Psalm 16 B

Psalm 16 B

Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.  We said last week that this psalm is helpful in that it unpacks for us what it looks like to take refuge in God, to really trust Him.  

But David reports in this psalm: trust isn’t whimsical.  As the theologian, James Mays puts it: “This psalm teaches that trust is not merely a warm feeling or a passing impulse in a time of trouble; it is a structure of acts and experiences…” 

Faith is not just a passing feeling.  But a structure of taking refuge in God: That’s what vv. 2-8 are laying out.  And vv. 9-11 detail how this taking refuge in God presents, how it shows up in our bodies and souls.  

Reviewing from last week: V. 2 – Taking refuge in God entails submitting to His authority, not out of craven fear, but because you realize that God is the summum bonum, the highest good in life.  

V. 3 – Connected to this submission to God is acknowledging and welcoming God’s people, the holy ones, into your life…into your heart.  

And now, breaking new ground in v. 4, still describing this taking refuge

The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;

Their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out

Or take their names on my lips.  

David is living among people who do not know or submit to the first of the Ten Commandments: You shall no other gods before me.  He lives among worshipers of other gods who carry out their worship in front of him.  But David says, I’ll keep myself from worshiping these gods, pouring out their drink offerings of blood, even taking their names on my lips.  

Here David reminds us that our allegiance to God is always contested.  The people of God are not worshiping the God of Scripture, the Father of Jesus Christ, in a vacuum.  We always do so in the presence of other gods.  And among people who are worshiping those other gods, and who thereby are explicitly or implicitly compelling us away from our worship of the God of Scripture.  

Let’s talk about gods.  For the most part, just now in America we are not tempted away from monotheism by gods with proper names: Moloch, Baal, Dagon, Marduk, Diana…. (Although I have seen in the west a renewed interest in paganism and elemental religion.  Just the other day I read in the Denver Post that next month there will be a gathering of witches at a reservoir called Chatfield Dam who are coming to paddleboard in full regalia!)  

But even if the current gods lack proper names, are there not today still gods competing for our allegiance to the Heavenly Father?  

After all, what are gods, how do they function?  

  • Gods, or called by another name, idols before the true God, are things or persons in whom we put our big-time in trust for protection and advancement
  • It is to our gods that we turn for solace and assurance when circumstances are bleak, and the foundations of our lives start to shake
  • Gods are those whom we worship by offering them what is of supreme value: our attention and delight.  
  • Gods are those whom we are most eager to please, to placate.  To put that another way, gods are those who provoke our highest anxiety, whom we fear above all.  
  • Gods aren’t those we just profess to be our God, but those who are actually shaping us into the sort of characters we actually are becoming
  • We can mouth all the words we want, but our actual god is the one whom our children are being shown by us to be of first importance, the tone-setter, the Master of schedule and spare time.  

What does dad care most about?  What is he giving his highest attention to?  And without even thinking our children might sound off: Oh, well, Stuff.  Or Ease.  Or Esteem. 

Brothers and sisters, to whom do you turn for comfort?  What rules your thinking?  Who or what is actually shaping your spending habits, your child-rearing practices?  Who can you absolutely not disappoint?  Whose accolades are you seeking?  Who must you not offend?  Whose smile and frown makes or wrecks your day?  Whose word are you trusting, acting upon, above all other words?

The answer to these questions points to your G/god.  

The gods of this day don’t have proper names, but they’re out there, and they are called something: Pleasure.  Ease.  Money.  The State.  Romance.  The Science.  Societal approval.  Self.  Sexual Freedom.  Parents.  Children.  Self.  Stuff.  Progress. Updated house.  Promotion.  Self.  Music.  Video games.  Entertainment.  Stories. Adult children.  Health.  Food.  Self.  Fun.  Nature.  Excitement.  

