What does it mean to be still and know the Lord is God? Psalm 46:10 is a popularly-quoted verse. We see it on journals, t-shirts and home decorations. Does it mean to stop and do nothing when we’re facing a trial? Does it mean to zone out in deep meditation when there are critical things to be done?
When I first began to study what “be still and know I am God” means, I started with the context of Psalm 46.
The Context of Psalm 46
Psalm 46 is a psalm of praise, exalting God as a “refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble.” Though the psalm doesn’t detail the precise circumstance, it was likely penned after God protected or rescued Jerusalem from a great threat.
In poetic hyperbole, the psalmist notes there’s no reason to fear even if the very foundations of the earth were to crumble. “Though the earth gives way and the mountains move into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains tremble at its swelling.” (Psalm 46:2-3, ESV)
While Psalm 46 was written about the city of Jerusalem (There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. Psalm 46:4), the God who was for Jerusalem is the same God who is for us. His character doesn’t change. God is also our refuge and strength in times of trouble. And in difficult circumstances, though everything shifts around us, we need not give in to fear because God is sure help.
While the psalm is national in context, our personal circumstances can also cause such upheaval that it feels like our very foundations are crumbling. This is exactly what I felt when my husband died suddenly and I became widow and single mom to seven children overnight. Life as I knew it had imploded and it would never be the same again.
But God who was for Jerusalem brought victory, putting an end to war, shattering the enemy’s weapons and destroying their chariots.
God is also for us, as his beloved children. (Romans 8:31). It’s in this context of God’s victory on behalf of Jerusalem, and in parallel on our behalf, that verse 10 commands us to “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10, ESV)
Be Still And Know I Am God Meaning
The English definition of “still” means to “be silent, uttering no sound…quiet…motionless.”¹
But the way we use be still in English is different from the Hebrew word. The instruction to be still in Hebrew means to let go, stop striving, slacken and let drop.
It’s a picture of loosening our clenched grip on the circumstances and outcome and trusting God who’s sovereign over both.
I’m the first to admit that being still goes against my instinct. We are fixers. We want to make it happen, keep pushing through and force an outcome.
But the call to be still is a call to surrender.
It means giving up the myth that we have control and choosing to depend wholly on God.
To be still in this verse doesn’t mean doing nothing.
- It doesn’t mean to give up and sit down.
- It doesn’t mean to quit doing the last thing God called us to do.
- It doesn’t mean to wait for God to do everything.
When God commands us to be still and know He is God, He’s commanding us to release control of the situation to His sovereignty. That means releasing control of the timing, the outcome and the ways God will bring about His purpose in the situation.
When we surrender control to God in difficult situations, we can actively do these 5 things:
We cannot worry when we are worshipping. Psalm 46 is a song of praise beginning with who God is. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Worship reaffirms that God is on the throne and in control. Worship ushers us into the presence of God, where we find comfort and strength. In worship, we become less and the things of this world grow dim as God is exalted.
One of my college friends was super excited to spend her summer overseas on mission. When she arrived, she was assigned to the nursery tending babies – not exactly the edgy missions work she’d envisioned. But in long hours rocking babies and giving bottles, she grew a deep prayer life. She said she was forever changed and grateful for the gift of time to pray deeply.
When our calendars and hearts are stilled, we have time to pray deeply. Jesus modeled this throughout his earthly ministry, often getting up while it was still dark or going off alone to pray. While great crowds pressed to hear him and be healed, “Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.” (Luke 5:16)
When we’re still, we can remember God’s flawless record of faithfulness. Psalm 46:8 says, “Come and see what the Lord has done.” We remember two ways. First, by getting into the Word, where we’re reminded of God’s character, his miracles, his provision. Second, we remember what God’s done for us personally. God has not gotten us this far to drop us now.
Joshua at the end of his life reminded Israel of God’s constant faithfulness leading them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, in the wilderness and into the Promised Land. “Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the LORD your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.” Joshua 23:14
4. Give Thanks
Give thanks in all circumstances, God tells us. And once we begin, we see with fresh eyes God’s goodness all around us. That God is tenderly caring for us and threading the details of every delay and every setback to accomplish a will more perfect than we could ask or imagine.
God is good and God does good and when we stop to count our blessings, we realize what we thought mundane is rich indeed. We see that God’s grace and provision, love and kindness has not been merely sufficient, but extravagant.
Even when we’re still, God is at work. Though we may not see what God is doing, we can be certain God is working every circumstance to accomplish his desires.
This was never truer than on Holy Saturday. Jesus had died and been buried and as the Sabbath began, the disciples could only be still and wait. How defeated they must have felt. But in that Saturday stillness, God fulfilled his eternal plan as Jesus experienced death on our behalf and then defeated death! In our stillness, are we looking for God’s hand?
Regardless of the circumstances that swirl around us, we can still our hearts to worship, pray, remember, thank and watch.