How to sustain prayerful strength in the midst of distractions and tribulations

“Be still and know that I am God”

When I think of the apostles asking Jesus to teach them to pray, after they had observed him at prayer, I can imagine them quietly repeating the words of what we have come to know as the Our Father for the very first time. Such sacred words addressed to a Father to whose service they had dedicated their lives at the call of Jesus. How the silence must have hung in the air when they finished the final words of the prayer, recited line by line after the Master. Nothing else in the world would have been as sacred and important as those few moments of stillness made holy by these words of worship now springing from their hearts. Did they silently soak in what Jesus had revealed to them, moments pregnant with meaning, suddenly free from all earthly cares and ambitions?

Ah! How I would want my prayer to be saturated with this stillness always. Many wonder how they can pray deeply when they are distracted by concerns and obligations and tribulations that tie their minds and hearts to the ferocious waves that keep them from settling down, settling in, abiding, resting. It seems Jesus’ promise that we come to him and rest is too elusive to be able to trust. One by one we might try relaxation and meditation techniques with the goal of emptying our minds of the thoughts, imaginations, and memories that harass our hearts.

The Lord of Hosts Is With Us

So let’s look more closely at this command that appears in Psalm 46:10 and is so often used as an invitation to contemplative prayer: “Be still, and know that I am God.” To put these words in context, the last part of the Psalm in which this verse is contained is as follows:

Come and see the works of the Lord,
    who has done fearsome deeds on earth;
Who stops wars to the ends of the earth,
    breaks the bow, splinters the spear,
    and burns the shields with fire;
“Be still and know that I am God!
    I am exalted among the nations,
    exalted on the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    our stronghold is the God of Jacob. (NABRE)

The Passion Translation can give us a more straightforward look at a Psalm we are so familiar with:

Everyone look!
    Come and see the breathtaking wonders of our God.
    For he brings both ruin and revival.
    He’s the one who makes conflicts end
    throughout the earth,
    breaking and burning every weapon of war.
Surrender your anxiety.
    Be still and realize that I am God.
    I am God above all the nations,
    and I am exalted throughout the whole earth.
Here he stands!
    The Commander!
    The mighty Lord of Angel Armies is on our side!
    The God of Jacob fights for us! (TPT)

Far from the call to struggle toward interior silence, Psalm 46 is a call to stillness that results from the surrendering of our anxiety in the absolute certainty that our God will act powerfully on our behalf.

This understanding of “stillness” is born out throughout the whole of Scripture and in the life of the saints. We can see this as we are promised tribulations in this life, and we witness God standing with his people in times of disaster, upheaval, and fear. Jesus promised: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Fear Not, Stand Firm

On the banks of the Red Sea, the Israelites cried out in terror against Moses as the Egyptians rushed toward them in full battle array. Moses, after consulting the Lord, said: “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent” (Exodus 14:13-14).

And again, when the Moabites and Ammonites came to wage war against Jehoshapat, the King called all the people to fast, pray, and consult the Lord about what should be done. “Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Jahaziel … as he stood in the assembly. He said: ‘Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow march down against them. … You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.”’ Jehoshaphat bowed down with his face to the ground, and all the people of Judah and Jerusalem fell down in worship before the Lord” (2 Chronicles 20:14-17 NIV).

In both of these cases, God directed the people as to what they should do. And in both cases it seems as if God sends them even more directly into the path of terror, asking them to do impossible things. He enjoins them to be still, to be silent, and to see how he will fight for them.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.

Psalm 37

In other Scripture references to stillness, God seems to call us to remove our eyes from others who are getting ahead of us, and to wait upon the Lord to act for us.

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!” (Psalm 37:7 ESV)

“O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore (Psalm 131:1-3 ESV).

For I Know the Plans I Have for You

Blessed Benedetta Bianchi Porro, born in Forli, Italy, in 1936, is a woman who wrestled with these things throughout her short life. She didn’t have armies of Egyptians bearing down on her while trapped on the banks of the Red Sea, as neither do we, but her enemies were like ours: illness, misunderstanding, rejection, expectations not met, seeing others receive what she had sought for herself, life dreams lost.

