Google the first four words of Psalm 46:10 and you’ll find hundreds of Christian knickknacks. You can buy wall art, mugs, magnets, throw pillows, and hand towels reminding you and yours to “Be still and know.” Some people will know the rest of the verse: “that I am God.” Fewer will know the reference.
But what do these eight words mean? Ripped from their context, they’re elastic enough to mean whatever we want.
We’re rarely still during the holidays. These are the gift-buying, debt-growing, family-tripping, cookie-baking, party-attending days of December. What do we need? To “be still and know,” we need a quiet nook, a cup of coffee, an open Bible, and photographic proof for social media.
But what if that’s not what the verse means?
Psalm 46 begins with the comforting confession that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (v. 1). Though tempted to trust our own devices, God’s people must trust God alone. He is sovereign over raging nations, raising them up and setting them down for his purposes. Armies win or lose by his decreed will. He cannot be delayed, distracted, denied, or destroyed. Israel will survive because “the LORD of hosts” is with them (v. 7).
That’s the context. In verse 10, it’s God’s turn to speak: “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
Stop arguing. Quit complaining. This is a summons to unconditional surrender. Is it directed to God’s people? If so, it’s a summons to repent, not merely an invitation to take a break from the holiday hustle and bustle. But it’s also a warning to the nations. The bad news: you don’t know God, so resist and be ruined. The good news: you can know God, so surrender and be saved. Only then will the “nations be glad” (Ps. 67:4) as God is exalted among them (46:10). In other words, Psalm 46 is a missions text.
The gospel will launch from Jerusalem, land among the nations, and lead multitudes to turn from idols to the only true God. Representatives of every nation will stand before the risen Christ and praise him for their salvation (Rev. 7:9). The success of the missionary endeavor is guaranteed. “Reader,” wrote Charles Spurgeon about Psalm 46:10, “the prospects of missions are bright—as bright as the promises of God.”
What, then, does it look like to “be still and know” this holiday season? Here are four practical suggestions.
1. Study the stats.
When Jesus was born, an estimated 170 million to 200 million people populated our planet. This Christmas, for the first time in history, the world’s population surpasses 8 billion people. Here’s a breakdown from the Joshua Project:
- 32 percent identify as Christians (includes Christ-followers and nominal Christians).
- 42 percent have heard, or could hear, the gospel—but haven’t responded.
- 26 percent haven’t heard and have virtually no exposure to the gospel.
Organizations like the Joshua Project and Operation World provide a wealth of information and specific prayer requests for the nations, keeping us mindful that there are more people on the earth today who don’t know Jesus “than at any other time in history.”
2. Work for unity in your church.
Pandemics and politics are the Devil’s playground, dividing churches and distracting them from their mission of exalting Christ among the nations. Meanwhile, 183,671 people die every day—47,754 of whom perish without ever meeting a Christian or hearing the gospel. Our sense of urgency rises with the awareness that in Jesus, God has not provided the best way to be saved, but the only way to be saved.
We have work to do and a world to reach. The more we share God’s concern for the nations, the less we bicker over third-rank doctrine and First World problems. Become a thick-skinned peacemaker in your local church for the glory of God and the good of the nations.
The more we share God’s concern for the nations, the less we bicker over third-rank doctrine and First World problems.
3. Care for your church’s missionaries.
Read their prayer letters and pray over their requests—and then let them know you prayed for them. In Operation World, find the nation they serve and pray for that nation. Send care packages stuffed with things they can’t get where they live. (Be sure to ask what they’d like and what shipping option makes the most sense for their location.) Support them financially so they have one less thing to worry about. If appropriate, visit them on the field. Let them go to work tomorrow knowing they’re loved and not forgotten.
4. Make ‘A Mighty Fortress’ a Christmas song.
Psalm 46 inspired Martin Luther to write his famous hymn. Surrounded by enemies who wished to kill him, he resolved to guard the gospel given to the nations. Read Psalm 46, then read the lyrics to Luther’s hymn. Linger over “Lord Sabaoth”—the Lord of hosts, supreme commander of angel armies.
Legions of angels stand ready to serve him—from the cradle to the cross to the crown. On that first Christmas night, a multitude of these fearsome messengers brought the good news: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace” (Luke 2:14). As Jesus anticipated the agony of the peace-making cross, an angel was there “strengthening him” (Luke 22:43). The Prince of Peace will return “with his mighty angels” (2 Thess. 1:7). One day, hundreds of millions of these heavenly hosts will declare, in the company of blood-bought people from every nation, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain” (Rev. 5:12).
The baby in Bethlehem is the Lord of hosts. He must win the battle. He will make all wars cease. He will be exalted among the nations. Be still and know.