We worship without thinking about it!  Chad Walsh, a mid-20th century writer, English professor, observed that humans cannot help but worship God or gods:          

Man is incurably religious…If one thinks of religion as the ultimate concern, most men have it.  The American who does not worship an authentic God is almost certain to have a substitute deity: The American Way of Life, Free Enterprise, the Standard of Living, the arts – or sex – at least something… The Bible devotes remarkably little time to the menace of atheism.  The biblical viewpoint seems to be that atheism is a rare and puny adversary compared to idolatry.  {emphasis mine}

When we talk about gods, we might mistakenly imagine that whoever or whatever is ruling our life, even if it’s not the great Creator God, has to be something pretty significant.  I mean, how could we be enthralled to, enamored of, something that isn’t outstanding?  

But the gods that take the place of the One true God are often either slight, or even, legitimate. John Piper points out that the gods of this world can be things that are good and right, but have taken on an outsized importance:

The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night. For all the ill that Satan can do, when God describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife (Luke 14:18-20). The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable.

Ok, we get it.  There are a lot of gods out there, challenging a true mono-theism.  But it’s so easy to drift into worshiping them!  To drift along with society in ordering our lives according to something else besides the word of God.  

So, why not cave into the worship of other gods as so many others are doing?  

Because they’re false, David says.  And by this he doesn’t just mean that there’s no substance to them.  But also: they will deceive you.  They will disappoint you.  You lean into them… and they break on you.  They leave you frustrated, hungry, empty.  Their worshipers eventually run into a deep sorrow in their devotion to them.  

When you exist away from the word of the Father of Jesus Christ, you get injured.  I could give you a thousand examples of this.  To raise just one: Just recently there’s been a rash of articles written by so-called sex-positive feminists – those who have been immersed in the idea that sexual freedom is what’s it all about – who have come to realize that the lifestyle of casual and non-monogamous sex is deeply harmful.  

In one of those articles written by a woman named Bridget Phetasy, entitled “I Regret Being a Slut,” she writes: 

If I get really honest with myself, I’d say most of these usually drunken encounters left me feeling empty and demoralized. And worthless.

I wouldn’t have said that at the time, though. At the time, I would have told you I was “liberated” even while I tried to drink away the sick feeling of rejection when my most recent hook-up didn’t call me back. At the time, I would have said one-night stands made me feel “emboldened.” But in reality, I was using sex like a drug…

Even more damaging was what I told myself in order to justify the fact that I was disposable to these men: I told myself I didn’t care.

I didn’t care when a man ghosted me. I didn’t care when he left in the middle of the night or hinted that he wanted me to leave. The walks of shame. The blackouts. The anxiety.

The lie I told myself for decades was: I’m not in pain—I’m empowered…

Taking refuge in God entails buying into the truth that anything or anybody who supplants the worship of and submission to the True God who has revealed Himself in Scripture will lay you low.  

For a while, you might resist believing that, but then you’d be living under a deception.  

But also, even after you come to grips with the fact that the sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply, you might imagine that being laid low is at least better than relating properly to this Master.  Anything but submission!  Anything but submission to Him, the Creator God, the God of the Bible!  

But then hear what David says next in vv. 5, 6:

The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup/

You hold my lot.

The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places

Indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.  

David says that this God Himself – His being, His character, His ways – are the best part of his life.  You know how sometimes when you’re eating there’s something on your plate you like the most?  Maybe, depending on your personality, you save it for last or you grab for it first?  

David says, God is that for me, my chosen portion.  

Then he speaks of God in terms of property lines.  With God in his life, he says, he has a great property, a pleasant place, a beautiful inheritance.  

Go ahead and imagine a beautiful piece of property: the Downton Abby one?  A French villa overlooking the Mediterranean?  A chalet in Switzerland?  Crane Estate?  

David says, that’s a fitting figure of My life, with God.  

My Friends!  The Presence and fellowship of God is the great joy of human existence.  God Himself will always be the ultimate source of joy.  A deep well of pleasure and beauty and satisfaction that never runs out.  

