God’s Goodness

February 11, 2024 ()

Bible Text: Psalm 16 |

God’s Goodness | Psalm 16
Brad O’Dell | February 11, 2024

Go ahead and turn in your Bibles to Psalm 16. Psalm 16 is where we’re going to be this week.

We’re kind of between series here, and next week Brian is going to continue the series on the book of Hebrews, which will be very exciting, so I know a lot of you are excited about that. Make sure to show up for it; invite some friends to come alongside. We look forward to that.

But this week we’re going to spend a little bit of time in Psalm 16.

As you’re turning there, I want to tell you about one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s a movie from the late ’90s called The Man Who Knew Too Little. It’s a movie with Bill Murray in it, and a lot of people haven’t heard of this movie of Bill Murray’s, but I think it’s one of his best. The premise of the movie is that Bill Murray has gone to England to visit his brother for his own birthday, which is a funny premise, right? So his brother’s busy, obviously, he has an important business meeting that night, so he gets him into this live-action theater, because he’s like, “Oh, he used to like theater, and he’ll enjoy this.”

The problem is that when he goes to get the call to start the live-action in this fake theater he’s going to be a part of in the evening, he gets a real call to a real assassin about a real plot that is in the Cold War era about nuclear bombs that are going to go off and remake the world and all this stuff. And for the whole movie, he gets caught up in a real spy drama, with real international espionage, real guns, real fights, real life-threatening circumstances; but the whole time he thinks it’s fake. In fact, he thinks it’s pretty fun.

So what I want to bring to mind is the fact of our perspective, or our frame of reference. Because his perspective or his frame of reference is, “This is all fake; this is all fun,” all throughout all of the series of events that he’s in—which are very harrowing, very life-threatening, very serious—he just treats it lightly. He has fun. He’s not concerned about it at all, and it changes how he responds in the circumstances. Because he’s so unaware, he actually ends up foiling the whole plot.

But the idea is that our perspective, our frame of reference, shapes how we understand all the events that we’re in. From one frame of reference those events can look scary, they can look serious, they can look concerning, but from a different frame of reference or from a different perspective we can respond to those same situations with a different knowledge. It changes how we respond in the midst of those circumstances.

I think Psalm 16 is one of those perspective-shaping psalms for our lives, one of those things that give us a frame of reference for the people of God who walk in relationship with God. It changes how we engage in all the events of life—all of the good events, all of the hard events, and everything in between. What I want us to do is just see how this psalm speaks to us and gives that to us today.

Here’s my outline. I’m going to ask a couple questions that I think this psalm speaks to and helps us engage with, and that’s going to be my outline. The first question is, How do we trust God? The answer is going to be that we dwell on his goodness. Another question is, okay, we’re dwelling on his goodness, so how do we actually experience or how do we live out or live in the reality of this goodness? The answer to that is we dwell in his presence.

1. How Do We Trust God? We Dwell on His Goodness

The first question I’m asking is, How do we trust God? I ask that because this psalm, Psalm 16, which we’re about to read, is a psalm of trust. I want you to see the psalmist’s trust that he’s putting in God as we work through it. So let’s read there in Psalm 16. He says,

“Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.’

“As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones,
in whom is all my delight.

“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.

“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.

“I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

“Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.

“You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

Like I said, this is a psalm of trust. You hear the expressions of the psalmist, that he is trusting in God.

It’s right there at the beginning, Psalm 16:1. “Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.” When he’s saying, “Preserve me,” he’s saying, “Protect me!” and when he’s saying that God is a refuge, that God is like this shelter in the storm or this safe hiding place in the midst of the wilderness, an experience that David found a lot of safety in in his life as he was running from enemies. So he’s saying, “God, I am putting my trust in you. You are my refuge.”

After that he says, “I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.’” So trusting the Lord and the goodness of the Lord. Those are the two big themes of this psalm, and that’s what we’re going to focus on in the outline. That’s really everything he’s going to talk about as he works through.

The question is, how do we trust God? We don’t know the situation that the psalmist is going through, but it’s instructive for us that he’s putting his trust in God. I want this to be helpful for us to meditate on, because I think, if we’re honest with ourselves, this aspect of trusting God or confidence in God is a central element of the Christian faith, but it’s also something that’s really difficult to maintain day in, day out in all the circumstances of life.

