Psalm 46 – When stress exceeds strength!


Psalm 46


Stress is the villain blamed for many of our ills these days. And it is true that many live under extreme pressure.

A certain amount of stress in life is unavoidable – in fact I would go as far a to say that stress in many situations is desirable.

ILLUS.: Students face stress at exam time that hopefully pressures them to get down to study.

When I was in the army we were regularly underwent kit inspection. The barracks had to be sparkling – each bed made perfectly square / all beds in an exact line – every man’s kit arranged in exactly the same way / buttons polished/ boots shone / every soldier at rigid attention next to his bed as the Sgt.Major stalked from man to man glaring at each and looking for the smallest speck of dirt. Stress!

Athlete need a certain amount of stress to get them going and to keep them going…

Often we place stress upon ourselves because of overwork / unwise actions etc…

Sometimes things beyond our control put us under stress that is greater than the strength we have in ourselves.

Sometimes we are faced with sudden, unexpected devastating circumstances – e.g. the death of a loved one, financial disaster, break-up of a relationship / home, diagnosis of serious illness, redundancy – these and many others can be sudden and extremely stressful. Usually easy to identify cause!

However, sometimes stress builds up to an intolerable level but it happens gradually – an accumulation of numerous little things that when all added together place us under enormous pressure. This kind of stress is often not easily identifiable – often we are unaware we are over stressed – it kind of creeps up on us. Then one day we take stock and realise why we feel the way we do.

How do we handle stress?       The comics suggest a few ways:-

  • Drive to work in reverse
  • Read a dictionary upside down and look for secret messages
  • Fill in your tax return in roman numerals
  • Send your doctor a bill for the time you spend in his waiting room
  • Pay your electricity bill in 1p coins
  • When someone says, “Have a nice day!” say you have other plans

These might be humorous but not very helpful.

  1. 1.     There may will be trouble ahead.

The song goes, “There may be trouble ahead!” BUT for the Christian as far as Jesus was concerned there will be trouble. John 16:33  “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (NIV)

The question to ask is not, “Will trouble come?” BUT rather “When trouble comes how will I handle it?”

The psalmist who wrote Psalm 46 was no stranger to trouble. He uses wonderful poetic language to describe – Psalm 46:2-3            2 …, 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. Selah (NIV)

There are times in life where there is such upheaval that you feel as if you are in the midst of an earthquake. There are times when life is so overwhelming that you feel as if you are being swamped by a raging sea. Maybe there are some here today who feel like that now!

Maybe for some of you life in blissfully trouble free at the moment – I hate to shatter your comfort zone BUT there is trouble ahead.

None of us have exactly the same experiences and even if we did we all handle life differently.

Some have relatively trouble free lives – For others stresses can be beyond our strength.

ILLUS.: Think of the stress that the family of little Sarah Pain must be going through with her disappearance 2 weeks ago!

Whether the troubles we face are great or small it is important that we prepare for them. Death will come to us all – and no doubt a host of other things before that. Some are more like earthquakes than others are BUT all will shake us to a degree.

What is the Psalmists Advice?

(a)  “Be still”

There is some difference of opinion about how to look at this phrase. The sentence is “Be still and know that I am God”. It is seen written at the front of many churches. Presumably to encourage us to come in quietness and reverence into the church. BUT look at the context of the Psalm – earthquakes, surging seas, and raging battles. Quiet reverential atmosphere??!! Hardly!

We can take the statement two ways I think:

(i)                God is speaking to the earth / nations that are in uproar and he command above the turmoil “Be still! [SILENCE!] Know that I am God!” or

(ii)             (ii) God is speaking to his people and in the midst of the uproar he say to those who are his “Be still! [Be calm / at peace] Know that I am God [I am in control].

Being still does not mean you don’t take physical action from physical danger. In the midst of a physical earthquake / flood you don’t sit quietly when the house is tumbling around your ears or the water pouring through the door!

Sometimes we face situations in life and our instincts tell us to “RUN”. – BUT God says, instead of making hysterical decision “Be still”

ILLUS.: When I was in the army I was assigned to the engineering corps. Part of our job was to find and disarm land mines. We were trained to ‘freeze’ if we heard a “click” or if a comrade shouted, “FREEZE!” If you didn’t you could loose your leg or worse!                     Freeze! Assess! Decide! Act!

(b)   “Know that I am God!”

To be still is not enough – many people take time out to be quiet. Many may be calm under pressure.

Some take time out to talk to the trees!

Some meditate on their latest guru!

Some contemplate their navels!

The Psalmist says “Acknowledge God and allowing that knowledge to impact upon you!”

“To know someone” can have a very broad meaning.

ILLUS.: I know the Queen – in the sense that I know who she is – I recognise her picture.

BUT I know my wife! I know her better than any other human being. We have a close intimate relationship.

The Bible uses the word know in many ways – e.g. Genesis 4:1  Adam KNEW his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. ……” (NIV)

It is this intimate sense of the word that the Psalmist uses here.  We need a personal, intimate relationship with God.

