Sweet Shelter - Psalm 16
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I wonder what comes to mind when you come across someone who is described as having had a ‘sheltered life?’ Well, for me my thoughts goes back to my student days and the house I shared on Hallgate in Cottingham. There sharing with us was a student who really had lived a sheltered life. He had been born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth and had been raised by a nanny. As a result his handle on the practical things of life was, to put it mildly, somewhat challenged. For example, one morning he was found in the kitchen cooking himself breakfast and there he was by the cooker with a frying pan containing plenty of melted lard but with an egg fully in tact- shell and all- simply rolling around the pan. A student friend asked him what he was doing. He replied that he was ‘frying an egg’ to which his friend suggested that it might be a good idea to break open the egg first! And this was complete news to him. It never entered his mind that that is what you must do if you wanted fried egg. Now that, some would argue, is what you get when you live a sheltered life- as my Dad would say; you end up dumber than a bag of hammers.
Now the psalm we are immersing ourselves in this morning, Psalm 16 also speaks of the sheltered life but in a good sense, for it portrays what life can be like under the protective shelter of the one true God. And the result of finding this kind of protection is that it enables you to live life in the real world with all its ups and downs, its knocks and comforts. It is not that David is being thrown by circumstances into seeking the protective shelter of God-a fleeing to God in desperation- that is not the feel of this psalm- rather it begins with finding refuge in God and working things out from there- and so verse 1 would better be translated, ‘Watch over me O God for I have taken refuge in you.’ That is, ‘I have made a lifestyle choice, to be anchored in you God rather than trying to find security in other things- such as my career, my family or my wealth- and so because of that please cast a watchful eye over me, remember me, take care of me, for who better to trust in caring for me than God himself?’ That’s the idea.
However, there are certain requirements for the believer to enjoy this sheltered life, it is not automatic. So let’s take a look at the marks of the sheltered life.
First of all, there are certain commitments- verses 1- 4. In the first place there is a commitment to submit your life to the Lord as your supreme good, v2, ‘I said to the LORD, "You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing." Literally it reads, ‘My good is not beyond you’ – that is, ‘I have no good apart from you’ or to put it positively, ‘In you I have all the good I need.’ He is expressing the heartfelt conviction that God is not only the source of all goodness- the blessings of health, the joy of a new born baby, the delight of food- but that he is Goodness itself. And it all begins with submission, gladly recognising that God is number one, he is in charge- ‘I said to Yahweh, “You are my Lord’- my ruler. Now it seems to me that it is at this point that even Christians can go wobbly, entertaining the doubt which led to the original sin in the Garden of Eden, wondering whether God really does have our best interests at heart and whether his commands are for our good or just put there to keep us down. Think of it this way. A good pilot will do whatever it takes to get us to our destination. I saw this on my recent trip to Israel as at one point we were entering a rather bumpy patch of turbulence. The seat belt lights went on and we were expected to buckle up. Many did, but some didn’t. Then the pilot announced that for the sake of safety it was important that people returned to their seats and put on their safety belts. Some did, but some didn’t. Then the air hostesses muscled in trying to persuade some of the more talkative members to do as they were told- return to their seats-some did- but some didn’t. Then came the final authoritative voice of the pilot- then everyone did as they were told especially when the plane began to lurch from side to side! Was the pilot wrong in what he did? Was he being insensitive and infringing the rights and freedoms of the passengers? No, quite the opposite, he would rather people be offended and embarrassed rather than uninformed and hurt. Good pilots want to get their passengers home safely- so do as the pilots says. And do you know what? So does God. The question which sometimes faces us is this: if God has to choose between your eternal safety and earthly comfort, which do you hope he would choose? Now think before you answer. For what if he calls you to move as he did with Abraham? What if he calls you out of retirement- as he did with Moses? What if he calls you to fight- as he did with David? What if he calls you to stand alone- as he did with Daniel? Are you then willing to say- ‘You are my Lord apart from you I have no good thing’? If God knows best and has our best interests at heart then we shall won’t we? You see, his goal is not to make you happy, it is to make you his. His aim is not to get you what you want, but what you need. And if that means a jolt or two to get us into our seat in order to get us home, that is what he will do- but even these jots, and maybe especially these, are expressions of his goodness and we will submit to them because we are submitted to him.