When very young, Benedetta contracted polio. As a result her left foot was crippled and she wore a brace to keep her spine from deforming. In her teens she began to lose her hearing, and her overall health declined. At age 17 she enrolled in the University of Milan with a plan to study physics, but eventually changed her plans in order to pursue medicine. By this time Benedetta’s hearing was so poor, her teachers objected to admitting a pre-med student who had to have written questions during an oral examination. “Whoever heard of a doctor who couldn’t hear!” one of them exclaimed to her. But Benedetta was an excellent student and was able to pursue her studies, only to be forced, however, to pull out of the program one year before finishing. She had  begun to lose the sense of touch, taste and smell, and was completely deaf. It was the end of her dreams for a medical career. She had diagnosed herself with Von Recklinghausen’s disease which attacks the nerve centers of the body, forming tumors on them, and eventually causing deafness, blindness and paralysis.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV).

A surgery in 1958 was of little benefit to Benedetta and left the left side of her face paralyzed. A year later a surgery left both her legs paralyzed and she was bound to a wheelchair. In 1962 she went to Lourdes with her family seeking a cure and a paralyzed girl lying next to her was completely healed. But there was no healing for Benedetta. In fact, a year later another surgery left her blind and she could barely speak.

“But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

Life Has Only One Face: Love

At age 7 Benedetta wrote in her diary, “The universe is enchanting! It is great to be alive.” Thus began a life of faith in the midst of seemingly insurmountable odds.

In a letter to a friend, she reflected on the Calvary she was living, “Sometimes I find myself defeated under the weight of this heavy cross. Then, I call upon Jesus and lovingly cast myself at His feet; He kindly permits me to rest my head on His lap. Do you understand Maria Grazia? Do you understand the ecstatic joy of those moments?”

In a letter to a young man who suffered similarly, she wrote:

“Because I’m deaf and blind, things have become complicated for me. …Nevertheless, in my Calvary, I do not lack hope. I know that at the end of the road, Jesus is waiting for me. First in my armchair, and now in my bed where I now stay, I have found a wisdom greater than that of men — I have discovered that God exists, that He is love, faithfulness, joy, certitude, to the end of the ages. … My days are not easy. They are hard. But sweet because Jesus is with me, with my sufferings, and He gives me His sweetness in my loneliness and light in the darkness. He smiles at me and accepts my collaboration.”

I call upon Jesus and lovingly cast myself at His feet; He kindly permits me to rest my head on His lap.

Benedetta Porro

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 ESV).

Benedetta turned her sick room into a room where she brought healing and gave support to friends, family members, doctors, and complete strangers who became her frequent visitors. Her joy in the midst of her struggles and her conviction of God’s love for us became her message of life and hope. She was gradually through the years more and more amazed at the glorious ways of God.

In 1963, Benedetta again went to Lourdes with her family seeking a cure. On that Marian pilgrimage she received her own miracle—the understanding that she would not want to change anything about her life. She wrote, “I am aware more than ever of the richness of my condition and I don’t desire anything but to continue in it.” She received the interior light that all she was enduring was a grace. It was a privilege to share in the cross of Christ. For the time that she had left, she communicated love, as stated in her diary: “Life has only one face: Love.”

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10 ESV).

Benedetta passed away January 23, 1964. She was declared Venerable on December 23, 1993, by Pope John Paul II, and beatified September 14, 1917 by Pope Francis.

Being Still in the Arms of God

Friends, if you are struggling with being still in the arms of the God who walks with you through every event in your life, let Benedetta lead you into the arms of Love. May your heart sing a new song of being loved, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows” (Psalm 23:1-6 ESV).

And let your life flow forward in gratitude. “Hear this, O Job; stop and consider the wondrous works of God” (Job 37:14 ESV).

Everyone look!
    Come and see the breathtaking wonders of our God.
    For he brings both ruin and revival.
    He’s the one who makes conflicts end
    throughout the earth,
    breaking and burning every weapon of war.
Surrender your anxiety.
    Be still and realize that I am God.
    I am God above all the nations,
    and I am exalted throughout the whole earth.
Here he stands!
    The Commander!
    The mighty Lord of Angel Armies is on our side!
    The God of Jacob fights for us! (Psalm 46 TPT)

Image Credit: Ange Menes from Cathopic.

2 thoughts on “How to sustain prayerful strength in the midst of distractions and tribulations

  1. Thank you….that abt says it all…puts my petty detached retina …surgery..still one eye vision scrambled….in the still be very grateful category….God is so very good
    and theres nuttin else…

    Like

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