A lot of us might think it’s actually quite easy to trust in God when all things are going well, right? Our jobs are fine, our finances are good, maybe even great. Our work-life balances are really dialed in right now, our kids are happy, healthy, thriving; things are pretty good.

A lot of us are thinking those are times where it’s really easy to trust in God, but I also think, if we’re honest with ourselves, is it really God we’re trusting in in those good seasons, or are we really just leaning on those earthly provisions? Sometimes in those seasons if you’re honest and you kind of think of some of those, sometimes it’s easier to go a long time without even thinking of God. Things are going pretty well; you’re just in the rhythm of life; things are pretty smooth. Sometimes you don’t have any reference to God at all in your mind. Are you really casting yourself on him, daily leaning on him, or is it those earthly provisions that are really where your trust actually is or that your confidence is in?

But of course, also when life is difficult or disappointing, or maybe even tragic. I think that’s likely in the backdrop of this psalm that we’re reading here today. There’s some situation of lament or lamentation or crying out in sadness, or disorientation even. We know doctrinally that God is trustworthy, but often it seems like he’s disengaged or absent, unaware, uncaring. If we’re honest, maybe it even sometimes seems like God is cruel.

I think that’s a common cry and a common wrestling we see in the psalms of lament. The question is, how do you trust God when the finances really just don’t look like they’re going to make it or it seems like everything is set against you? When the diagnosis the doctor gives you is pretty bleak, or again, when the tragedy strikes.

We don’t get all the answers in this psalm, but I do think we get some very important ones that help give us that perspective and that frame of reference for how we engage those hard situations in life.

What’s interesting about Psalm 16 is that, though it seems clear that there is a situation of lament in the background—that’s why he starts the psalm, “Preserve me! It’s in you I take refuge!” There’s a need for protection or a calling out to God for protection or for safe harbor. Though that’s there, it doesn’t really read like a psalm of lament. We get lots of laments in the psalter, but this doesn’t really read like a psalm of lament. Instead, we get this psalm about joy and peace and happiness and pleasures. It’s kind of interesting that this lament is likely in the situation.

This is not to minimize difficult circumstances in our life. Indeed, the Bible is very honest about the difficulty of life and even the futility of a lot of life that we’ll experience. But I do think this psalm teaches us that even in the hard and spiritually disorienting times, there is a trust in God that can lead to a real, a true, a graspable, even, joy and peace in the midst of that circumstance; and that there is a happiness and a rest that can loom larger than the circumstance as we put our trust and confidence in God. That’s what we want to try to learn from David here in the psalm.

So, how do we trust God? One answer is this: we dwell on his goodness. This is really what David is doing in the psalm. We see two things, that God is the source of good and the substance of good.

(1) First we see that God is the source of all good things in David’s life, right? There in Psalm 16:2 he says, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you. All of my good things come from you, God.” He says in Psalm 16:6, “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.”

Here we have David using the language and the imagery of when Joshua led the people of Israel into the land and he split up the land, and he gave them this allotment of property or this inheritance that their tribes would have throughout all time. What David is saying is, “I have a lot in life, I have a portion, and it is good, it is sweet. I have a good inheritance from the Lord; he has given me good things.”

What David is doing is recounting the ways that the Lord has blessed him and all the good things he’s given to him in his life. He says in Psalm 16:7, “I bless the Lord, who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.” He says, “Even my wisdom, even my thoughts, even my meditations—when I’m walking with the Lord, I see him working in my life. He gives me good instruction from his word so that I know what is good and right and true and I know his character. But also he moves in my heart even at night to lead my mind into what is right and what is true, and he leads me to his purposes and will.”

David’s just saying, “All of my good things come from you.” He’s saying what the author of James in the New Testament will end up saying: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Every good and every perfect gift comes from above.

Did you know that the Father is a Father who loves to give good gifts? He loves to bless. His heart is to pour out goodness into your life from his goodness. It’s a sweet truth.

What we see from David is he’s recounting these things. He’s recognizing it and saying, “It’s not about me, it’s not about what I’ve accomplished, it’s not about all the things that I have, that I’ve done for myself; no, I see that these are from God’s hand.”