Friends, who is writing these words?  David, this son of God, was a man of war.  A man of action.  A lover of women.  An acquirer.  A leader of men.  A musician.  An expressive person.  A man who had an authentic solitary life and a successful public life.  A man who loved being outside in nature and who spent time in palaces.  Who spent years on the run and years ruling over a country.  Truly, a person of broad and deep experience.  

And he says, I know of nothing more satisfying than my God.  In God, the lines of my life have fallen in pleasant places.  With God, no matter what the shape of circumstances at the time, I have a wonderful, beautiful life.  

To take refuge in God is to realize, not pretend, but to realize that in the presence of God is fullness of joy.

Some of you know that last year was a difficult one for the Landry family.  After 16 years of a very satisfying ministry among a wonderful church in Boston, we moved back to Denver in order for me to become a school headmaster.  Well, just a few months into that job we parted ways with that school because of…well, how do the courts put it?… irreconcilable differences.  

In the thick of that job loss, we had to move to another house and we had to find a new church – STRESS.  Then I searched for other jobs both in and outside of the ministry… and couldn’t find anything.  That is, except for one as a door-to-door milk salesman at Longmont Dairy.  Well, for a few months that job paid the bills until it didn’t… sales started to drop off, maybe because of rising inflation.  

So, I looked again for jobs and again couldn’t find one.  I turned to driving for Uber and Lyft, and took the shift from 3pm to 3am.  

Well, when you drive for Uber you also have the option of delivering Uber Eats.  But I quickly noticed that the Uber Eats deliveries didn’t pay that well, and so I never responded when their notifications popped up on my phone. 

Until one early morning, though, I got a notification for Uber Eats, and accidentally pressed the button on my phone saying I’d do it.  Note: For this delivery I was going to make about $6 for about 30 minutes of driving.

Well, I drove the 12 minutes to the Jack-in-the-Box to pick up the order.  After I arrived, I first tried to enter the store, but the door was locked: at this time of night one had to use the drive-through.  There were a few cars ahead of me in line.  

Eventually, I got about two cars from the pick- up window.  I happened then to look out of my side window at the stone wall of the Jack-in-the-Box. 

And just there and then, for some reason, I decided to take stock: it was 1am and I was in line to pick up a stranger’s Jack-in-the-Box order and take it to them.  I had grown up stress-free in a successful businessman’s home, had a family of five kids, had been a pastor for 20 years… and am now at Jack-in-the-Box at 1 in the morning.  And I’m like, NO!  What happened?  Where did I go wrong?  

I offer that snapshot of that moment in time from last year to bear witness now: even in that low moment, God was enough.  Even though I truly was frustrated and not a little anxious, the Presence of God cast a radiance over the car that night, and every other afternoon and night I drove for Uber.

Yes, brothers and sisters, even then, with God the lines had fallen for me in pleasant places.  In that time, under the surface stress, there was a deep pleasure.  An experiential pleasure; a kind of enjoyment.  Let me just outline what I mean:

  • Throughout my brief driving career, I was given time to think.  I used the time to drive to mediate on Scripture: I’d write out verses and put them in my console.  I grew in my theological understanding.    
  • As I drove all over the Denver area into the wee small hours, God would take me past my old haunts and remind me of His faithfulness to me throughout my life: Upon you I have leaned from before my birth/ you are he who took me from mother’s womb.  

Here an old house, timestamp, 10:29 PM:

Here the church I grew up in, timestamp 2:39 AM:

  • I’d have opportunities to speak to passengers about the big truths of existence, God, Jesus the Mediator.  

Here I’m at a store buying Fig Newtons to celebrate after dropping off a delightful young Jewish man with whom I had spoken about Jesus:

  • Along my route I’d see natural wonders that lifted my soul in awe and thanks, like this deer walking through a deserted Red Rocks Amphitheater parking lot:  

Or Boulder at dusk:

I’d see cityscapes (Timestamp, 1:33):

A picture containing light

Description automatically generated

Or see just interesting things:

  • I even got to experience exotic pizzas:

I won’t belabor the point, and it’s not even my point, but David’s.  Away from God, there issorrow; even if not immediately present, then it’s coming around the bend.  “How tedious and tasteless the hours, when Jesus no longer I see.”  With God (and it’s a little surprising), no matter what on the outside it might seem like, life is beautiful, a radiance is cast, there is a deep and sturdy pleasure.  

