnosed with brain cancer and was given only 2-3 years to live. Keep in mind Matt was only in his mid-thirties, and he had a wife and three young kids at home, and this news just came out of nowhere. It was actually Thanksgiving morning, while Matt was home with his family, that his wife entered the room and found him thrashing around on the floor having a seizure. So they took him to the hospital, and they did all of the tests they do, and a short time later, the devastating news came to them. Matt had cancer. And not just any cancer but a kind that was extremely aggressive and that would probably take Matt’s life within 2-3 years. You want a real life example of what our main text says about the earth giving way and the mountains being moved into the heart of the sea? Well, I would say that qualifies. Matt’s entire world was being turned upside down. And yet, in the midst of that utter chaos, Matt’s faith wasn’t moved. He stayed strong. And get this: the reason for that is because his God was bigger than his cancer, and he knew that. On the way back from one of his cancer treatments, Matt would say, “This has not surprised God. He’s not in a panic right now trying to figure out what to do with me or this disease. Those things have been warm blankets.” He also expressed confidence that “I belong to him, and that he can do with me as he sees fit, and that he’s good and lovely and right in however he handles me is a beautiful truth in the Scriptures.” 

Thankfully, Matt’s life was spared. After a grueling ordeal of cancer treatments, he was given a clean bill of health, and he’s now been cancer-free for eight years. But listen to what he says looking back on that trial in his life. He says, “I’m not sure how men and women without a strong view of God’s sovereignty and authority over all things handle things like this. There were at least three meetings with my doctors early on where I felt like I got punched in the soul. In those moments when I was discombobulated and things felt like they were spinning out of control, my theology and the Spirit were there to remind me that “He is good and He does good” [that’s a quote from Psalm 119]—to remind me that God has a plan for His glory and my joy that He is working.”

You see, the reason Matt was able to handle this chaotic time in his life so well was because he had a big view of God. For years before this incident occurred, he had been reading the Bible and becoming more and more acquainted with the God of the Bible—a God of infinite power and goodness. And the result was that when the storms came, he was ready. When his life was turned upside down, he wasn’t turned upside down with it because he was anchored in a great God. And because he was anchored in a great God, rather than in a puny God, he was able to look to this God as his “refuge” and “strength” and as “a very present help in trouble.”

Putting Our Hope in the City of God

Then look at the next section of our main passage. Not only should we respond to tumultuous times by taking refuge in God, but we should also respond by putting our hope in the city of God. Look what it says in verses 4-7: 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.

Now, originally, the “city of God” mentioned in verse 4 referred to the literal city of Jerusalem. That was, for this psalmist, the “city of God.” The psalmist refers to it as “the holy habitation of the Most High” and says that “God is in the midst of her.” Those are references to the temple, where God’s manifest presence was located in an inner room called the “Holy of Holies.” And because “God is in the midst of [Jerusalem],” the psalmist declares, “she shall not be moved.” The people of Jerusalem’s ultimate defense was God’s presence. It was better than any wall, any army, or any missile defense system. Because God was in their midst, the city couldn’t be touched. As verse 6 states, the nations may rage in their attempts to overthrow Jerusalem, but all for nothing. Other kingdoms may totter and fall, but it doesn’t matter. Because, as it says, God could merely utter his voice, and immediately the earth would melt. And all the malice against Jerusalem would be shown to be utterly inconsequential. In the words of verse 7, what a blessing that “The LORD of hosts is with us” and that “the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Now, of course, I’d be very surprised if any of you watching this today live in the city of Jerusalem. If you do, that’s pretty cool. Feel free to comment in the comments section below and let us know that. But something tells me that that’s very unlikely. So how do these verses about Jerusalem apply to us? Well, I’m glad you asked. You see, it’s very common for biblical authors to speak of Jerusalem not just with reference to the physical city in ancient Palestine but also with reference to heaven. Jerusalem is often used to symbolize heaven. That’s why in Revelation 21, the heavenly city that comes down from God is called the “New Jerusalem,” and it’s described as a place of breathtaking splendor where God actually lives in the midst of his people for all eternity. So even though the psalmist who wrote Psalm 46 undoubtedly had the physical city of Jerusalem in mind, I believe there’s also reference here to the heavenly city that all of God’s people will be a part of one day. Those of us who are Christians will be part of what the psalmist calls “the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.” 

And because “God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved,” it says. Isn’t that good news? Nothing can move or shake or topple this heavenly city. Contrast that with earthly things that can easily be moved. And we’ve seen in recent weeks just how easily that can happen. Everything in our society that once seemed so sure and secure and invincible has now been brought low.  Its vulnerability has been exposed. And what’s true of society is also, of course, true of us as individuals. We’re all incredibly fragile and vulnerable. Any one of us could have a seizure on Thanksgiving Day like Matt Chandler. Any one of us could have our house burn down. Any one of us could have any number of devastating things happen to us. In an instant. Without any warning. So praise God that, as Christians, we have something greater—something secure. We have a heavenly city. In the words of Hebrews 13:14, “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” And that city will never fall. It’s indestructible and unassailable, because, as Psalm 46 reminds us, God’s in that city. So that’s the second way we can respond to tumultuous times: by viewing them as an opportunity to put our hope in that city rather than this one.

