Be Still

 “A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.” -Henri Nouwen 

Recently, I was visiting one of our church members. She has been through a lot over the past several months, one medical issue after another. She is in her mid 80’s and has only been a member of the church for a few years, but she still feels to us like a matriarchal figure in our church. I was going to visit her because she has been through it.... "this is hell, pastor," she said to me. 

As I was sitting with her, talking about the joys and sorrows of life—the “wheat and the weeds,” so to speak—she shared with me that while prayer has been challenging during this difficult time, she’s still hearing from God... or, at least she hopes it’s God. 

“I was kinda scared at first,” she told me, and she went on to explain that she’d actually been hearing a voice speaking to her, saying, “Be still and know that I am God.” 

“What’s that about, pastor?” she asked. 

“Well,” I said, “that’s Psalm 46.” I picked up the bible on the coffee table and opened it to the passage, grateful that I was able to recall the passage, since my memory for bible addresses is shameful, especially for a pastor. 

“He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’ The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” (Psalm 46:10-11) 

She had, of course, read the passage before (it was even highlighted in her bible), but she had forgotten where it was from. “Wow! I didn’t think to look in the bible for that! What is that!? Why is God saying that to me?” 

“I’m not sure,” I told her, “but I think it might be the Holy Spirit inviting you to trust.... it takes a whole lot of trust to ‘be still’ amid everything you’re going through.” 

In our rushed and burnt-out world, it’s so hard to sit still and trust. But, even when we’re struggling to pray, even when we’re frustrated, full of doubt, exhausted, mired in chaos, God still comes to us. God graciously and lovingly invites us to just be still, to trust, and to know that God is the one who makes all things new. 

I thought about the 6th verse in that Psalm, “Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall...” (Psalm 46:6)—this is the context in which the Psalmist has the audacity to report that God is telling the people to “be still.” Being still is hard for us. Even when we pray, we might find ourselves praying frenetically, hurriedly rushing to find some kind of answer or outcome. “Be still and know that I am God,” is an invitation to abandon anxiety and to embrace joy as the starting point of our lives. “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God” (Psalm 46:4). It is also an invitation to encounter God, not as a resource dealer or outcome machine, but as a person. But in a society that’s hellbent on control, productivity, and development, being still is threatening. We cannot sit still long enough to pray, to receive prayer. We are too busy creating and solving problems and achieving things. As Byung Chul Han put it, “Today, the soul does not pray. It is permanently producing itself” (Han, The Disappearance of Rituals, p.8). Maybe this is why the woman I was visiting was not only comforted but also a little frightened by this invitation to be still.... that, along with the strangeness of hearing voices. 

“Well, maybe it’s God telling me to shut my mouth,” she said. “That’s putting it more bluntly, but yeah, that’s kinda what I was getting at.” We both laughed and then we prayed. 

As I was driving home, touching a little of my steering wheel as I could because the heat of the day had turned it into a miniature broiler, I thought about God’s coming to the woman I had just visited. Even though I was (and am) ambivalent about the idea of people literally hearing God’s voice, it was clear to me that she had heard something, received something. And I too had gotten the message. 

Sometimes, it is when we try so hard and yet fail to “succeed” in prayer—when we don’t feel like it’s "working"—that God shows up and reminds us that prayer was never “ours” in the first place. It’s when we stop “trying” to pray and start receiving prayer that we begin to encounter the frightening and comforting presence of the God who delights in us before we have a chance to succeed or fail in anything.