So, don’t lose sight of this beautiful God, brothers and sisters!  Keep close to Him  OR  Keep Him close!  Don’t, for instance, spend money in such a way that worry and stress almost have to become the preoccupying thought.  Don’t allow your work or ministry, no matter how noble it is, to busy you away from a warm and abiding fellowship with your heavenly Father.  Don’t allow anybody or any organization bully you into an intimidation that takes you away from the commandments of God or decreases your awe of Him.  

Don’t think, well, I’m in a trial, so I have to be totally despondent, when you know that, even during the hardship, God Himself is with you and brings some enjoyment along. 

Have no other gods before the Father of Jesus Christ because He is the Joyful Fear, the Awesome Gladness in whose Presence is fullness of joy.  You have no good apart from Him.

The counsel I’m giving you is the practice of taking refuge in God that David refers to in vv. 7, 8:

I bless the LORD who gives me counsel;

In the night also my heart [kidneys] instructs me.

I have set the LORD always before me;

Because he is at my right hand I shall not be shaken.

Deliberately keeping the LORD as your first delight, the One whose voice you hear above all, the word before you tremble.  

At all times, even at blackest night, keeping your heart, or your kidneys, or as we moderns would say, the center of ourselves, in a warm and open fellowship with God, and only from that place receiving direction for your life.  

Oh, this is the struggle, brothers and sisters.  The struggle for genuine fellowship with God.  How easy it is to say we’re in fellowship with God… and yet have turned away from his word, and are really only stuck in our own mind.  In our imaginations having fashioned another god while we say we’re adhering to the Father of Jesus.  

We get fooled, do we not?  We think that what we really, ultimately want, is to live in thatplace.  To be free of this responsibility.  To have attained only this one thing.  To see our children have this security.  Or whatever… 

But what we are missing is our communion with God.  We’re made for Him!

We trick ourselves!  More subtly, we remember times of actual deep fellowship with God, when we had that job or lived in that place… and we try to re-create the conditions.  I need to go back to that place.  I need to drive for Uber again.  

Or, in a bigger sense, we as a society think we need to return to this era, when things were better, cleaner.  And so, we find ourselves chasing, not God, but nostalgia.  

No, no.  C.S. Lewis said it true, in one of the greatest sermons ever:

The books or the music [or the houses or the…] in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them,  and what came through them was longing.  These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

Don’t get tricked, Christian, by false gods!  

And don’t wait for certain conditions to seek the true God, now.  Where you are now, doing what you have to do, find joy in God as He actually is.  Set the LORD always before you, at your right hand.  This is what it is to take refuge in God.

Brothers and sisters, there is actually only one true God.  But as John Calvin said, the human heart is a perpetual idol factory always seeking to supplant that one true God for something that has to be a lesser god, and that will bring us into sorrow.  

But Jesus Christ has died and risen again.  He has returned us to a true and eternal fellowship with the one true God, the God of our life, who undertook for us even in our mother’s womb.  He has given us the authority to call this God in whose presence is fullness of joy, Abba.  To know God as Abba.  Which is neither a formal nor sentimental title. But, Dad.  As in, Hey, Abba, would you pass the ketchup?  

To live that close to the Creator King!  

Think hard, work, struggle to have this God at your right hand.  To have a warm fellowship with Him all the while as you work and eat and enjoy company with friends and family.  In whatever you put your hand to do, doing it before God, and well; to be able to say in the spirit of the Olympic runner Eric Liddel: God made me fast, and when I run, I feel his pleasure.

Leave a Reply

Powered by

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: