I’m a fan of storms, a huge fan of storms. I was really enjoying the ones we had this past week as they produced a great light show with some good rumbling thunder. It’s fun and relaxing at the same time to just sit in our sunroom when theirs a storm and watch it. And this is something I’ve been doing for a long time. When I would come home from college on breaks, I’d rearrange the furniture in the sun room of my mom’s house, which was on the southwest corner of the house. I would arrange it so I could be on the couch and watch the storm come at me through the windows and the skylights. She always had this slight hesitation about this and I always reassured her, when I saw the trees go from swaying back and forth into more of a circular motion, then I would move. However, I usually ended up falling asleep during the storm.
And that’s the thing, your average thunderstorm isn’t really that bad. Like I said, for me they can be quite relaxing and soothing. But there does come a point in time that when a severe storm rolls in, it is a much wiser decision to take cover, to seek a place of refuge somewhere where you will be safe.
Martin Luther, the one who is given credit for starting the Protestant Reformation in Germany in the early 1500’s knows a thing or two about needing to find a place of refuge. On his way back to college in Wittenberg, Luther got caught in the middle of a severe thunderstorm. Now if you have ever been outside in the midst of a severe storm, you know the anxiety which can come over a person as they try to make it to safety. This is what Luther was experiencing.
In the midst of severe storms, a person’s prayer life also tends to get ramped up as they pray for safety, pray for the storm to go away. Well this was no different for Luther. As he is running back to college in the middle of this storm, he prays. He stops under a tree and prays that if he can make it back safely, he would no longer pursue being a lawyer and would become a monk. Which to much disappointment of his father, that is exactly what Luther did.
As a monk, Luther really started digging into the Bible and the teachings of the church. In his studies, Luther concluded that the God he served, the God we serve, He was not a loving God, but a God of wrath and judgment. God expected perfection and so Luther, wanting to please God, started to pay extra close attention to what it was he was doing. Day in and day out, Luther was haunted by a guilty conscience. To Luther, God was not a place of refuge or a place to find strength like Psalm 46 says. Instead, to Luther, God was the prosecuting attorney, judge, jury, and executioner.
Bearing this enormous load of guilt around with him, Luther would find himself in the confessional booth every day, if not two or three times a day. He wanted to make sure that he confessed every single sin because if you didn’t, you had to do penance, you had to do something in order to earn your forgiveness.
One day, Luther was asked to accompany another monk to Rome. While in Rome, Luther wanted to do all the things which a pilgrim was to do. He wanted to say mass, visit the relics, he climbed the holy stairs on his knees saying the Lord’s Prayer on every step to free a soul from purgatory. He did all the things he was suppose to do … but something didn’t sit right with him. He saw things which made him question things, question things about his faith and the teachings of the church.
Upon returning to Wittenberg, Luther continued to dig in and study the Scriptures. Something in him made him re-think the whole concept of doing good works to achieve or earn one’s salvation. It just didn’t seem to make any sense to him. In his studies for his lectures on Romans, Luther read Romans 1:17, which quotes from Habakkuk 2:4. Moved by the Spirit, this passage changed everything for Luther.
Luther read, “the righteous shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17). With the help of the Holy Spirit, Luther realized that life in God didn’t come by trying to earn it, by doing good works but instead it comes by faith in Christ. His salvation was not based on the good works of a person, but instead, his salvation came to him only by what Jesus did for him and by his faith in Jesus as his Savior.
You could say at that moment, the Reformation began. At that moment, Luther realized that God was not an unjust condemning God, but a God of love and mercy. He realized that God is his refuge and strength, an ever present help in the time of trouble. Luther realized his error and the error of the church and thus began his mission to reform it.
In the process of trying to reform the church, Luther made some enemies along the way. He made enemies with the devil, the pope, and the emperor. The devil didn’t want Luther, or anyone else for that matter, to know the gospel message of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. The pope excommunicated Luther, he expelled Luther and called him a heretic for contradicting what the church had taught for centuries. The emperor put a bounty out on Luther’s head for disturbing the peace in his territory and made it so that anyone could drop Luther on the spot. With these different attacks, Luther need to have God as a refuge, a fortress for protection. This is one of the reason why Psalm 46 was so special for him.
One of the neat things about the psalms is how they are used by people of all different times and in all different places. The protection and security Luther found in God is the same sort of protection and security which the original writer found, and it’s the same sort of protection and security which you and I can find. Even though the attacks Luther faced are different, they are still very similar.
Spiritually we are being attacked every day. When we wake up in the morning and decide that we are going to continue to follow God, we essentially are putting a big target on our back. A target which Satan and his little minions use to shoot at in order to bring us down. And just like with Luther, Satan doesn’t always attack us head on. Sometimes he uses things within the world to make us doubt and wonder about the things which God tells us in His word.
Emotionally we are attacked as we deal with broken relationships and crushed spirits. We feel the weight of sin upon our shoulders when we see the brokenness of this creation as our friends and loved ones are diagnosed with cancer, pass away unexpectedly at an earlier age than expected, or suffer from any other sort of disability. We feel the weight of our own sins upon our shoulders when we experience the guilt and consequences of those sins. We feel and try to carry the weight of broken relationships as we try to mend them.
Like Luther’s life, our life isn’t always easy. Then and now, the church faces disruptions and challenges. Then and now, it can be easy to doubt if God is even paying attention to us. The words of this psalm even tell us that life isn’t going to be easy. There’s going to be turmoil, there’s going to be unrest, there are going to be storms. “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” (46:2b-3). It goes on to say that “nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall” (46:6a).
Yet in the midst of all this, God gives us pretty clear instructions. “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (46:10). Be still. That is what God said to the Israelites right before He led them through the Red Sea. Be still. That is what Jesus said to the waves when the disciples thought they were going to drown. Be still. That is what God said to Luther in the midst of his spiritual and emotional storms. Be still. That is what God says to you and me … each and every day of our lives.
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (46:1). In the midst of the storm … God is your refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. For “The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (46:11). Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, be the refuge and fortress of your heart and faith in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.