What David is doing here is affirming the all sufficiency of God. This is something which the Christian counsellor Larry Crabb had to wrestle with in the wake of his brother’s death in a plane crash, trying to make sense out of what seemed senseless. In a moment of frightening candour he cried out to God, ‘I know you are all I have; but I don’t know you well enough for you to be all that I need.’ But David had learnt that- for here we see that the measure of his satisfaction is the degree to which he can trust and rejoice in God if all he has left is God. Now as we shall see in a moment, David is not saying we should become hair shirt ascetics- denying joy in anything else because ‘I only have joy in the Lord!’ Rather, it is the recognition that whatever else we do enjoy, whatever other goods we have, they can only be truly valued when they are seen to come from God who is the fount of all goods and joys. Or as C.S Lewis put it ‘He who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God only.’ That is what David knew and what God wants us to know so that we don’t get diverted onto lesser things, but rather enjoy him who is the greater thing.
But in addition to there being a commitment to the Lord, the sheltered life involves a commitment to the Lord’s people-v 3 ‘As for the saints who are in the land, they are the glorious ones in whom is all my delight.’ He not only delights in God, but is beside himself in delighting in the people of God. And that is why the alarm bells start to ring when you come across professing believers who always seem to have trouble with fellow Christians. You know what I mean. They are always finding fault and moaning about them and moving from church to church or don’t bother with church at all. And to be frank you really do have to wonder about their saved state because the psalmist – and the New Testament for that matter- is quite clear that a devotion to Jesus will overflow into a devotion to his people- of course, because that is where God is to be found- in each other. Remember what Jesus said, ‘Whatever you did to the least of one of these (he is talking about Christians) you did to me.’ A sure sign of spiritual regeneration and sound spiritual health is that you want to be with God’s people- not wanting to avoid them. ‘Ah’, you say, but I don’t find the fellowship that friendly, that welcoming, all that loving’. Well, then best heed the advice of the late David Watson, when he said, ‘If you want the church to be more loving, then you become more loving. If you want the church to be more friendly, then you be friendly.’ So if you want to know, really know, the sheltered life then you will be whole hearted in your commitment to find your satisfaction in the Lord’s people.
The third commitment is in verse 4- to repudiate the paganism of those living around you. ‘The sorrows of those will increase who run after other gods. I will not pour out their libations of blood or take up their names on my lips.’ Do you see what David is doing? He is affirming that he is a first commandment man- he will turn his back on any other claims to his allegiance, which is just another way of saying he turns his back on idolatry. He believes and lives out the exclusivity of Yahweh, or as we would say, we believe that Jesus is the only way to God, there is no concept of God beside the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit- the others are by definition false. Now that is not an easy thing to say today-it goes against the grain of pluralism. Now let’s get this clear. It is a good thing to live in a society which exercises religious toleration- the freedom for a person to live and worship in the manner he deems is right and to live in a spirit of civility towards one another. But that is not the same as saying that all beliefs are the same and you cannot therefore try to persuade people to change their minds. David could not have that, and neither can we-not if we care about that little word -Truth. And so the pressure to engage in acts of interfaith worship in which the Lord Jesus is relegated to the same level as Mohamed is not an option. Neither is the bowing down to the altar of consumerism and pleasure seeking- so that we live for work and not work to live- so finding it hard to get to meet with God’s people. ‘I will not take their names upon my lips’ says the psalmist- and neither will we. How can we when we have already declared that God is our one true joy and delight?
