It was the spring of 1939, just before World War II began. A Nazi attack on British soil seemed imminent. Fear was gripping the United Kingdom like a boa constrictor holds its prey. In order to encourage a sense of calm among the people, the British government printed three different propaganda posters. They each featured an encouraging message:
“Your courage, your cheerfulness, your resolution will bring us victory."
"Freedom is in peril. Defend it with all your might."
"Keep calm and carry on.”
About 2.5 million copies of these posters were printed. However, they were held in reserve with the intent to only use them in times of crisis or invasion. They were never actually distributed.
In 2000, bookstore owners Mary and Stuart Manley bought a box of old, used books and discovered several of these posters inside. They owned a store called Northumberland Barter Books. So, they decided to display the “Keep calm and carry on" poster at their cash register. Pretty soon, customers were requesting copies. It soon became a national phenomenon. And, today you see that phrase posted all over England. It's a symbol of pride to the English of the resolve and courage of the generation that faced Hitler’s regime. But, it's also a daily reminder that cooler heads will prevail.
In much the same way, I believe Psalm 46:10 can become our mantra, so to speak, for the days in which we are living. These are uncertain times, to say the least. How are you surviving them? Are you fearful? Are you frustrated? Perhaps we can look at this situation as an opportunity for a Sabbath that we’ve never taken before. Maybe God has finally gotten us into a situation where we must echo the sentiments in Psalm 46:10: "Be still and know that I am God."
Let me ask you a question I recently read in a John Ortberg book: “When fear comes knocking at your door, will faith answer?” John Ortberg is a Christian author, and senior pastor of Menlo Church in Menlo Park, California.
Psalms 46-48 are written as songs of praise to God for bringing the people of Israel and then ruler King Hezekiah a miraculous victory over Sennacherib’s Assyrian Army in 701 BC. Sennacherib was at the door ready to take over Jerusalem. But, in one night, an angel of the Lord killed all 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. What a miraculous victory.
Can you imagine the fear that must have paralyzed the Israelites as they saw that army encamped outside their walls? And, the next morning to wake up and discover that just one of God's angels had killed an entire army overnight? The relief. The joy. The thrill of knowing God had delivered them once again. No doubt somebody had to write a song of praise to God. Interestingly, all of Psalm 46 is about God until verse 10. Those words are from God himself: “Be still and know that I am God.”
I want to take a moment and talk about the first two words: "be" and "still." In my next column, I'll talk about the rest of the verse.
We are consumed with “doing.” Do this, do that, accomplish this, succeed at that, you get the idea. There’s nothing wrong with doing great things. But, there are times when we need to cease from our efforts and be reminded all over again whom we serve and the reasons for which we serve Him.
Life is not just about doing; it's also about being: being close to Jesus, being in the moment, being present, just being there. “Doing” is about what you accomplish. “Being” is about who you are becoming. We place a lot of value in what we do. But, perhaps we should place a little more value in simply who we are in Christ. When you determine who you are going to be, it will guide what you are going to do. And, ultimately, God is more concerned with who you are than what you do.
There is a difference between activity and productivity. If you're running in circles, you're active, but you haven't gone anywhere. We have to be careful not to equate “busyness” with discipleship. It's one thing to do ministry for the sake of serving Christ. But, it's quite another to do ministry out of a deep love for Christ. That one thing will eventually wear you out, while the other will keep you motivated and refreshed your whole life. Do you serve Christ out of a necessity to feel a sense of ministerial accomplishment or do you serve Christ simply because you love Him? One is “doing,” the other is “being.”
Life carries with it a sort of rhythm; there is a season to all things in our life. There is a time for doing: for action. But, there is also a time for just being.
Imagine having every day with no night. Imagine all work and no play. Imagine being awake constantly with no sleep. Imagine all sun and no rain. Imagine music with no rest. How do we learn to just "be?" By getting still before the Lord.
It’s interesting how we never use the phrase “do still,” but we often say “be still.” It’s because there is a passive connotation to that word “still.” When you are still, you aren’t doing anything. And yet, in the stillness, our senses are heightened and we become very aware of all that is going on around us. In the stillness, we're able to hear His still small voice much clearer.
The word "still” in Psalm 46:10 comes from the Hebrew word “raphah.” It means to cease striving. It carries the idea of letting go, abandoning and forsaking all. “Raphah” literally paints the image of a fighter dropping his hands mid-round.
Psalm 46:10 is such a powerful verse. It tells us that God isn’t merely asking us to be quiet. He is commanding us, in the imperative voice, to let go of everything that is capturing our attention away from Him. He is firmly requesting our undivided attention. Much like a teacher might enter the classroom and say, "Alright, stop talking and know that I am your teacher and I’ve got something you need to learn.”
I can’t think of a time in our history when God was more plainly speaking to us—as His children—to take advantage of this opportunity to get still before Him and hear His voice, His direction, His plan.
In order to be still, we need to develop the discipline of solitude. There's a difference between solitude and isolation. I’m not talking about being socially disconnected from all those around you--that’s isolation. I’m talking about developing discipline in your life that causes you to unplug from the world and plug into really knowing God.
Many of us have a very difficult time with this. We simply don’t manage our time wisely. I like author Rick Warren’s advice: Detach daily. Withdraw weekly. Abandon annually. Perhaps we need to readjust how we spend our time.
Being still allows our faith to permeate deep within our souls; it allows the Holy Spirit to speak clearly to us.
Try it. You’ve been given the perfect opportunity during this COVID-19 crisis to spend a little more time at home. Can you imagine what this could do for your walk with Christ if you will be still before Him each and every day? You might emerge from this horrible time actually refreshed and revived and more in love with Jesus than you’ve ever been.
Charles Billingsley is a Christian singer, worship leader, songwriter, speaker, and author.
He's the former lead vocalist for the GRAMMY®-nominated band NewSong. Since then, Charles has released 23 recordings as a solo artist. He is also a teaching pastor at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, and an adjunct professor at Liberty University’s Center for Music & Worship.