You may not have had a chance to say “good-bye.”
Death, depression, or divorce came uninvited to your door.
The waters are roaring.
The mountains are trembling.
You may wonder how you can possibly go on.
It’s time, as Martin Luther used to say to his despairing friend,
Philip Melanchthon, “Come Philip, let’s sing the Forty-Sixth.”
God is our refuge and strength
a very present help in trouble
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling
The forty-sixth psalm is meant to inspire hope in the midst of a storm. Just as Jesus was present and in control when the disciples were in the midst of the storm on the Sea of Galilee, so He is a “present help” in your tsunami. This short psalm, of just eleven verses, can help you face your storm. It has inspired some of the greatest hymns of Christendom: A Mighty Fortress and Be Still My Soul.
Like the psalm we recently studied, Psalm 42, this too is filled with water pictures. It opens with a tumultuous storm, the verses that inspired A Mighty Fortress. But it then takes you to a scene of the new Jerusalem, a very real heaven, where there “is a river whose streams made glad the city of God.” It concludes with the famous verse 10: “Be still and know that I am God.”
How often in Scripture God uses pictures of water to describe our emotions. If you are not in a tsunami now, if you live long enough, you will be. You will feel like the waters are roaring and foaming, and the mountains trembling. That is how you feel when you lose a spouse, a child, a marriage, your health…
But this imagery, William Brown explains in his book, Seeing the Psalms, is not meant to convey fear “but confidence, even joy.” It is true that the nations may be in tumult, that natural disaster will come, that death of a loved one may knock, unbidden and unwelcome, on our door — yet God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. This storm is temporary, for Psalm 46 goes on with another much more peaceful picture:
There is a river whose streams make
glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High,
God is in the midst of her; she shall not
God will help her when morning
This week we will:
I. Study Psalm 46 and finish contemplating the great hymn Be Still My Soul.
II. Look at some key verses on heaven and discuss one book on the New York Times best seller list called Heaven is for Real. (I’ll tell you right now I’m skeptical of the book but look forward to some earnest discussion from strong and perceptive women.)
III. Listen to the Midday program and report. Link
IV. Listen to a wonderful message and report our thoughts. Listen either to this amazing sermon on Job from Keller — one of my favorites from the series: Link
Or to this free sermon from The Gospel Coalition by Nancy Guthrie entitled “Is your church a safe place for sad people?” Link
Come sisters, let’s “sing” the Forty-Sixth. ” That’s what Luther would tell his melancholy friend when Philip was convinced the storm would win. We need these truths so in grief and in these tumultuous times. God is with us, “a very present help.”
BIBLE STUDY AND BE STILL MY SOUL
What stood out to you from the opening? How do you identify with the emotions expressed in Psalm 46:1-5?
1. Read Psalm 46:1-3 slowly. These are the verses that inspired A Mighty Fortress.
A. What is the very first statement in verse 1? What emotion is it intended to inspire?
B. Name one way God has been “a very present help” to you recently in the midst of a big or small trouble.
C. Describe what is happening in nature in verses 2-3. Comment on Hokusai’s painting of the tsunami which I chose to represent these verses.
In a sermon delivered at Redeemer, John Piper noted this parallel in Psalm 46:
The word used to decribe the waters “foam” is actually used again, but translated “rage” in verse 6. In other words, nature and nations are both raging.
The word used to describe the mountains “tremble” is actually used again, but translated “totter” in verse 6. Both nature and nations are tottering.
Therefore, whether your tsunami is a literal one from nature, or from terrorists from nations, or from personal circumstances, God is greater.
(If you aren’t opposed to marking your Bible, you might circle these four words and draw two lines to show they are the same Hebrew word.)
D. Do you have a comment on Piper’s exegesis and how it relates to any terrors you have?
2. Read Psalm 46:4-5
A. To what has the menacing sea changed into in verse 4?”
B. Name one way that your ocean of grief has turned into a life giving stream. (Or you may not be there yet.)
C. Comment on the painting by Hokusai I chose to describe this mood.
True believers make up the city of God, a city that will one day descend from heaven, a “holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride, adorned for her husband.” (Revelation 21:2) Heaven will come down, believers will fill it, and God will be in the midst of her.