Secondly, the sheltered life not only consists of commitments but contentment-vv 5-6. ‘LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. 6The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.’ Now David is using the language of land inheritance- hence the terms ‘portion’, ‘lot’, ‘boundary lines’, ‘inheritance’, all of which meant a lot to the Jews, for this links back to God’s promise to Abraham that he and his descendents would be blessed by inheriting the land of Canaan. But the interesting thing here is that land language is used of God himself- v 5 should read, ‘The LORD is the portion of my allotment.’ The Lord himself is David’s inheritance, his possession, the blessing of promise- it is that personal. In Joshua 13 there was one tribe which didn’t receive any land at all- the tribe of Levi. These were the priests and those who helped out in worship and the reason given is that ‘The LORD was their possession.’ So they became a living parable if you like, pointing to the fact that the real owner of the land was God and that the supreme blessing was not possessing the land, but possessing the one who owned the land- the LORD himself. So David is saying that he is a spiritual Levite and that you cannot get any better than that. And doesn’t the apostle Paul say something similar to Christians in Romans 8? ‘If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all- how- will he not also, along with him graciously give us all things?’ Do you realize what Paul is saying there? He is saying that if we are a Christian believer, God could not give us more than he has already given us in his Son Jesus. If he were to give us all the treasure in the world, all the planets and the stars- that would not even begin to measure up to what he has given us- for he has given us his very self- God- the one who made and owns all these things. God cannot love you any more than he did when he died for you on the cross for that love is infinite love and you can’t top that. And this is the God who orders our life –v6- he has set the boundary lines of our lives- their beginning and their end and all that falls in between- so we can rest content that if we have God, we have all that we need.
As some of you know I am an American Civil War buff and last year my wife and I visited Virginia and saw the great battlefield sites- Gettysburg and the like, including the house of one of the greatest Confederate Generals, Stonewall Jackson. Jackson was a fervent Christian and he was shot by friendly fire one night during the wilderness campaign. After loosing an arm, he then contracted pneumonia. His chaplain, Mr Lacey came in to visit him and he saw the stump where Jackson’s arm used to be and he said, ‘O, General, what a calamity’ and he began to cry. And Jackson consoled his chaplain with these words: ‘You find me severely wounded, but not unhappy or depressed. I believe it has been done according to the will of God and I acquiesce entirely in his holy will. It may seem strange but you have never saw me as perfectly contented as I am today for I am sure that my heavenly father has designed this affliction for my good.’ Now there was a man who could say, ‘You hold my lot, my boundary lines have fallen to me in pleasant places.’
But thirdly, the sheltered life consists of confidence- 7-11. There is confidence in the Lord’s direction –v 7 ‘ I will praise the Lord who counsels me, even at night my heart instructs me’- he is so soaked in Scripture that God’s word rises up within his heart at night. Then there is confidence in the Lord’s protection-v8 ‘I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand I shall not be shaken.’ That is, while God does not promise to spare us from difficulties he promises to be with us in those difficulties. But there is also confidence in what can only be called the Lord’s resurrection- v9-11, ‘Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, 10because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. 11You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.’ Now notice how David picks up on v 8, ‘Because he is at my right hand I shall not be shaken, therefore my heart is glad.’ And so confident is he in God’s faithfulness that this even extends to death- ‘you will not abandon me to the grave’ -v10, ‘you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.’– v11. If that is not resurrection language, then I don’t know what is.
But then David makes a subtle switch at the end of verse 10. Did you notice how up to then it is all ‘me’ and ‘my’ ‘You will not abandon me to the grave…you have made known to me the path of life’? But then it is as if he is speaking of another, ‘You will not let your Holy One’ or ‘The one who trusts in you’ to see decay’. So who is this Holy One, the one who was totally dependent upon God and faithful to him? Well, both Peter and Paul tell us in Acts 2 and 13 that it is Jesus. Here is Peter preaching on the day of Pentecost at the Temple in Jerusalem, ‘Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 25David said about him: (and then we get Psalm 16 vv 9-11 being quoted) 29"Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. 32God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.’ He is saying that under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, when David wrote this psalm he was not just speaking about himself, but a descendent of his- this ‘Holy One’- it must be so because David’s body is just up the road decaying- but not Jesus’ body- it has been raised. But the point is this: because Jesus has been raised, all those who put their trust in him and are united to him- including David- will one day be raised too- and so fulfilling completely the reassuring truth of Psalm 16- that even these frail, physical bodies of ours come under the ultimate protection of the Lord.
In his book, ‘Miracles’ C. S. Lewis writes this: ‘He (that is God) forced open the door that had been locked since the death of the first man, He has met, fought and beaten the King of Death. Everything is different because he has done so. A new chapter in cosmic history has been opened.’ So there we have it friends- the sheltered life. A life marked by commitment to God and his people, a life marked by contentment with the Lord’s provision, and a life marked by confidence in the Lord’s direction, protection and resurrection. Let us pray.
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