Psalm 46: A Song When We are Overwhelmed


by Dr. Becky Luman

At WBS, we provide discipleship groups to give students the spiritual support and prayer needed for the stressful seminary journey. Each student knows he or she has classmates and a faculty member praying for him or her. I work mostly with our distance students who engage with us online. Each week a new devotional reading with a related discussion thread and a prayer page allows the whole group to pray for personal requests and share thoughts. Now I’m sharing with YOU what my two online discipleship groups (10 students in each) are currently reading. At the end of this post are two questions that my group will be discussing as we apply this famous psalm to our lives.

Psalm 46 (NIV)
1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
7 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
8 Come and see what the LORD has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10 He says, “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 Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

This song was written and likely sung in the Temple by the Sons of Korah, Levites who were sanctuary musicians. It celebrates the presence, the power and the peace of God in the midst of disaster or distress. In times of turmoil, fear is as great an enemy as the crisis itself.

Fear is a foe we all wrestle with periodically. Sometimes fear dogs our steps like a demonic stalker. It is a free-floating sense of panic that paralyzes us. We feel powerless; we feel alone. Some extreme circumstances that can arouse fear are listed in Psalm 46.

  • What if the earth quakes so fiercely that the mountains fall into the sea?
  • What if the waters surge out of control in a tsunami?
  • What if the nations are threatening war and kingdoms are in turmoil?
  • What if actual war rages around us?

Often for us, fear says, “What if I have chronic health issues? What if dear ones are in distress? What if my job disappears? Where will the resources come from to sustain my family? What if my dreams are crushed?” A sense of dread can settle over us and we can’t see beyond the fog. This Psalm clears away the fog of fear and allows us to see God, the Mighty Fortress, protecting us.

The possible earthly catastrophes are alternated with scenes showing God’s power and ultimate control. If the earth shakes and the mountains fall into the surging ocean, things against which we are powerless, still there is a center of undisturbed peace and provision. This peace is pictured as a river flowing through Jerusalem where God is enthroned. When God is within the city; it cannot fall. If wars rage, God can melt the very earth with His voice. The very weapons of battle—bows, spears, shields—are shattered by the God who makes battles cease.

We need not fear being abandoned, left alone to face our trials. Twice the refrain is repeated: “The LORD Almighty is WITH US; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” This truth is the hope of God’s people in all ages. Of course, the New Testament reveals Jesus Christ as the ultimate expression of “God with us—Immanuel.” Jesus told us not to be afraid, though trouble would certainly come, because He had overcome the world and He will never leave us nor forsake us.
Trouble certainly happens. God is our Refuge in trouble. We cannot be overcome because He is our ever-present help. Therefore, WE WILL NOT BE AFRAID. We will be “still;” we will be calm, and we will relax in the knowledge that God gives us His peace, His presence, and His power as walls to surround us.
Martin Luther, the German leader of the Reformation, wrote the classic hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” based on this psalm. One of my favorite lines is this:

“And though this world with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear for God has willed His truth to triumph through us.”

Here is a prayer inspired by Psalm 46 composed by Joni Eareckson Tada, who has served God and others for 40 years though she struggles as a quadriplegic: “You are my refuge and strength, dear Lord. When troubles assault, may I never be deceived into thinking that I am beyond your tender compassion. Thank you for being always and ever present in my trials. I praise you for being in control.”[1]
[1] Joni Eareckson Tada, Pearls of Great Price (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), May 10.

1. What is one circumstance that makes you feel overwhelmed?
2. What biblical advice would you give someone in that same situation if you were the spiritual leader and that person came to you for counsel?

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