Written by: Mr. Brent Fischer
For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
- Isaiah 30:15 ESV
You’re not the only one. With all the changes to our work-life, home-life, school-life, and, really, all of life, feelings of stress, frustration, and fear are at peak levels.
We might not all be infected by COVID-19, but, one way or another, we are all affected by it.
For some of us, we may not feel very overwhelmed, per se. Everything just got a bit spooky, and we’ve simply been experiencing a strange, unplanned stay-cation. Now the only fever we’re really afraid of is the increasing cabin fever.
But for many others of us, all the changes are seriously destabilizing, if not, downright scary.
We feel we’ve lost all sense of balance—like we’ve been tossed into the middle of a stormy sea and suddenly our whole world is being upended. Besides running low on TP, our jobs are gone (or now very different online), our stocks are plummeting, our pantries are depleting, and we don’t know what we're going to do with the kids.
As one friend of mine put it, it’s discombobulating. Day by day, many of us are simply trying to keep our head above water, and, as Dory from Finding Nemo says, “Just keep swimming.”
But is that really our only hope? "Power through?" "You can do it?" What about when you just can't? What about when you feel like you can’t catch a breath—like you’re drowning?
Maybe one of the lessons God is trying to teach us today isn't, "Just keep swimming," but, “Stop swimming for a bit. Be still. Take a deep breath. It’s ok to not be ok. You're not in control, and you don’t have to be—because you can turn to the One who is.”
That leads us to our last post. Looking at the story of Jesus calming the storm (Mark 4:35-41), we saw how, when the disciples were caught in a great tempest at sea, they quickly realized they were not in control and could not save themselves. They thought they were for sure going to drown. So they panicked.
But it also ended up revealing to them who was in control, and, therefore, who could save them. Thus, the lesson we drew was that great storms are opportunities to draw our eyes to the even greater Storm-stiller.
Or to say it another way, storms reveal Saviors.
First, they rock us and rip away all our false saviors as foundationless sand-castles (cf. Matt 7:24-27). Health, money, entertainment, convenience, power, plans, work—they vanish away in the swirling tides. And when they do, even if we may not have ever admitted they were false saviors, our anxiety and fear betray us.
But, secondly, like the disciples learned, storms also have a way of suddenly making it clear who is the only true Savior—namely, the Storm-stiller.
And when we focus more on the Storm-stiller than the storm, fear will be replaced with faith— and we’ll see that the Lord who told the wind and waves to be still can speak the same peace to our restless hearts.
Four Practical Suggestions
But it’s one thing to say “be still." It’s an entirely different thing to truly be still. In fact, in our frantically-paced modern day, it seems few things are harder—even (and sometimes especially) when we're stuck at home.
So here are four practical suggestions to “be still and know that [God] is God” (Isa 46:10):
Yes—the first step to being still is actually being still. A funny thing to say when many of us are stuck at home and at a desk all day now! But there’s more to being still than just not moving.
That said, being physically still is, in fact, one of the first steps to being spiritually still.
Or, thinking of Psalm 46 in particular, knowing that God is God helps us be still; but being still also helps us know God is God. The “being still” and the “knowing” are mutually reinforcing.
So, first, still your body. I don’t mean just don’t move. I mean, relax. Yes, it’s ok.
Sit. Close your eyes. Breathe. Seriously—in deeply with your nose for 5 seconds until your stomach distends. Then out slowly for 5 seconds, as if through a straw. Repeat 3-5 times. (Also, if you’re really high strung, I recommend downloading a breathing app to help you do this regularly throughout the day—there are several good ones out there.)
Second, still your mind. Try some simple (and spiritually safe) mindfulness techniques to help you focus your mind on the present moment.
A quick body scan can be very effective at this. Sit down, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, relax your muscles, and slowly but methodically draw your awareness to the various parts and sensations of your body. Start with your pinky toes, then, working your way through each body part, one by one, go all the way up to the tip of your head. Give yourself at least 3 minutes; but take as long as you like.
Various “grounding” techniques offer another way to focus your mind (I like to use the 5-4-3-2-1 technique with my counselees). So does the ancient practice of “breathing prayer” (see the video by John Mark Comer below)!
Note: I do know for more S-type Myers-Briggs personalities, working out or doing something with your hands can actually be more helpful to clear your mind than sitting still physically. This can also be true if you’ve been sitting at home, locked in a room, doing work hunched over a laptop for 8 hours straight!
