May 21, 2023

Practicing God's Presence (Psalm 16)

Preacher: Bryce Morgan Series: Our Bible Reading Plan (2022-2023) Topic: One Truth: Walk in Truth Scripture: Psalm 16:1–11

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Children's Lesson (click here) 

I. The Presence of a Parent

Waking up from a bad dream. Riding a bike from the first time. Going into a nursing home for the first time. Talking to an adult behind the register at a store or restaurant. Temptation when your friends are behaving badly. Sitting in the principal's office after an incident at school. At a recital, a school performance, or an athletic competition.

One thing profoundly affects every single one of those examples: the presence of a loving parent. When that parent is close, when that parent is running alongside of you, when that parent is watching you, when you know that parent has your back, it can change everything about both your perspective on and your experience of a particular situation. But when that parent is absent, or you are unaware of their proximity, that pendulum can swing the opposite way in terms of your perspective and experience. If you think back to your childhood, or teenage years, can you relate to this idea? To the profound effect of the presence of a loving parent?

This morning, through the inspired words of Psalm 16, I believe David wants to encourage us with that same idea. Though it could sound like an exaggeration, I sincerely believe this truth can radically and wonderfully change everything about both your perspective and experience, in any and every situation. Turn to Psalm 16 if you haven't already.


II. The Passage: “In Your Presence” (16:1-11)

As we talked about last time, almost half of all the psalms (or songs) we find in the Old Testament book called Psalms, almost half were written by King David. Some of these psalms call the singer or listener to wisdom. Other express grief. Still others, known as impreccatory psalms, call for God's judgment on the songwriter's enemies. But as we learned last time, the majority of the psalms are focused on, or include clear elements of... worship. Of praise. Of celebrating and honoring God as God. As you listen to David's words here, think about how we might classify this psalm. This is what David writes (or sings)...

[1] Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. [2] I say to YHWH, “You are my Lord. I have no good apart from you.” [3] As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight. [4] The sorrow of those run after another God shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out, or take their names on my lips. [5] YHWH is my chosen portion and my cup: you hold my lot. [6] The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. [7] I bless YHWH who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. [8] I have set YHWH always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. [9] Therefore, my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. [10] For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol [to the grave], or let your holy one see corruption. [11] You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Do you see it there in that last verse? The presence of a loving parent. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are the only human beings in the world who know God as our heavenly Father. That's not to say others truly know him as something else. But many know of him, and even address him as “Father”, without actually experiencing a new birth. But if you have truly been born again by God's grace, through faith, then the God to whom David sings is now your Father through Jesus, the One who both Son of David and Son of God.

So again, in verse 11 what we're reading about is the presence of a loving parent. But notice how often David refers to God's presence or proximity: like a nearby cave in the midst of a storm, verse 1: “in you I take refuge”. Verse 8: “I have set YHWH always before me”. Verse 8: “because he is at my right hand”. Verse 11: “in your presence”. Verse 11: “at your right hand”. I would argue that the presence of God (and specifically, confidence in the presence of God) is the key theme of this entire psalm. But let me break this down and show you how David uses this theme to encourage and instruct us.

So first, in verses 1-6, I believe David is talking about 1) the value of God's presence. In verses 7 and 8a, I see David writing about 2) the practice of God's presence. Finally in verses 8b-11, I believe David is extolling 3) the blessings of God's presence. Let's take some time to unpack each of those points from the text itself. First, think with me about...


1. The Value of God's Presence (vs. 1-6)

It is incredibly instructive and convicting that more than half of this psalm stresses the incomparable value of God. What is David emphasizing in verses 1-6? That God is the most important thing in his life. If he is in trouble, he will run to God. If there is anything good in his life, it has come from God. If people are seeking to walk in righteousness, he will join them in praising God. If others are running after idols, he will remain devoted to God. Why? Because, as we read in v. 5, “YHWH is my chosen portion and my cup.” But what exactly does that mean?

The original readers or listeners would have recognized this (even the word “cup”) as the language of land allotment. Just as the Israelites under Joshua inherited certain portions of the Promised Land, just as the lines fell by lot for different clans, so that their family inheritance was determined by God (Numbers 33:54), so too has David been given something valuable. In fact, far, far more valuable than any allotment in the land is the God who created and gives the land.

David knows this, and thus, uses the language, the imagery of land allotment to describe something better. David says, “Imagine the lot falling for you on the best piece of real estate you could every hope for. Fertile fields. Abundant water. Green grass. Fruitful trees. Encircling mountains. Think about it: beautiful views, abundant provision, amazing protection.” These are the “pleasant places” he writes about in v. 6. But David's “beautiful inheritance” is God himself.

If we're going to move on to talk about the practice of God's presence, it is critical we first establish the value of his presence. If, as I mentioned before, this idea of the presence of God is going to radically and wonderfully change everything about both your perspective and your experience, in any and every situation, then you must... you must esteem God and his presence as the most valuable, the most treasured, the most precious realities in all the world. That's what David is saying here. If God is just one of many good things in your life, then his presence may not be any better or worse than the present reality of those other benefits. But when you embrace the fact that nothing compares to God, his presence becomes absolutely essential.


2. The Practice of His Presence (vs. 7-8a)

So how exactly does David speak here of practicing God's presence. Well, look again at his first statement in verse 8. David writes, “I have set YHWH always before me...” Now here's a critical question: Is David setting God someplace where God wasn't before? Of course not. As David wrote in Psalm 139:7, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” David believed what we believe: God is always everywhere present. As David confirms in the next phrase of verse 8... “because he is at my right hand”. That's more than a statement about the omnipresence of God. That's a statement about the attentive presence of Israel's good and gracious God.

