The truth for me is that a pandemic, insurrection, and the health struggle my wife and I are facing can leave me a little blue (read this as a rhetorical understatement with accompanying sigh). When the struggles we face can easily unhook us from our moorings and leave us spiritually adrift we need to re-ground ourselves in the source of faith, grace, love, and joy somehow.
For me one place where I can find a divine hand to hold, a divine Word to call me back is the Book of Psalms. Years ago, I read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s instruction to pray a psalm each day and to do them in order. [i] Today, I encountered Psalm 16.
1 Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I must admit I don’t always take refuge in the Lord. Instead, I look to my own inner resources and strength, I suppose reserving God for the big stuff. Or I look to distractions, entertainment, my bad habits to anesthetize myself to the restlessness or despair inside. Both are terrible strategies. I can’t be my own refuge and I can’t avoid or ignore the struggles of life. The psalm reminds me that the only refuge that is any real refuge at all is God, revealed to me in Christ.
2 I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”
I want to be a good man. I want to have a good life. I’ve spent a great deal of time, energy, sweat, blood, and tears making myself in that image. When I encounter failure and struggle, I look to myself for solutions and drift into despair. The psalmist tells me to stop. As Luther thought at his death, “We are beggars, this is true.” He meant that everything good flows from God as a gift. My efforts and endeavors directed to God will lead to the goodness and abundance only God can provide.
5 The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.
My “portion” and “cup” refer to what we possess in this world. For the people of Israel, it was the promised land and the vineyards within. This is a striking statement. Not the land, riches, family, farm, car, job, or anything else are the “portion and cup” for the psalmist. God alone is the primary possession. From God flows everything else. As Jesus taught: Therefore, do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:31-33)
7 I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.
I have always been wary of thinking of saying God spoke to me. It sounds a little crazy. I’m one who worries (way too much) about what people think of me sometimes. Yet, God does speak! All the time. Not as a voice perceived through my ears – which need assistance to even hear my wife. God speaks when I am willing to look and listen to the saints and world around me and engage the scripture before me. And yes, even like the psalmist, if I’m paying attention, I can wake from sleep with a new perspective. Each of us have that still, small voice that speaks the language of grace and mercy implanted within. Listen!
8 I keep the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
It seems obvious to me that being a force for good - for God - in the world is a hard thing. Justice, love, forgiveness, and a host of other biblical values are unpopular. The division, hatred, and violence all around us open us up to attack, to insult, to very unpleasant things. When I focus on the struggle and threat, I retreat from the right thing every time. The psalmist reminds me to look to the right and focus on the God who stands with us. If we find we’re not sure God is with us, then maybe we’re not right.
9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure.
11 You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy.
Re-grounded in a place before God, re-moored to the steadfast love of God, re-connected to the sources of all that really matters, the psalmist finds a glad heart, joy, and rest from the undercurrents of doubt, fear, and sadness.
God is at your right hand bestowing all good things, speaking in your heart and all around. Rejoice for there is light in the darkness.
Pax Christi, Tim Olson – Lead Pastor.
[i] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Psalms: Prayerbook of the Bible, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1974)