In light of the psalmist’s assurance of God’s protection: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble,” he instructs us to “Cease striving” (Psalm 46:10). The Hebrew word translated “cease” means to sink or relax. “Striving” is a term that typically refers to warfare, so the admonition can be stated this way: “Be at peace.”
According to Philippians 4:6–7, the means of gaining this God-given, protective peace is prayer: “Be anxious for nothing [do not fret], 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 comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” When we bring our fears and worries to God in prayer, He sends us His peace to stand like a sentry at the door of our heart and our mind. God’s peace is a secure deadbolt against anxiety.
God’s peace comes as we remember the powerful deeds of God. These provide us with an essential weapon in the battle against fear. Verses 8 to 10 of Psalm 46 instruct us,
Come, behold the works of the Lord, Who has wrought desolations in the earth.
He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
He burns the chariots with fire. “Cease striving and know that I am God.”
In other words, “Stop worrying! I am God—you are not! I will get the victory. Stop acting as if you are in charge. Stop, relax, rest in Me. I am your God. I will be your peace.” This spiritual rest is not something we passively experience; it is a demonstration of an active faith. Walter Kaiser writes, concerning our “rest” in God and his word to us: “The word for ‘rest’ (manoah) is related in Hebrew to the word for ‘comfort’ (menahem) and is a word possessing considerable theological weight. The ‘rest’ of God is a state of being that we enter into by belief [emphasis added].” In other words, unlike physical sleep, spiritual rest in God actually involves an active choice. We must end our worrying and instead replace those worries with confidence that God is God and is, therefore, in full control. As fears threaten to overtake us and destroy our peace, we must actively rest in God by faith.
We rest by remembering His mighty deeds: “Come, behold the works of the Lord.” When we are tempted to worry, we must remember the great works that God has done—not only in the earth, but in our own lives. Rest involves reflecting on the many ways in which God has providentially cared for us, satisfied our needs, and demonstrated His power, love, and grace. This is a direct antidote to our worries, and is the same principle Jesus taught His disciples in Matthew 6:25–34:
For this reason [because you cannot serve two masters] I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat, or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air [behold the works of God!], that they do not sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow [behold the works of God!]; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field [behold the works of God!], which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear for clothing?” For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Worry will hinder our faith, cloud our focus, and rob us of our ability to see clearly the good works of the Lord. Worrying brings us no benefit. Someone has well said, “Worry is like a rocking chair. It will give you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.” And worst of all, worry is an enemy of faith. Instead of fretting over that which we cannot control, we need to learn to quietly rest in the One who is sovereign over every atom in the universe. Jesus Christ, the omnipotent Creator, “is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).
Psalm 46 ends by repeating a key truth for us: “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.” This truth was already stated for us in verse 7 and in verse 1, but in different words: “God is … a very present help in trouble.” By stating the same truth three times in slightly different ways, the psalmist is making a point: we must never forget when we are in the midst of our storms. God’s presence is real. He is not far away. He is very near to us in our grief and suffering. Therefore, cease striving.
[*An edited version of this post is now published in the 31-day devotional, ANXIETY: Knowing God’s Peace.]