So, despite what I said above, I don’t want to diminish engaging your body to help clear your head. In fact, as long as the virus isn’t airborne, some fresh air and a brisk walk could do your soul a lot of good. As long as your mind and soul are being stilled, that’s what counts.
But however it works best to still your mind, don’t stop there.
The goal of mindfulness is not so much to empty your mind, but to regain control of it, calm it, and slow it down. One way this can be done is by forcing yourself to focus on the present moment, especially with what you’re sensing, feeling, and thinking. (Now that I mention it, reflective writing, like journaling, can also achieve this quite well.)
But that’s just the prep work.
The real purpose of mindfulness and meditation, at least biblically, is not merely to empty our minds or to focus on ourselves, but to fill them—namely, with what is true and good and beautiful.
Hence, biblical mindfulness/meditation ultimately focuses on filling our hearts and minds with God’s heart and thoughts towards us, and then expressing our hearts and thoughts back to Him.
That’s where the Bible and prayer come in.
Spend some unhurried time in solitude, meditating on and praying over Scripture.
Schedule it. Pick a time and a place. Wake up early. Take a morning or an afternoon off. Go somewhere quiet and distraction-free. But do whatever you have to do to get some alone time to be with God.
Remember, the command to be still is not just to be still. It's so that we would know that God is God and join creation in exalting Him.
Your soul was made for God like stomachs for food or lungs for air. And He communes with you and you with Him through His Word and prayer. So feed your soul on God’s Word and pour out your heart to Him!
The Psalmist calls us to do just this: “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah” (Ps 62:8).
To fuel your faith, I’d encourage you to specifically focus on the promises of God. In Spurgeon’s little devotional, “Faith’s Checkbook,” he compares God’s promises to divine checks that we are to take to the bank of heaven with the hand of faith. And when we do, then we can be sure we will have the blessing—at one time or another, in one way or another (Matt 7:7-8).
“Standing on the promises of God” is such a deep passion and conviction of mine that I’ve compiled a list of dozens of “Precious Promises” from God’s Word. They’re in a document we use daily at Liberty for both staff and students.
Many of these promises are perfect for today. You can access them here.
Listen to beautiful, biblically-rich songs.
Few things have the soul-stilling power of song. There's a Spiritual reason behind that (Eph 5:18-20). So try making a new Spotify or Youtube playlist of “Songs for Quarantine” that you can keep pumping into your soul.
Here are five heart-steadying songs to start with that are perfect for today:
(1) Shane & Shane’s “Lord of Hosts” —basically a summary of my previous post in song form, based directly on Psalm 46.
(2) “God Moves in a Mysterious Way”—acclaimed as one of the finest songs ever written on the theme of God’s providence. (The story behind it is incredible, and here is a fantastic modern rendition by Jeremy Riddle, if the organ and choir aren’t your jam.)
(4) “God I Look to You” by Jenn Johnson (based on Psalm 121). A modern classic.
(5) Keith and Kristyn Getty’s just-released song (in God’s perfection providence), “Christ Our Hope In Life & Death.”
Also, watch for a list from me of other fantastic soul-stilling songs to “sing in the storm.”
Turn off the news for a bit, put down your phones, and pick up a good book.
Despite the pandemic, the world is probably not going to end in a few hours, and your email and social media can wait (even if your work is now fully online)!
The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World by John Mark Comer is a perfect book for these hectic times.
John Mark has a workbook on “How to Un-hurry” that goes along with his book. I’ve been working through it lately. It’s gold; and it’s free! Here’s a video by him where he walks through the first steps of un-hurrying—namely, practicing silence and solitude.
For you voracious readers out there, here are 15 other reads for anxious days recommended by The Village Church.
Otherwise, I’d recommend grabbing a good piece of Christian fiction that can transport you to other worlds (and so give you a clearer perspective of this one), or a meaty book of theology that you've been meaning to get to.
C.S. Lewis once said, “I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.”
I can testify (though I won’t say anything about the pipe part!).
Good thing Lewis wrote both great fiction as well as some “tough bits of theology.” In fact, most of his works happen to have a surprising mix of both—case in point, his Space Trilogy that I’m currently plodding through.
(P.S. speaking of Lewis, here’s a great article on perhaps what he might say to us now.)
There are several more ideas for being still besides these (like practicing Sabbath, taking a long bath, going for a walk, working on a jigsaw puzzle, listening to the Bible on the Dwell or Youversion Bible app, etc.). But these four suggestions should give you a good place to start.
May the Lord meet you in these applications, quiet your heart, and grant you His peace that passes all understanding (Phil 4:7),