Becoming Unshakeable in a Turbulent World

By Scott McClellan
In Formed
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Have you skimmed the headlines at any point in the last four months? Have you perused your social media feeds at least once since Spring Break, or should it be Spring Broke? I assume you have, so I assume you know what I know: the world is a hot mess.

We’re experiencing disruption in every sphere and facet of our world, from an international scale to our daily lives. So much of what so many of us took for granted six months ago is now tinged with confusion, fear, loss, or anger.

This is not the way it’s supposed to be. We’re created for peace, connection, and growth – not turbulence. We’re not naturally equipped to navigate raging storms and massive swells that threaten to tip the whole boat over. As such, many of us and many of our neighbors find ourselves searching for stability, grasping for something steady, pleading for relief. This is why the reassuring temptations and whispered invitations of our world are so appealing right now. In the middle of all this uncertainty, the message from institutions and corporations, authorities and celebrities, products and platforms, idols and ideologies is quite simple:

“Trust me.”

Voices of any and every kind are asking us to trust them to lead us from shakiness to solid ground. The whispers come from all around us, it seems. They can even come from within us as we are tempted to trust ourselves—our own abilities, capacities, knowledge, and experiences.

These invitations to trust are so compelling because circumstances are so unstable these days, so shaky, so uncertain. We don’t know who we are, we don’t know where we stand, we don’t know if we’re enough, and we certainly don’t know what comes next, so we look for something we can lean on, stand on, count on.

Psalm 125

Underneath all the voices clamoring and competing for our trust, the word of God speaks. Take a moment to read Psalm 125 with patience and care:

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,

which cannot be shaken but endures forever.

As the mountains surround Jerusalem,

so the Lord surrounds his people

both now and forevermore.

The scepter of the wicked will not remain

over the land allotted to the righteous,

for then the righteous might use

their hands to do evil.

Lord, do good to those who are good,

to those who are upright in heart.

But those who turn to crooked ways

the Lord will banish with the evildoers.

Peace be on Israel.

May we hear those words as truly good news. Those who trust in the Lord are secure, unshakeable, enduring, and covered by God’s presence. Our turbulent world doesn’t have the last word, and our circumstances don’t ultimately determine how we live or who we become.

By way of background, Psalm 125 is part of a grouping of psalms (120-134) known as the Songs of Ascents. These songs were on the hearts, minds, and lips of worshipers are they made their pilgrimage to Jerusalem and up toward the Temple to take part in religious festivals throughout the year. In other words, Psalm 125 is a song for people on a journey.

Three Convictions

Three vital convictions drive Psalm 125, and each of them will serve us well on our own journeys. The first conviction is that everyone trusts someone or something, whether that object of ultimate trust is external or internal. There’s no such thing as a trust-neutral person. Rather, we each make choices about who or what to trust. Psalm 3:5 exhorts us to look beyond ourselves (“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding”), while Psalm 20:7 instructs us to look beyond worldly means of power ("Some trust in chariots and others in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God”). May we be counted among those who deeply and daily trust in the Lord.

Psalm 125’s second conviction is that difficult seasons and circumstances will come. As we established earlier, we’re in a difficult season of global proportions right now, so perhaps this conviction is fairly easy to believe at the moment. What’s more difficult to accept is what Barry Jones has said to us a few times recently: comfort is not a Christian virtue. The question is not whether we will achieve an easy, perfect, comfortable life; the question is whether or not we will be shaken or unshakeable, whether or not we will endure or fade away. The answer, according to Psalm 125, is found in trusting the Lord.

This leads us to the third conviction, which is that the Lord is indeed trustworthy. We can put our confidence in God. We can find the security we long for in him. But how? How do we cultivate the kind of trust in the Lord that makes us steadfast in the turmoil of life? Here’s my proposal:

Deep, sustaining trust in God is cultivated in rooting, remembering, and rhythms.

Rooting

The question of where our trust lies is the question of where we are rooted in terms of our identity. In The Deeper Journey, author Robert Mulholland notes that we can root our identities in any number of aspects of our personhood (such as our gender or nationality), our position (such as a job title or membership within a group), or our performance (such as our achievements and the acclaim that comes with them). Each of these facets of life might be true of us at some level, but they are not where our identity should be rooted. For that, Mulhulloand points us to Colossians 3:3: “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” This, he writes, is “the center of our true identity in God.”

If we belong to Jesus, this is the essence of who we really are. To root ourselves fully and deeply in this reality is to become those who trust in the Lord, those who are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever.

Remembering

Lest we be tempted to focus only on ourselves, we must practice the spiritual act of remembering. We must remember who God is and what God has done. As the great Elie Wiesel said, "Remembering is a noble and necessary act. The call of memory, the call to memory, reaches us from the very dawn of history. No commandment figures so frequently, so insistently, in the Bible.”

In The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly In a Violent World, theologian Miroslav Volf says that Christians are called to specifically remember the liberation of the Hebrew people from Egypt as well as the death and resurrection of Jesus: "When the people of God remember wrongs suffered, they remember them out of a sense of identity and community, out of expectations and ultimate trust derived from the sacred memory of the Exodus and Passion.”

Volf says these are sacred memories "of God’s intervention on behalf of humankind” and “of God’s promise.” Promise is important here because it gets at the heart of living with our trust in the Lord: "A promise does not describe what was or what is; it states what the one who is making the promise will bring about. As the people of Israel were delivered from the depths of affliction by the 'One-Who-Is' (Exodus 3:14), so will the community that remembers the event be delivered. As Jesus Christ was raised from the dead by God, so will those who remember him be raised free from slavery to sin and the fear of death.”

What do we see when we remember God’s story? That God hears, God sees, God acts, God intervenes, God gives, God suffers, God overcomes, God delivers, God redeems, God transforms, God resurrects, and God renews. In this way, remembering the past grounds us in hope for the future, through which we live with trust in the present.

Rhythms

Henri Nouwen described spiritual disciplines—what we at IBC like to call rhythms—as "the effort we make to create space in which God can act.” I love that description because it captures who’s responsible for what when it comes to our practice of the five rhythms and our growth as believers: we do the work of showing up to the places where God has said he will meet us (Scripture, Prayer, Worship, Church, and Mission), and God does the work of transformation through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

In Scripture, Prayer, and Worship we find ourselves growing in awareness of God’s presence and voice. We immerse ourselves in God’s story. We reflect on what God has done and what God is doing in us and around us. In Church and Mission, we step out to embody our identity as God’s people. We draw on the presence and resources of God to love others in his name. We experienced being stretched to our limits—and even beyond our limits—and yet we survive because God provides and sustains. God is with us in each of these rhythms, and these intentional encounters deepen our trust.

Deep, sustaining trust in God is cultivated in rooting, remembering, and rhythms.

Once More

Let’s read Psalm 125 one more time:

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,

which cannot be shaken but endures forever.

As the mountains surround Jerusalem,

so the Lord surrounds his people

both now and forevermore.

The scepter of the wicked will not remain

over the land allotted to the righteous,

for then the righteous might use

their hands to do evil.

Lord, do good to those who are good,

to those who are upright in heart.

But those who turn to crooked ways

the Lord will banish with the evildoers.

Peace be on Israel.

I love that the psalm ends with peace. We live in a disruptive time, but peace is coming. God will one day bring an unshakeable peace to our turbulent world, and until then we will trust him and endure.

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