But again, what does David mean when he writes, “I have set YHWH always before me”? One thing that's helpful here is understanding that the word translated “presence” in verse 11 literally means 'before God's face'. To be in God's presence could mean to be before his throne, or even at the Tent or Temple where his presence dwelt in a special way. But ultimately, it simpl means to be “before God's face”. So David is also writing about the presence of God when he writes in Psalm 27:8, “You have said, 'Seek my face.' My heart says to you, 'Your face, LORD, do I seek.'” That is, “I seek your presence”. The writer of Psalm 105 calls God's people to the same prize, “Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually!” (105:4)

I believe this is exactly what David is doing when he writes, “I have set YHWH always before me...”. He is seeking to align his perspective on reality with the reality of God's presence with him (2x). Over a 400 years ago a monk named Brother Lawrence spoke this way about this practice...

I make it my business only to persevere in His holy presence, wherein I keep myself by a simple attention, and a general fond regard to God, which I may call an actual presence of God; or, to speak better, an habitual, silent, and secret conversation of the soul with God, which often causes in me joys and raptures inwardly, and sometimes also outwardly, so great that I am forced to use means to moderate them, and prevent their appearance to others.

The beloved book compiled from his letters and conversations was entitled, “The Practice of the Presence of God”. Much closer to our time, in the first half of the 20th century, missionary Frank Laubauch reflected on this practice in his essay, “The Game with Minutes”. He wrote...

Practicing the presence of God is not on trial. It has already been proven by countless thousands of people. Indeed, the spiritual giants of all ages have known it. Christians who do it today become more fervent and beautiful and are tireless witnesses. Men and women who had been slaves of vices have been set free.

What was David doing when he fled to God for refuge, as described in verse 1 of this psalm? He was practicing the presence of God. He was setting the reality of YHWH before himself. That flight to God was the result of seeking God's face; of seeking God's presence. It's the same thing he was doing when guided in verse 7. In that verse David describes this practice as seeking and receiving God's counsel, both day and night. To regularly set the reality of God before oneself means also regularly setting the reality of God's word before oneself. And as we do that, we are reminded of who this God is. To write “I have set YHWH always before me” is to also write, “I have set YHWH's goodness always before me... I have set YHWH's power always before me... I have set YHWH's faithfulness always before me... I have set YHWH's justice always before me... I have set YHWH's wisdom and his commands and his promises always before me.” And guess what? As a person does that, he or she is going to experience...


3. The Blessings of God's Presence (vs. 8b-11)

There is absolutely no lack of blessings in terms of what describes here. Broadly speaking, I see three main blessings that David is experiencing as he practices God's presence here (that is, as he aligns his reality with the reality of God's presence with him). The first we could describe as reassurance or confidence. Do you see that in verse 8? “I have set YHWH always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.” We find the same confidence at the end of verse 9. Because God will rescue him from death (as we hear in verse 10), David can write at the end of verse 9, “my flesh also dwells secure”. This is why song opens the way it does, “...for in you I take refuge”.

A second blessing that flows from David's practice of God's presence is the guidance he receives. We saw that in verse 7, where David talks about God's counsel and instruction. We also see that in verse 11, where David affirms, “You make known to me the path of life...”. It is truly amazing how a sincere sense of God's presence with you can inform and correct and inspire the choices you make. David testifies of that very thing, of that wonderful reality here.

Finally, it's hard to miss the fact that joy is a direct result of David's recognition of God's presence. Verses 10 and 11 are some of the clearest and most powerful verses in all Scripture when it comes to “the fullness of joy” a person can experience because of the reality of God and God's presence with us. As David exults in v, 9, “my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices”.


III. God Always Before You

Reassurance. Guidance. Joy. Aren't all of these the blessings so many of us enjoyed as children when, especially in those hard or scary times, we were blessed by the presence of a loving parent? To the degree those blessings are, in a truly meaningful way, missing from your everyday life, I believe it's evidence you are neglecting or distracted from the reality of God's presence with you, with us, his precious children because of Jesus.

So what might it look like for you personally to “set YHWH always before” you, in the coming hours and days? To practice his presence, as David exemplifies here? Will it mean a time of confession and realignment, in light of God as your greatest good? Maybe it will mean more thoughtful meditation on how the reality of God converges with the reality of your needs. Here's a super practical suggestion: set your watch or smartphone for an hourly chime or vibration alert. When it goes off, use it as a prompt to remind yourself, “God is in this place. He is with me. You are here, Father. You are present and you care.” If you do that, you will be amazed how it changes your perspective on whatever is happening when that reminder comes.

The everywhere and ever-real presence of God is not simply a theological fact to be acknow-ledged. As David makes clear in Psalm 16, it is a theological reality to be enjoyed... by everyone who knows and loves God. And what a powerful reminder God has given us in verse 10 about why we love God. In Acts 2:27 and Acts 13:35, Peter and Paul declare that Psalm 16:10 was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus; for while David eventually died and was buried, God did not abandon Jesus to the grave, but instead, raised him up from the dead. And because of this ultimate fulfillment by Jesus, through Jesus, you and I can begin to experience the ultimate fulfillment of every blessing David described in this amazing psalm. Reassurance. Guidance. Joy. So in light of Jesus, the one who reassured us in Matthew 28:20, “...behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age”, in light of him, and through him, let us devote ourselves to daily and sincerely practicing the presence of our triune God. Amen? Let's pray for one another to that end.


other sermons in this series