by TR Robertson
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come and see the works of the LORD, the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
In the days following the terrorist attacks of 2001, Americans went to church. They crowded into grand cathedrals in the shadow of the fallen tower. They packed the pews in clapboard-sided, steeple-crowned community churches in places far from Ground Zero. People who had rarely darkened the doors of a chapel or church house found themselves drawn to their neighborhood church, looking for . . . something.
The world outside suddenly seemed less safe. And so we turned to the church seeking refuge. And in nearly every house of worship, David’s words from Psalm 46 were read: God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble (v. 1).
The fearful flocked to church buildings for refuge, but the strength they found there came from the real church, the people of God. The people who have been called out of the world and called together into community are the real church. The house of God is not a building; it is a people.
The real church, the body of Christ, represents God as our refuge and our strength. The people who inhabit the church buildings week in and week out, attending the services faithfully, serving one another and the community with the shared resources of the congregation—these are the ones who provide the strength. These are the people who already knew that we are not in control, that our plans and our strongholds and our politics are not enough to sustain us and protect us. True strength comes in acknowledging our weakness and trusting ourselves to the mighty power of God.
Believers in every city and town in the nation saw the need and stepped forward to help those who came. They drew their inspiration from the God who is an ever-present help in times of trouble, and became themselves the ones who sacrificed to provide whatever help was needed to a troubled land. Whether that meant providing spiritual solace and hope or physical meals and a drink of water to the rescuers, the church stepped forward.
Little did we know in the fall of 2001 that God was preparing the church to be his army. He knew his people would be called upon to provide strength and help in a decade that saw one disaster after another drive Americans to their knees.
Helping People Deal with Fear
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging (vv. 2, 3).
By the end of the first decade of the new millennium, the people of this nation were at their wits’ end. Each biennial election cycle seemed to bring a renewed reaction against the powers that be. Fearful voters turned against leaders who seemed incapable of steering the ship of state through the rough waters of uncertainty.
We lost lives on 9/11, then sent our friends and family to Iraq and Afghanistan to lose their lives. We watched while New Orleans and the surrounding Gulf Coast were lost in the wake of Katrina. And just a few short years later, the bottom fell out of the national economy. Americans lost jobs, life savings, and confidence.
And the church stepped up, time and time again, to meet the needs of those around them.
After Hurricane Katrina, a small congregation on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi scrapped virtually every program and line of their budget. They were transformed almost overnight into a church of action, helping their community rebuild. The usual preoccupations of “doing church” became insignificant in the face of the sudden homelessness and desperation of the people of the community.
Other church groups across the country sent short-term mission crews to help the Gulf Coast congregations in the reconstruction efforts.
Still more Christians gave money to groups like International Disaster Emergency Service (IDES) to help local congregations involved on the ground in the midst of disasters.
The church learned to mobilize in the face of disaster and continued to provide God’s strength and his church’s resources to places like Haiti and Chile.
The City of God
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day (vv. 4, 5).
We were forced to learn what it means to be the church during this decade. Rather than continuing to behave like a dysfunctional family—the First Church of This vs. the Main Street Church of That—we learned to be the City of God. Only by being a united people, the embodiment of the Most High, could we rally to meet the great needs this decade threw at us.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, refugees descended on communities in every state of the Union. They landed anywhere they had relatives, or knew someone, or wherever the family vehicle gave out. A flood of displaced souls was blown to the four corners of the country. The wave of hopelessness was too massive for individual congregations to deal with alone.
In my hometown of Columbia, Missouri, God led his people to divine appointments with Katrina refugee families at gas stations and motels, fast food restaurants and food pantries, and on the doorstep of congregations of every stripe. Each Christian and each church stepped up to meet needs. And then they began working together and networking with local social service agencies to provide coordinated help—with the result that when the economic crash of 2008 hit hard, the City of God was prepared to be used for the mission of God.
Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth (v. 10).
The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress (v. 7).
It didn’t take long for the national unity we felt after 9/11 to pass. Soon people were pointing fingers and looking for scapegoats. The drumbeats of war became the focus of argument and political tension. By the time of Katrina, the national pastime seemed to be painting the various political figures as ineffectual, uncompassionate, or corrupt. And by the time the economy crumbled beneath us, the political rhetoric had risen to a media-fed frenzy.
The church in America, at its worst, is loud and confrontational. When we let ourselves be swept up in the extreme belligerence of the decade’s bipolar political climate, the church has embarrassed itself in front of a needy nation, showing them nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
But when we keep our eyes on the mission of God and step up to be the body of Christ, we draw people to the church and to him.
When we remember the lessons we learned from the trials of this decade, we are a church that is mobilized to be ready for those divine appointments. That church can be a voice of calm, calling the world to be still—even in the midst of crisis—and to know that he is God and that he is our fortress.
TR Robertson is a freelance writer in Columbia, Missouri.
YOU Are the Church
You are a part of the body of Christ. You are the true, living church on a daily basis, whether or not you are standing in your congregation’s building.
• How are YOU acting as a refuge in times of trouble? Are you sharing God’s strength and hope with those who are struggling?
• How are YOU helping people deal with their fears? Do you offer a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on as people seek their way?
• How are YOU representing the city of God? Are you living out the truth of the gospel with other Christians in your community?
• How are YOU exalting God? Is his praise on your lips and in your heart?