The privilege of the pressure cooker

One of my personality quirks is that I am a fairly fearful person. Those who know my story wouldn’t expect this as my wife and I lived in an area of the world that was marred by conflict. Nonetheless, my default emotional position is to hope the Lord keeps anything that causes anxiety or tension far from me. One cartoon sort of depicted my disposition. It pictured a man sitting on a bench with his head in his hands. The caption below was: “Sure, today everything is fine but what about tomorrow?”

Perhaps that’s why Psalm 46 has always meant so much to me: it speaks directly to me–and my anxious predisposition.

We are all multi-layered personalities with conflicting desires. On the one hand, I would love to avoid anything that causes anxiety. On the other, early on in my walk with the Lord and due to the working of the Spirit within me, a unquenchable desire burned within me to see the gospel to go to the ends of the earth and people’s eyes opened to all the possibilities that can exist for them because of what Jesus has done and will do for them. This desire has not abated, because the Spirit continues to make me aware that most people across our world live in unbelievable situational and relational brokenness. They truly live in hell; and they have no idea of all that God has done and wants to do for them through our Lord.

This burning desire moved me to offer myself to the Lord to go wherever the Lord wanted. And I was overjoyed that Jesus accepted that offer, set me apart, and sent me. I had no idea that signing up for this would open me up to living in zones filled with the unknown, filled with all kinds of anxiety producing situations. Well, it did. And so Psalm 46 came to describe my path.

The earth around us reeled in conflict and we were in the center of the storm. Bombs went off in our city on a monthly basis. At times we would become anxious; but then we would pray. We realized that we had to walk through the pain with the people in order to show them that God was right there with them. He truly loved them; and one way he could practically show them this was through our presence. Our presence was meaningful because he was present with us.

With this thought in mind, read what John Goldingay writes in his commentary on Psalm 46: “Violence (natural, political, military) is a prominent fact of human life, and one we cannot evade. Prayer is not designed to make it possible for us to escape from violence into peace. Praying in the midst of violence . . . is our desperately needed corrective to the widespread malpractice of prayer as withdrawal.”

We were blessed to live out our calling as God’s people to pray in the midst of violence. Yet, this calling to live among people is for us all. The point is this: we are not called to be removed from the world but to be actively involved with God in his redemption of it.

Verse 10 exhorts us to stop and acknowledge that God is God. Goldingay has this to say about this exhortation: “‘Be still and know that I am God” is a common invitation in Christian spirituality. This invitation involves a reinterpretation of the psalm. Nowhere do the psalms have an ideal of silence. Their assumption is that one finds God not in silence but in noise.” This is what we found. Walking with God requires that we get ourselves in situations that are uncomfortable, messy, and noisy. It is in those situations that God speaks to us. He speaks to us in ways and teaches us things that we could never have learned otherwise. These revelations make living in a pressure cooker an absolute privilege.

One of the things each of us realized as we served the Lord in these intense spaces was how overwhelming the problems were and how ill-equipped we were to accomplish our goals. It was in this realization that verse 10 became especially meaningful as are these words of Goldingay: “The challenge to stop also issues an important challenge to the people of God to give up thinking that it has responsibility for its destiny or that its task is to bring in the kingdom of God, extend the kingdom of God, or further the kingdom of God. Scripture does not think in such terms. The psalm makes clear that the city of God is not a mere heavenly community (as Augustine’s City of God might seem to imply) but an earthly reality. But in this city, it is not for us to fix things. It is for us to expect God to fix things.”

We are called to partner with God in what he is doing. He doesn’t expect us to be passive partners. Yet, in this partnership we can never leave the position Jesus modeled for us: the position of dependence upon God. We have to live with the clear understanding that it is God who fixes things, not us. It is to be our expectation that God will fix things, and he will use us and direct us, giving us wisdom along the way, showing us what we are to do to help see them fixed. Yet, we have to avoid the role of being God’s Divine Bulldozer – trampling on everyone to make sure the goals are accomplished. This is not how God works. Thus, we live in dependence and in expectancy, and this forces us to proceed with gentleness in all we do because God may not act and accomplish the things we hope as fast as we expect.

Yes, Psalm 46 has meant so much to me over the years. God is a very present help in times of difficulty. As we follow him into the world we will face the storms and turmoils of life. Yet, in these storms we will live in a zone created by God, a zone where we have peace of mind and heart. The streams of the city (the Spirit) make us glad. There will come a time when all the wars will come to an end, but the amazing thing is that when people give their allegiance to Jesus, the wars within their souls come to an end. They find the peace, joy, and meaning that they are looking for. And even though their finding this peace and joy may seem like a distant dream, we have the assurance that God will be held high in all the earth.

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