Beholding the Works of God

Then, lastly, Psalm 46 leads us to respond to tumultuous times not only by taking refuge in God and not only by putting our hope in the city of God but also by beholding the works of God. Beholding the works of God. And we see that in verses 8-11: 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.

You know, there have been countless attempts to bring about world peace. In fact, an ongoing effort to do that is being carried out pretty much every day—especially in the Middle East. Billions of dollars have been spent, countless lives have been lost, and still the fighting continues. In fact, it may even be getting worse. And even while I’d love to believe that some brilliant leader will be able to do something about the situation, I think we all have a sense that regardless of who’s elected to office, things in the Middle East will continue to be a hot mess for the rest of our lifetimes. But the peace that our world leaders have failed time and time again to bring about, God will bring about in his own timing and in his own way. 

And as we see from this passage, that “way” involves a display of stunning power. In verse 8, we read that he’ll bring “desolations on the earth”—that is, to anything that stands in the way of peace. Then in verse 9, he’s going to break the bow and shatter the spear and burn the chariots with fire. He means business here. And then, verse 10 records his rebuke to the chaos and disorder of this world: “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” That verse is commonly misquoted as words of comfort and encouragement to those who are struggling. But in reality, it’s actually a rebuke to the chaos of the world. “Be still, and know that I am God.” Then God declares that he will be exalted. There’s no question about it: it will happen. That’s ultimately why God created this world, and that’s the end toward which this world is moving—the glory of our great God. 

So in the midst of your struggles, in the midst of your trials, in the midst of everything that’s causing you anxiety, remember that the God we serve is a God of breathtaking power and absolute authority. And, for those of us who are Christians and have been reconciled to God through Jesus, he’s on our side. That’s significant. This God of such power and authority is on our side. As verse 11 says, “The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” What more could we need or ask for when life becomes chaotic? 


But maybe there are some of you who have joined us today who aren’t really in a position to do what we’ve been talking about. This psalm invites us to look to God as our refuge and strength—to find comfort and hope and peace in him. But maybe you’re not able to do that because, at the present time, things aren’t right between you and God. You see, the Bible teaches that each one of has rebelled against God. We’ve all committed cosmic treason against the God of the universe. The Bible calls this “sin,” and it says that because of our sin, we stand condemned before God. We deserve his judgment. In fact, it would be unjust for God to withhold his judgment from us. Kind of like a human judge. Let’s say that someone committed a horrible crime against one of your family members, such as murder. They murdered someone in your family. But let’s say the police were able to catch them and they’re now standing in the courtroom facing the judge. What would you do if the judge said, “You, it’s obvious that this person committed this crime. But I’m feeling pretty merciful today, so I think I’m just going to let them go free.” What would you do if the judge said something like that? Well I’m sure you’d contact every media outlet you could and demand that that judge be removed from his position. Because that judge refused to carry out justice. So here’s the question: would you expect anything less from God than you do from a human judge? Would you expect God to sweep sins under the rug? He can’t. He won’t. His justice keeps him from doing that. And of course, that’s bad news for us. 

But here’s the good news of the gospel. This God of righteousness and justice is also a God of love and grace. And the Bible teaches that God loved us so much that he sent his own Son Jesus to come to this earth and suffer on the cross the penalty we deserved. That’s what happened on the cross. Jesus was taking our punishment on himself. He was suffering that punishment so we wouldn’t have to. That’s how much he loves us. That’s how much he cares for us—so much that he gave his own life to purchase our rescue. Then three days after that he resurrected from the dead so that he’s now able to save everyone who will put their trust in him. That’s all you have to do to be saved—simply put your trust in him. That involves renouncing our sinful way of living and looking to Jesus alone as the only one who can save us from our sins. 

So if you’re having a tough time with anxiety right now and you want to experience God’s peace, that begins with Jesus. You have to get right with God through Jesus—by putting your trust in him as your Savior. And then, once you do that, the door will be opened for you to experience a peace like you’ve never experienced before. From that moment on, you’ll have God by your side. So I hope you’ll get to experience that even today. As Psalm 46 says, look to God as your refuge and strength—and realize that true peace is found only in him. 


other sermons in this series

Mar 29


Psalm 16: Fullness of Joy

Preacher: Josh Tancordo Scripture: Psalm 16:1–11 Series: Psalms: Turning Our Gaze to God