A Reflection on my Life Verse3
Rock stars rarely age well. The Rolling Stones are a case in point. Often called The Strolling Bones, and not without cause (!), this once energetic and controversial sixties group was actually invited to perform during the Super Bowl halftime show a few years ago.
Of all their many hits, the one that lingers most in my memory is the grammatically torturous, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”! As I type it, Microsoft Word faithfully reminds me of its error with that annoying squiggly line beneath the word “No”.
What possible reason could I have for mentioning this rather pathetic attempt at musical entertainment? It always comes to mind as I read Psalm 16! Although the man who wrote this psalm was himself an accomplished musician and played skillfully the ancient equivalent of the modern guitar, he would never, ever have said that he couldn’t get any satisfaction! In spite of numerous setbacks and disappointments, recurring depression and political defeats, David was a profoundly satisfied man. Satisfied, that is, in God!
That God was the source of his soul’s satisfaction is evident from a quick perusal of several recurring statements in the psalm:
“in you [God] I take refuge” (v. 1).
“I say to the Lord, . . . I have no good apart from you” (v. 2).
“The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup” (v. 5).
“I bless the Lord who gives me counsel” (v. 7).
“I have set the Lord always before me” (v.8).
“because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken” (v. 8).
“in your presence there is fullness of joy” (v. 11).
“at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (v. 11).
David was unashamed of his longing for the Lord and unafraid to declare his utter dependence on God and God alone for the satisfaction his soul so passionately desired.
Psalm 16:11 is my life verse. It encapsulates and expresses the glorious gospel of Christian Hedonism in a way that few other texts do. But I want to focus here on two other verses in this remarkable psalm. Look closely at v. 2 and v. 8.
“I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you’” (Ps. 16:2; consider also Ps. 73:25, where Asaph declares: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you”).
“I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken” (Ps. 16:8).
I was helped greatly in my understanding of these texts by something Larry Crabb confessed in one of his books. Larry’s honesty is disarming and challenging. He’s not afraid to admit what the rest of us skillfully hide. I strongly encourage you to read his many books and draw deeply from his wisdom.
Several years ago Larry’s brother was killed in a tragic airplane crash. In one particularly candid moment, as he wrestled with God in his effort to make sense of what seemed utterly senseless, Larry 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” (“Fly on the Wall: A Conversation about Authentic Transformation among Dallas Willard, Larry Crabb, & John Ortberg,” in Conversations: A Forum for Authentic Transformation, Volume 1 [Spring 2003], 30).
What I hear Larry saying is that the measure of our satisfaction is the degree to which we can both trust and rejoice when all we have left is God.
Neither Larry nor the psalmist is denying that other things are good or satisfying or capable of evoking pleasure. But they are to be embraced only when acknowledged and enjoyed as gifts of God without whom all else is ultimately meaningless.
Everything without God is pathetically inferior to God without everything. Or as C. S. Lewis put it, “he who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God only” (“The Weight of Glory,” 31).
This is why David was so diligent to avert his eyes from all lesser beauty. His resolve was to set the Lord before him, to concentrate his attention and the energies of his soul on the majesty and power of the One who alone would sustain him when all else is shaking.
David wasn’t in the least inclined to dismiss his longing for satisfaction as if it were a sinful craving to be suppressed or “crucified”. He embraced the passion of his soul as the gift of God. This was no remnant of the Fall, but one element in God’s creative design to glorify himself by being the sole, all-sufficient source of deep and unending satisfaction for his people.
This was not an infrequent or occasional choice or one to which he reverted only in times of crisis, but an orientation of life to which he was “always” committed. We would do well to follow his example.
Before closing, we should take note of two images in this psalm that reinforce David’s point, both of which are rooted in vivid OT truths.
First, David prays that God would “preserve” him, for “in you,” he declares, “I take refuge” (v. 1; cf. Pss. 7:1; 11:1; 17:7). It’s possible that the background for this language is in the familiar “cities of refuge”, those designated places to which a person might flee after accidentally killing another. They were designed to provide safe haven and protection from a family member of the deceased who might seek revenge.
God is our city of refuge! He is our safe, soul-satisfying haven of rest. Like a frightened child running to her father, hiding from danger behind the imposing presence of one committed to protect her, David sought safety in God. Like the residents of central Kansas seeking shelter from an approaching tornado, or like a soldier under attack from the enemy, retreating behind the formidable walls of a king’s castle, so we find our refuge in God.
Second, the language of vv. 5-6 is clearly based on God’s apportioning of the land to and among the twelve tribes upon their entrance into Canaan. The boundaries or border lines were set to determine the inheritance of each. However, God gave no land or inheritance to the Levites (the priests). “And the Lord said to Aaron, ‘You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel’” (Num. 18:20; emphasis mine).
Likewise, David happily embraces God alone as his “chosen portion” and his “cup” (v. 5a). You alone, O God, “hold my lot” (v. 5b). The “lines” (v. 6a) or measuring cords used to mark off the land allotted to each “have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance” (v. 6b).
Simply put: “You, O God, are the portion allotted to me! You, O God, supremely beautiful, are my inheritance! You, O God, are the only land I need or want!”
These are the words of a profoundly satisfied man. Why is this important? Because, as you’ve no doubt heard many times before, God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him (John Piper).