What does it mean God is our refuge and strength (Psalm 46:1)?
In Psalm 46, we see the back and forth of difficult circumstances followed by reminders that God is our refuge. Verse 1 says: "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." This is a comforting assurance that shows us God is our safety, strength, and help. In the proceeding verses, the psalmist tells us that our natural response to this promise is to live free from fear, no matter the circumstances: "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" (verses 2–3). These are some pretty extreme conditions, but we see throughout this psalm that God is fully trustworthy and fully in control.
Psalm 46 mentions the roaring waters of the sea and says we need not fear—even in such dangerous circumstances. We see this very scenario take place when Jesus calms the raging storm while He and His disciples were out at sea in Mark 4:35–39:
On that day, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
There are a few noteworthy things in this story. First, it was Jesus' idea for them to get in the boat and sail across the sea, even though, being God, He surely knew a storm was coming. God knows what difficulties we will encounter in our lives before we do. Second, Jesus went to sleep. Have you been in the midst of a personal storm in your life when it feels like God is asleep? In those times, all of us are tempted to live in fear. Like the disciples, we ask God, "Do you not care?" And then, just as He did for the disciples, God calms our storms. Outside circumstances my not change, but our hearts can certainly have peace in Christ, trusting Him to be our refuge and strength.
Philippians 4:5–7 says, "The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." The following verse remind us where to put our focus—"whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Philippians 4:8). We should live out the truths of the Bible and trust God to be with us. He is our safe refuge, our fortress in the midst of danger. Psalm 46 states the same thing two times: "The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress" (verse 7, 11).
Notice that nowhere in Psalm 46 does it say that God will keep troubles and hardships away from us. Rather, it says He will be with us and help us in the midst of trouble (cf. John 14:25–27; 16:33; Romans 8:1–39; Philippians 4:6–9; 1 Peter 5:6–11; Matthew 28:20). He is our fortress and deliverer. When we are weak, He is strong (2 Corinthians 12:10). He will be our refuge and strength—our shelter, our encourager, and our equipper. What does He tell us to do? "Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10).
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