Standing still may not sound right when we are used to throwing ourselves into a whirlwind of activity and our desire is to make progress. Of course, standing still in spiritual things in the sense of indolence or complacency is not healthy. But there are times when God in His providence forces us to stand still. We cannot move forward due to the circumstances no matter how much we wish to. We are not to make haste (Isaiah 28:16; Ruth 3:18). Our strength is to sit still and wait on God as an act of obedience (Isaiah 30:15). Being still and waiting on God brings hope and strength to us (Psalm 27:14; Psalm 62:1,5). The Israelites were like this when they were hemmed in at the Red Sea, they were told to stand still and see the Lord’s deliverance (Exodus 14:13). It is a lesson we still need to learn.
While we are in a great tumult or fear or outrage, we cannot see things as we ought. We cannot see our duty; our minds are clouded by emotion. This is why we need to be still and depend on the Lord. We need to lift our minds away from the troubles to focus on Him and receive what we need from Him. In the following updated extract Jeremiah Burroughs applies the lessons we can learn from the counsel of Moses to Israel in Exodus 14.
1. Standing Still is Necessary for Troubled Minds
God’s people may be greatly troubled in their difficulties. It was so here in Exodus, in every predicament they grumbled and were disquieted; this was especially so at this time. Stand still (says Moses). They were all in a state of confusion and trouble. This is also the case many times for many of God’s saints. It was so for Heman who wrote Psalm 88. You will find in that psalm that he was disquieted and in woeful perplexity when he was brought into troubles.
Many of God’s saints, whom He has delivered in a most glorious way in the past, will find that at other times they have been so complacent that their hearts have been in complete confusion and they were not able to stand before the difficulties they met with. This was so with Elijah in 1 Kings 19 despite the spirit he had and what he experienced in the 18th chapter. And yet, in the 19th chapter, Jezebel merely threatens Elijah, and he takes to his heels and runs away at her threat — even though he had such a brave spirit in the previous chapter. So it is, truly, with many that sometimes their courage makes their adversaries afraid, and at other times, their cowardice makes their friends ashamed. Many have been so; they have been a terror to their adversaries one day, and a shame to their friends another day.
2. Standing Still is Necessary Because of Our Weakness
We still have a great deal of the flesh in the best of us and are greatly led by our feelings. We are not thoroughly skilful in the ways of God because the fear of God is so weak in us. This is why the fear of man is so strong, and we know so little of God’s secrets. The secrets of God are with those who fear Him. If we feared God more, we would know His secret ways, and not be troubled so much. There is also a great deal of guilt in the best. This will make anyone afraid. Great guilt in the heart is exceedingly troublesome to the soul.
3. Standing Still is Necessary Because of Our Self-Confidence
We are far too confident in ourselves. This is why God withdraws Himself from us and why when we are afraid we cannot trust God. David was able to say, however, that whenever he was afraid, he would trust in God (Psalm 56:3). Many think they can trust in God at present but when the time comes that they are afraid they cannot do it. When anger is stirred up you make no use of your faith to trust in God. Many a man or woman can be meek and quiet, until they are tempted. But when your anger is stirred up, can you be meek then, and rise and beat it down with the contrary grace? So, when the emotions caused by your fears and troubles rise up, can you then trust in God?
Because we trust so much in ourselves, when the time comes that we should trust in Him, God withdraws Himself from us, and we are most afraid. It is true, God’s people may be so, and you are so; and therefore, be ashamed of it, and labour to prepare for such times. If you have been disquieted in times of trouble, store up something that may help in those times. A great deal must be laid up for times of extremity. You must (a) store up encouraging promises; (b) store up encouraging experiences, that may help you against such times of fainting and trouble.
4. Standing Still is Necessary to Quieten our Spirits
As the Israelites were to be delivered out of this Egyptian bondage in that way, so they were to be delivered out of the Babylonian bondage in the same way. See what God says for that deliverance. He tells them plainly in Isaiah 30.15, “in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength”. Yet they would not follow this way. So, when you come to many people who are in great extremities, to some women and others — when they’re wringing their hands and hanging about their husbands’ necks — tell them their confidence must be in quietness, and they will be ready to throw you off a cliff.