D. Contemplate this Monet of Venice and its river at sunrise. It made me think of phrases from Psalm 46:4-5. Comments?
There is a river whose streams make
glad the city of God…
God will help her when morning
3. What do you learn about God from Psalm 46:6-9?
4. How does the psalm close?
5. Psalm 46:10 needs to become a practice of our lives. What are some very practical ways we can “be still and know?”
6. Contemplate these lyrics and take a few that help calm your soul and comment on them.
Be still, my soul, though dearest friends depart
And all is darkened in the vale of tears;
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrows and thy fears.
Be still, my soul; thy Jesus can repay
From His own fulness all He takes away.
Be still, my soul; the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul; when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.
PART II. CONTEMPLATING HEAVEN
When Steve died, one of the books I read was Don Piper’s 90 Minutes in Heaven. I also heard Piper speak. It comforted me, but still, I had reservations about basing my theology of heaven on someone’s experience instead of on Scripture, though it seemed in many ways to line up with Scripture.
I’ve gotten letters from people I love and respect who have found great comfort in this new bestseller, Heaven is for Real.
I feel a bit like Scrooge, but I hope heaven isn’t like this. Everyone is wearing robes with sashes, Jesus is sitting on a throne, and we all have wings. It sounds to me like a child’s idea of heaven rather than the real thing. Here’s an excerpt from the book, describing a conversation between Todd and his son, Colton:
“What do people look like in heaven?”
“Everybody’s got wings.”
“Did you have wings?”
“Yeah, but mine weren’t very big.” He looked a little glum when he said this.
“Okay…did you walk places or did you fly?”
“We flew. Well, all except for Jesus. He was the only one in heaven who didn’t have wings. Jesus went up and down like an elevator.”
Heaven is real — but this doesn’t seem real. I don’t know if the little boy had a dream and it has gotten out of control or if something much worse is going on or if I’ll be apologizing to Todd Burpee in heaven. But I do know that I don’t want to base my theology of heaven on someone’s near death experience. I want to base it on Scripture. Isn’t it interesting that these books are on the top of the New York Times Bestseller list? People are so hungry to know about the afterlife — but not too discerning on where to get their information. I was relieved at The Gospel Coalition to hear Nancy Guthrie say the same thing. (Her message is one you may listen to this week.)
7. What do you think? Have you read any of these books on near death experiences? What are your thoughts and why?
I know that the images of heaven in revelation are challenging — for this vision of John is full of symbolic pictures. For example, I am hoping “streets of gold” simply means the very best — but if it is literal, He will help me love it, I know.
What is most comforting to me is the understanding that the two books I am going to recommend explain, that according to Scripture, heaven is not some ethereal place, but just as real as earth. God never made anything that wasn’t good. So He will reform the fallen earth and join heaven and earth together.We will have new resurrected bodies like Jesus did (and no wings!) we will laugh, love, and eat the best of food. We will hug and recognize one another. There will be no more pain, no more tears, and no more death. Jesus has gone to prepare this place. It took him six days to make this world — just imagine what heaven will be like! And I love that He said, “If it were not true, I would have told you.” (John 14:1-2)
The two best books I’ve seen, based on Scripture, are both called Heaven.
The first, by Randy Alcorn, takes a few more liberties as Alcorn uses his imagination, but still, it resonates with the truth of Scripture. The second, on the right, is by Joni. Both blessed me immeasurably.
I listened to Max Lucado speak on heaven, with similar ideas as in these two books, but then he said, “But if I’m not right, I’m still going there!”
I went out to eat with Kathy Troccoli after Steve died and was lamenting: “How can he be happy when his family is so sad?”
She quipped, as only Kathy could, “If I’m not happy in heaven, I’ll slit my wrists.”
And as Sara Groves sings, “I don’t know about bright lights at the end of tunnels…but I know to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, and from what I know of Him, that should be very good.”
8. What do you think heaven will be like? What Scripture on heaven ministers the most to you?
Part III. UPDATE: Here is the link to the “God of All Comfort, Part 6” on Moody Radio: Link
Part IV. Listen either to Keller’s message on Job (Link) or Nancy’s message from The Gospel Coalition and comment here. Link
9. What’s your take-a-way for the week?