  1. 2.     Knowing God intimately.

I know Janet better now than I did when we first met 20+ years ago. Our relationship has deepened and become more intimate with time and experience.

The same is true with God.

As we get to know more about God and get to trust him more we find he is trustworthy and reliable and loving.

The Psalmist tells us to consider three things about God:-

  • He is a Refuge
  • He is Strength
  • He is an ever present help


In the OT there were cities of Refuge to which people could flee in time of trouble – here they were safe from the enemy -/ the avenger of blood until the problem was resolved. It was a place where a person could be protected from danger and preserved in the midst of danger.

God is willing and able to protect and preserve us in times of trouble as we entrust ourselves to him.


We may be tempted to think that if this is so then God is there to solve all our problems and give us a trouble free life. NOT SO!

God’s concern is for our eternal wellbeing and sometimes our present trouble, while painful and confusing at times, is to achieve a higher purpose.

2 Corinthians 4:17 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (NIV)

But in those troubles God is our strength if we will trust Him. He may not always remove the troubles as we might wish BUT he will give us the strength to cope! Habakkuk 3:19             The Sovereign LORD is my strength;

he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,

he enables me to go on the heights. (NIV)

He may not remove the mountain BUT he will give you goat’s feet to climb the mountain!


We all need help from friends and family at various times. Sometimes the help we seek is not forthcoming. I guess we have all be guilty of not giving this kind of help to others and have failed to receive it at times.

Jesus experienced this failure in his disciples in Gethsemane when he asked them to pray with him and they fell asleep!

BUT not so God! He is ever present to help in trouble!

Down through history men and women have proved God in his promise to be “a very present help”

ILLUS.: When Martin Luther was up to his ears in trouble with the Pope he wrote his now famous hymn based on this psalm. “A mighty fortress is our God”

3. A source of strength for the stresses.

Maybe this psalm was written after Jerusalem had been under attack and survived – we can’t be sure!

Certainly a siege could be endure much more easily if there was a river flowing through the city.

Psalm 46:4-5 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. (NIV)

The Psalmist is in no douubt that the Lord himself is the river. He is the one who provides life-giving water to those who are surrounded by troubles and trauma.

Jesus used a similar picture in John 7:38-39 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, …….

Knowing these things in our heads in one thing – getting them into our hearts and living in the light of these truths is another.

The people living in a besieged city can rejoice that there is a river flowing through the city but if they fail to drink from the river it is not going to do them much good.

The things of this world that we think are firm and strong – things like mountains and nations – are in fact quite flimsy and fragile!

Mouontains can seem so solid / immovable but a volcano or earthquake can level them. Nations can seem strong and secure but war or economic collapse can change that over night. We need something more substantial and enduring than mountains and nations – we need a dwelling place with God. And that is what God gives.

Psalm 46:4-5       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. (NIV)

Are you drinking from the life-giving stream that God provides by his word and his Spirit through Jesus Christ?

Should our prayer not be – “O Lord, let my times of prayer and meditation be quiet places in a noisy and troubled world. May they be times when I am conscious of your eternal ways and know the strength of your presence with me through Jesus Christ.”

Let’s end with a poem by Eddie Askew based around Ps.46:

Lord, my mind races.

A blur of images, impressions

moving too fast to think about.

Words, pictures, happenings crowd in , insistently.

Rioting in my mind , uncontrolled.

Hurling rocks to shatter my security.

I feel under attack.

Nothing is what is seems.

Nothing is what it was.

And what it will be , I have no idea.

Changing, ll the time.

It shakes me, Lord.

The minute I’ve taken in this one new thought,

there’s yet another treading down my heels,

pushing hard to get by.

I need you, Lord.

A safe refuge. A shelter.

I used to scorn that thought.

Shelters were for the weak, and I was strong.

But pride’s not what it was,

that’s changed too,

and who am I, when mountains shake

to stand out in the storm?

I head for cover with the rest.

Cold with shock.

Another of the walking wounded in the fight.

I need your reassurance.

The strength that comes from you.

Yet even you, Lord,

come to me in different ways.

Speaking new words in unexpected moments.

Shaking what little complacency I have left.

And Lord, when I take a break

gasping for breath

at the end of this day’s lap,

I realise you never promised things would always be the same.

Rebirth means change.

Walking with you is transformation.

Uncomfortable. Painful at times.

Filled with newness.

New life, and joy, and love.

Help me to cope with it.

Because you promised,

and I think I’ve got it right,

your hand in mine.

Calm strength flowing through to me.

From you. The Unchanging One.



Psalm 46


1. There may will be trouble ahead.

  • “Be still”
  • “Know that I am God!”

2. Knowing God intimately.

  • refuge
  • strength
  • help

3. A source of strength for the stresses.


¨      PSALMIST – “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall;…”

¨      JESUS – “ Whoever believes in me.., streams of living water will flow from within him.”  – the Holy Spirit


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