When I lead day retreats for leaders, I like to begin in a passage of scripture before we head out to a time of solitude. On one such retreat, I spoke from Psalm 48. One of the ways I like to prepare for such a talk is to read, reflect and write insights I gain in listening to a psalm for myself first, then for the group to whom I’ll be speaking.
Here are some of the insights I listed in my preparation. Perhaps they will help you enjoy Psalm 48 a bit more. (The numbers are verse references).
- 1, 7, 11 – God’s presence is a continuing theme. (1 – ever-present help, 7 & 11 – Lord Almighty is with us.)
- God is our refuge (1) and fortress (7, 11). He’s safe. He protects me.
- “God with us” is a thread throughout (1, 4-5, 7, 11). Sometimes, it takes being still to remember that God is always with us, especially when it doesn’t feel that way.
- 2 – Overcoming fear happens when we deeply remember that God is always with us, that He’s a safe place to be and He strengthens us to have courage and stand (2-3).
- (2) Mountains fall and kingdoms fall (6), but with God in our lives, we will not fall (5).
- This psalm shows the power of nature (2-3), but also God’s power over nature (6b); the power of nations (6a), but also God’s power over nations (9). Human kingdoms are insecure (6a), but in the Lord we find security and refuge (1).
- 3, 7, 11 – We tend to skip the word “Selah” when we read psalms. In the context of a retreat getaway, we would do well to remember that “selah” may have been musical notation making space for instruments to play. This is why we can see “Selah” as an invitation to reflect, to meditate, to let these good words from God sink in.
- 3-4 – There is a dramatic contrast between the raging waters that threaten and the river whose streams bring joy to God’s city/God’s people.
- 4 – There really is a river. Read Ezekiel 47:1-12. Also John 7:38 – “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”
- 4 – Maybe the “river whose streams make glad” is an echo of the river in Eden that had four streams flowing from it (Gen. 2:10-14).
- 5b – As our day begins on this retreat, God is among us, with us, even in us. He will help us as day has broken.
- 6 – Situations that would overwhelm us (nations flexing their muscles against each other, attacking and destroying each other) takes only a word from God to be melted!
- 7, 11 – “the God of Jacob” – not just a “today” God, but a God of many generations, of our fathers and their fathers. He’s been with us a very long time!
- 9 – God destroys weapons others would use to harm me (or that I might use to harm them).
- 10 – God’s “will” – When God says “I will”, He really will!
- 10 – One commentator suggests here, “Relax, and know that I am God.” When I hear “know that I am God,” I might be tempted to say, “I’ve been a Christian for over 30 years. Of course I know that God is God.” But the fact is that my anxieties and my fears are evidence that sometimes I forget!
There is an extreme contrast in God’s invitation to “be still and know” in the midst of earthquakes (2a, 3b), landslides (2b) crashing waves (3a), international conflict (6), violent political regime changes (6a), and wars (9).
We can learn to be still and know He is God, even in the midst of chaos. We don’t have to wait for a serene, calm place to do it.