Difficult circumstances produce challenges and pressures that can lead us to despair. In such overwhelming times, we quickly realize that we are not in control of what threatens us. We become acutely aware that we are at the mercy of God—which is the greatest place to be.
In Psalm 46, the author reflects upon the greatness of God in the midst of adversity. He meditates upon how strong the protecting care of God proves to be in his difficulty. Though it feels as though the earth is shaking beneath him, the psalmist draws strength from this truth: “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy dwelling places of the Most High” (verse 4). This ever-flowing river represents God Himself and the peace He provides His people.
In ancient days, citizens of a city lived within its powerful, protective walls. When foreign invaders surrounded the city to attack it, they cut off its water supply by damming up the river. Once no water was flowing into the city, the people would soon become so weak they would be easily defeated—or they would die from lack of water. Having access to water from a flowing river during times of a siege was critically important for survival.
We do not know the specific background of this psalm, but it is a time in which a foreign army has surrounded the city of Jerusalem. In the face of this threat, the people trusted in God’s protection, and He won the victory for them. In this context, the psalmist says there is a river that is constantly flowing into the city of God––representing the sustaining refreshment and steadfast hope that only He can give.
“There Is A River”
This “river” that flows into the city where believers live is not a literal river. In the previous verses, the psalmist describes the mountains and waters with poetic language, signaling devastating times for the people. Their trials are like mountains that have come crashing down upon them. Their troubles are like the waters of the sea that are tempest-tossed. In like manner, this “river” is metaphorical and represents the flow of God’s peace and strength into their lives during times of heated tribulation all around.
Please note the verb tense––“is.”––present tense. There is, every moment of every day, a constant flow of a life-giving river into the lives of God’s people. It is a steady stream of grace. It is a flow of sustaining peace, joy, and power that enables us to go through trying times in a triumphant way.
This truth should be a strong encouragement to us today, because we live in unsettling times. We find ourselves with mountains of upheaval collapsing around us. We need to be reminded that there is a river of God’s all-sufficient supply always flowing into our lives. This river is the internal ministry of the Holy Spirit, providing the fullness of God’s grace and making us calm and comforted in the most difficult times.
“Whose Streams Make Glad”
Concerning this river, the psalmist writes, “whose streams.” The “streams” are in the plural, indicating its abundant supply. It reads, “that make glad the city of God.” The word “glad” means ‘to cause to rejoice.’ In the midst of turmoil, there is an underground river that flows into the heart of every true believer. It is a limitless source of divine happiness that comes from God to us.
This is the joy that Jesus promised: “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” (John 15:11) Jesus pledged to give His supernatural joy to the disciples—a joy that can only come from Him. If you are a true believer in Jesus Christ, there is a river that is constantly flowing into your heart, day and night, that supplies you with gladness. One of the marks of a true Christian is through difficult times, we are steady in the love of Christ.
As the apostle Paul was confined in a Roman prison, he writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4) Though his body is in chains, his soul soars to the heights of heaven with joy that is not of this world.
As a pastor, I visited countless hospital rooms to minister to a dying church member. There would often be different groups in that room. On one side of the bed would be a circle of family, angry with the hospital and doctors and threatening lawsuits. On the other side of the hospital bed would be a little circle of saints, holding the hand of their dying mother. They had a sense of joy on their face, that God is in control, and that He has been so good to give them their mother these many years.
What made the difference between these two groups? One circle of family members had no faith in God—so they had no peace. But the other group had faith in God through this difficult time. As a result, they had a river of peace flooding their hearts during their darkest hour.
“The City of God”
The psalmist says that this river is flowing into “the city of God.” He is not saying this river makes the stones of the city “glad,” nor its trees or walls. He refers to the people of God living within the city. He is talking about the citizens who live within its walls. We must have a poet’s mindset to understand what he is saying here. This river, made up of many streams—pure and clean, and life-giving—floods “the city of God” with heavenly joy.
“The Holy Dwelling Places”
The second line adds, “The holy dwelling places of the Most High.” What are those “dwelling places”—plural—where God dwells? It is the many individual lives of his own people. The apostle Paul writes, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19) Again, Paul writes of this anchor for the soul as being, “Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).”
All believers are the “holy” habitation of God. We have been made “holy” by the work of God’s sanctifying grace. We have been separated from the dominating power of sin that once defiled our lives. We have been set apart unto God to become increasingly more like Him.
This joy that floods into our hearts is the result of God Himself living inside of us. From the very depth of our soul, God is giving us this supernatural peace that surpasses all comprehension.
“Of The Most High”
The One who indwells us—and fills us with joy—is “the Most High.” This is one of many names for God that specifically bears witness to His supreme authority and transcendent majesty. He is enthroned in the heights of heaven, ruling over all. Yet this God lives within us, making us “glad” in the midst of our most difficult times.
Is your trust in God as you face the storms of life? We have no other source of inner strength and gladness but that which is found in Him. Look to God and know that He gives peace to troubled hearts in their darkest troubles.