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Sunday, April 17, 2016

Be Still, My Soul!

Be still, my soul! The Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide,
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul! Thy best, thy heavenly friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
Written by Katharina von Schlegel in 1752, the hymn displays a trust in a God almost unheard of today. Why? What did she know that we have lost?

One of the most common commands to action in Scripture is "Wait." "Stand firm." "Be still." These are all the same concept. Why? "Be still, and know that I am God." In knowing God there is peace. Why? Because of who He is, but also because He is at your side.

How did Katharina von Schlegel view God? To her He was present and personal. She saw order and provision, and she saw Him as the sole source of order and provision. She saw Him as immutable and faithful, an anchor in a stormy world. She saw Him as the best possible choice, as a real friend, and wise enough to know the course to true joy.

Just as important as her view of God was her view of life. How she saw God directly impacted how she saw life. She saw that life was difficult, painful -- in her terms, a cross. But to her it was nothing to either deny or shrink from. Because her all-wise, all-powerful, all-loving God was at her side, she could bear patiently and allow God to order her world and provide for her needs.

Even here we lose our way. Of course, we say, God will provide for our needs. But we mean something entirely different than God does in His promise for provision. We have turned to a God who will give us what we want rather than to a God to whom we must surrender ourselves. We believe that He is there to satisfy us. David Wells says that we have learned this in our American consumer mentality. "In the marketplace, everything is for us, for our pleasure, for our satisfaction, and we have come to assume that it must be so in the church as well."1 The current prevalent belief is that God is there for our indulgence, and when he fails to give us what we want, He is no longer our friend. "We imagine that for those who love God and are called according to his purpose, all things work together for their satisfaction and the inner tranquility of their lives." But the fact is that God has promised suffering - because He loves us and wants the best for us. He will meet the needs He knows we have. He will use difficult circumstances to provide for our good. But it is only when we recognize the loving character of God that we can face harsh conditions with joy, knowing that He has our utmost in mind.

Katharina's viewpoints are vastly different from the average Christian today. While we speak of an omnipotent, omniscient, loving, wise God, we tremble at the slightest disturbance in life. It is said that you are motivated by what you believe, and our motivation is self-preservation because we don't really believe that God is capable or reliable. It seems that most of us don't know the God that Katharina knew. We need to. We need to see Him in history, see Him in our experience, see Him in His Word, and see Him in others. We will be unable to reflect Him if we never view Him, never see Him as He is. It is the reflection of Him that is our goal. And when we view Him as He is, we can choose to proceed through painful circumstances, standing on His capabilities and love, and obtaining the prize He had in mind for us, perfection.
Be still, my soul! Thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake.
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul! The waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.
The question of God's sovereignty has been a raging debate in the church throughout the years. Is God really in charge? What about predestination? Where does man's free will come into play? The real question is, is God truly sovereign?

The hymnist looks to His sovereignty as an ultimate anchor. "Be still, my soul! Thy God doth undertake to guide the future as He has the past." A key to the confidence we can have in God is in that simple sentence. How can we be sure God will "guide the future?" Because He has guided the past (Isa. 25:1). We see it in history. We see it in Scripture. We see it in our own lives. The fact is God's track record, whether we recognize it or not, is absolutely perfect.

It is God who we trust. It is His character, His proven character, in which we have confidence. We trust His goodness to do good. We trust His omniscience to know what that is and all that it entails. We trust His omnipotence to carry out His plans. When we fear anything or anyone other than God, we are saying, "I'm not sure You can be trusted here, God."

The author had another source of confidence in God. She looked to the scriptural record. We can be still in our souls because of the proof in Scripture. Her prime example is Jesus calming the storm (Mark 4:35-41). The passage says Jesus rebuked the wind and sea, and it became perfectly calm. The reaction of the disciples was increased fear, for real terror is the presence of the Holy with the unholy. If we know God, circumstances are inconsequential because they are in His hands. It is God we must fear (Deut. 4:10; Psa. 111:10; Eccl. 8:12; 12:13; Heb. 10:31).
Be still, my soul! The hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone -
Sorrow forgot, love's purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul! When change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.
It is fascinating to me the consistent forward look of hymn writers. A majority of their songs and poems look to our ultimate union with God, either in His return or our death. Is this because of their great sorrow in life? Are they all suicidal? I don't think so. I think it is because of the immense joy set before them in the presence of God.

Most hymns point to God at work. There is great confidence in His work here and now. But to be with Him, united, perfect! Indeed, I believe it is this forward look that helped them toward their views of God. To recognize the here and now as satisfactory is possible because of who God is (Phil. 4:11-13). To see this as temporary makes it all the more enjoyable (Phil. 1:21-24). And anticipating being in God's presence in the future prevents too great an attachment to the present (Matt. 6:19-21). What cause to rejoice - to be someday in the presence of God!

Katharina ties it all together in this last verse. "Sorrow forgot, love's purest joys restored." Why be still? Because then, ultimately, the uncertainties and pains of life will be gone. We will know safety and blessing. "Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known." (1 Cor. 13:12)

What cause to be still? In a word, God. His faithfulness and providence, His love and sovereignty, and the absolute certainty of being with Him. Be still, my soul!

1 David F. Wells, God in the Wasteland, pp. 114 (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994)

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