5. Standing Still is Necessary No Matter How Great the Trouble
So too, we read in Isaiah 30.7, “their strength is to sit still.” After we have used all the means we can, we are to sit still, and look up to God for salvation. It was their great fault, that they did not do so in their deliverance out of their captivity (Jeremiah 31:21-22). Perhaps you will say, “There was never a crisis like the one we are in.” Well, God has such mercy as He never showed the likes of before. Many cry out “O my affliction, and my trouble is such as there never was before in the world!” Yet, is there no comfort for them, to support them? Yes, Isaiah 64.4 says that it was never known since the beginning of the world, what God has laid up for those who wait for Him. Only wait for Him, and there was never such mercy shown in the world as God has laid up for you.
6. Standing Still Focuses Us on God
It makes us ready to look to the wisdom, faithfulness, and power of God. We are not able to see God’s wisdom, faithfulness, and power, nor to make use of them unless we get our spirits to be quiet. First, get them quiet, and then we can look up to God. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). There is a God in heaven who can help and succour us in time of great troubles and extremities. But for all this, people are in a hurly burly; their spirits are disturbed, and they are wringing their hands, and crying. They cannot know that God is God, they can have no use of all the power, and goodness, and faithfulness, and mercy of God. First get your hearts still and quiet in your families, and in your own spirits, and then you will know that God is God. God will not appear until you are first still.
7. Standing Still Enables Us to Exercise Grace
We are not able to make use of our own graces, until we are quiet and still. If God had bestowed graces when we are in a hurly burly, we have no use for them at all. Therefore, it says in Psalm 4:4 that we are to be still and commune with our own hearts. Commune with your own hearts: you have something in your own hearts, perhaps, that may quiet you. You are not fit to commune with your own heart until you get it quiet. Many of you are stirred up to anger at all other times; and that is the reason that in such great extremities, you are so overruled with it. You are so overruled with your passion of anger at other times and so you are overruled with the passion of fear now. But if at other times you would strive to rein in your spirits, God would help you now.
8. Standing Still Enables Us to Submit to God in Reverence
Without this stillness, and quietness, we cannot manifest that subjection to God that we owe to Him. There is still a great deal of sin and pride against God without this. Our reverence towards God also depends on being still. If your hearts were possessed with the fear of God, you would not be in the great stir you are in times of great danger. We are to sanctify God in our hearts (Isaiah 8:12; 1 Peter 3:15).
9. Standing Still Enables Us to Listen to God
Fear and trouble makes people unfit to listen to anything that is spoken to them. Let anything be spoken to them that is of use, and they cannot hear it or make use of it. When Moses came to tell them of their deliverance, the people of Israel would not listen because of their “anguish of spirit” (Exodus 6:9). How many in trouble of conscience and in other times of extremity, have their spirits in such anguish that they never listen to anything that is delivered to them? This is why they come up with the same objections over and over again.
10. Standing Still Helps us to Help Others
Without this quietness of spirit, you will greatly hinder others. You will discourage the hearts of others. Many times, the cause does not succeed merely because of the unquietness of the hearts of men and women in times of danger. You must be quiet and look up to God for salvation. Faith is able to bring life out of death, light out of darkness. Genuine faith has a mighty power in times of extremity, to behold God’s salvation, and make use of it. When David fled from Saul and was in the cave, he says he is trusting in the shadow of God’s wings (Psalm 57:11). Poor David had got into the shadow of the cave and the sun did not shine on him; but he looked at himself in the cave, as being under the shadow of God’s wings. If you are godly, you too are under God’s wings by faith.
11. Standing Still Demonstrates Faith
There is a great deal of talk of faith in the world at present; let us see what it can do. The proof of genuine love is when I can love God for Himself without His gifts. When I can trust God merely on His word, I show the excellence of my faith. When Christians must have outward helps and former experiences, they call to God for guarantees as if they would not trust God on His mere word.
Standing still in times of trouble has great benefit. As Burroughs points out we must stand still in order to stand fast and strong (Philippians 1:27; Ephesians 6:13). He notes that we are called to stand four different times in Ephesians 6 and the exhortation is when you have done all, stand. We live in times when many things are turned upside down and there may be many difficulties currently and feared for the future. Yet in standing still and looking to God in faith there is great strength to sustain us through all that we may experience.
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