During my freshman year at Moody Bible Institute, they shut down the dorms over Christmas break for the first time ever. I didn’t have the money to fly from Chicago to Phoenix where my family was and had initially planned to spend Christmas with the international students in the dorms. However, panic struck across the world that year: Y2K. No one knew if all the computers would shut down on New Year’s Eve 1999, and if water and food supplies would be cut off, or if the bank information would go blank. So the college forced all the students out of the dorms that year, just in case the apocalypse did happen. I figured if there was ever a time to put a plane ticket on a credit card, weeks before a possible clean slate was the perfect time.
On the flight home, I sat next to a professionally dressed woman in her 40s. We each had a book with us, as this was the age before smartphones and e-readers. I asked what she was reading, and it was an interesting piece of fiction. She asked to see my book, and it was “Desiring God” by John Piper. One of John Piper’s sons was a classmate of mine, and sat next to me in Evangelism class and had become a friend. I was worried it would be found out I had never read one of his dad’s books, so I planned to read one over the break.
The older woman next to me leaned over and asked what I was reading. When I showed her the title she asked what it was about. I said, “Well, I’ve only read the first 2 chapters so far, but I think the basic idea is that God wants us to find joy in him.”
She scoffed at my summary. “I wonder what those fuddy-duddy Christians feel about all that joy-talk. I bet they hate that.”
Seeing that mention of God was a sore spot for her, I decided to steer clear from that topic, as it was a 3-hour flight.
About an hour later the flight attendant gave us our drinks and she leaned over and said, “You know, when I was a little girl, my grandmother took me to church sometimes. In Sunday school, they had me memorize Bible verses and I still remember them. They have been a comfort to me all these years.”
The comment was so tender, and caught me off guard based on her earlier comment. I had no idea how to respond, so I just smiled, and invited her to keep talking.
“Do you know what my favorite verse is in all the Bible?” She asked.
“What verse?” I asked.
“Be still and know that I am God.” She said. We both paused for a minute to let the beauty of the verse sink in.
“That’s a great verse.” I said dumbly, obviously rocking this whole evangelism thing.
She said, “It’s always been a comfort to me, because when I’m overwhelmed, and I don’t know the future, I can sit down and meditate on the words: be still and know that I am God.” She pointed at herself when she said the words “I am God.”
My jaw dropped as I realized that she used that verse to meditate on the thought that SHE was God.
“Um, that verse isn’t saying you are God.” I quickly said.
“Yes, it does. It literally says the words. ‘I am God.’”
“Yes, but that’s God talking. God is saying he is God.” I stammered.
“I thought David wrote it.” She replied. “David felt confident enough to call himself God. We are each a god with the power to control our world.”
“David wasn’t calling himself God.” I said firmly. “David was speaking for God. There’s a method to studying the Bible. The authors were inspired to say…” I was trying to gather my thoughts for this argument I could not have imagined.
“Well, we all interpret the Bible differently.” She said.
“No one interprets it that way. Absolutely no one.” I said stubbornly.
“I prefer a plain reading of the Bible, and just let it speak to me.” She replied.
I spent the next 30 minutes trying to convince this woman that context mattered, and most of all: she was not God. In the end we had to agree to disagree and return to our own books for the remainder of the uncomfortable flight.
While many illustrations can be drawn from this true story, the one that I’m reflecting on the most right now is the actual meaning of that verse, that we must be still and know that He is God.
We are not God.
In fact, Adam and Eve, in their perfect state were not God. When we will be with Jesus, perfect and sinless at the wedding feast, we still won’t be God. What I mean is that being redeemed by the blood of Jesus does not make us God. Whether we are sinner, saint, or both, we are not God.
We do not control the universe. Even in our perfect, finite state, only God is divine.
We have entered a season of forced rest in our home. I know many other homes it’s the opposite, especially those working in hospitals and emergency services. We are called to stay home. I’m not running any kids to track practice or confirmation classes. Our homeschool co-op isn’t meeting, and church will even look different for a time. We are at home, baking cookies, painting pictures, playing board games, having movie marathons.
And yet, everything feels wrong, and my anxiety has been on a roller coaster.
God allows many things in our life that often feel like discipline. As humans, the discipline we struggle with the most often is rest. We pout like a toddler in timeout. The adult response to rest actually looks pretty responsible from the outside. We worry about our jobs. We worry about the economy. We worry what recovery from this will look like. We worry about relatives. We feel like all of this is totally and completely out of our hands, and that fact can be terrifying.
Be still, and know that He is God.
The resistance to rest has nothing to do with hatred of naps and has everything to do with wanting control, and wanting a safety net outside of God. We want to design our best lives, sculpting our own little world like a potter, which always involves earning our rest. Rest is not only a free gift, but something that God has had to make us do more than once.
The Psalmist also says: “He makes me lie down in green pastures” followed directly by “he restores my soul.” The purpose of rest is often to restore us, not punish us. The purpose of rest is often so we look to his abundance, rather than our own. The purpose of rest is often to realign our hearts to the reality that was there all along: we are completely dependent on God. Does that thought give you comfort, or does it cause you to fear? Too often it makes me afraid, because I know God allows things I would not allow. He allows freedom that I think should be squashed. He trains me in ways I consider uncomfortable, and to be honest, downright mean. I question his judgment, and when we get down to it—his goodness, and his love for me.
God knows the reality: there is no true comfort for us when we try to be God. That lie is actually harmful to us.
The spiritual discipline of rest is to realign our hearts to the reality that we are not God, and the only thing that will help us recover from that disappointment is the knowledge that his love for us endures forever.
“Be still and know that I am God” is often seen on an inspirational plaque or pillow with floral flourishes, like something you would see in a day spa. To be in context, read all of Psalm 46 today.
“He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
He burns the chariots 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 of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our fortress.” (Psalm 46:8-11)
The discipline of the Lord is not a punishment. When he says “Be still” in this psalm, he is simultaneously smashing our power grabs. It’s training our hearts to reality. Sometimes that involves him crushing our illusions of control, and our illusions of safety that we have created for ourselves. Illusions that we depend on rather than him.
God may be calling you to a season of work. He may be calling you to a season of rest. He does not cause all of these troubles, but he will use them to continually restore us to himself, through the knowledge that he is God, and his love for us will endure.