What we see here are two important disciplines in our life, humility and thankfulness. The two go together naturally.

Humility—first of all, it’s just knowing that we are not the sovereign one in our lives. We are not the chief of everything that happens in our lives, right? We are humble enough to know that God is the sovereign one and every good thing in my life is not because I’m awesome, it’s because God is awesome and good, and he has granted me a lot of wonderful blessings in my life. I’m humble. I recognize who I am and who God is and where my place is in this world.

From that flows a heart of thankfulness and a pattern of thanksgiving. Tim Keller gives us a good distinction between gratitude and thankfulness. He says gratitude is what you feel inside, but thankfulness is actually what you do from that place of gratitude.

That’s important, right? Thankfulness is an action; it’s something that we are engaging in. We are recounting the blessings of the Lord, we are recounting his good work in our lives, and we’re actually thanking him. Then we are living in response to what he has done in our lives out of a heart of thankfulness.

Another way to see it is this: thankfulness is the movement of coming from a posture like this [clenching hands] to a posture of this [open hands]. Does that make sense? When you’re in this posture [clenched hands] you’re like, “Yes, I got this! I’m doing it!” Right? When you’re in this posture [open hands], you’re saying, “I’m a supplicant. I’m receiving. I’m thankful.”

It’s the posture that Paul seems to strike when he says, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you have received him, why do you boast as if you did not receive him?”

All good gifts come from the Father; we have received them. Let us come to him with open hands and thank him for them.

That’s the positive side of it, thanking God for all the good that comes from him. God’s the source of all good. But there’s a negative side of it as well, and that’s being careful to not seek other things as our source of good. That’s what we see in Psalm 16:3-4. If you have a translation other than ESV there are probably going to be quite a bit of variation in these two verses. The Hebrew is really difficult; there are lots of different translations of this verse. I think the ESV captures the idea well enough for us, but that’s just a heads up.

Look at Psalm 16:3-4. It says,

“As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones,
in whom is all my delight.

“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.”

What he’s doing is he’s contrasting two types of people in Israel. It’s the ones who are holy, the righteous ones who worship God with a pure worship—he delights in them the way God delights in them. That’s the kind of people he’s about and that he wants to walk with.

Then there are these other types of people, the people who run after another god. What we see is these are people who kind of mix their worship of God with the worship of other gods as well. The term syncretism is what that is. They have a syncretistic faith; they merge their worship of God with the worship of other gods, or false worship, as well. It was rare for the people of God to just turn wholesale away from God and the law and all of the practices that he’d called them to and turn completely to the worship practices of a foreign deity or the gods of the other nations. Instead, they usually did all these things. “Hey, I do the things I’m supposed to do in the law; I bring the sacrifices, I show up on the special days—I do all the things. But I also do the things that this god wants me to do, and I go to those temples, and I do those worship practices, and I engage in those.”

The idea is this was a way for the people back then to kind of hedge their bets or to make sure that they get all their good things in life. The pagan understanding of gods was that there’s this transactional relationship—I do the things they want me to do, and they give me the good things. What are the good things? It’s a good harvest, it’s rains when they’re supposed to be coming, it’s waterways that are ample so we can get what we need to, it’s protection from enemies, it’s victory in war, it’s fertility when we’re trying to have children. They said the gods are the ones who give all these things or withhold them, depending on our actions. That’s not the notion that Scripture puts before us in how we engage with the one true God.

But what they were doing was they were seeking Yahweh as the source of their good, but they were also seeking the foreign gods as the source of their good, in this syncretistic way. They knew God as a source of good, but they didn’t follow him as the source of good. This is what David is saying will only lead to sorrow upon sorrow.

Obviously, it looks very different for us. Not many of us have been tempted to give any libations of blood, right? But I do think we get caught in this trap of not necessarily abandoning God as our source of good and blessing—we’re thankful to God; we come in here and we sing about God’s goodness and blessing; we give praises in small group—but sometimes we do prioritize the comforts and the good things of this world, and sometimes we can forget God in the midst of it and kind of seek those things for their own sake or as good in and of themselves. We don’t see them as gifts that lead us to God, the true good one, but we see them as good in and of themselves. Sometimes we prioritize them such that that’s the thing that we’re really trying to get all of our good in life from.

Dane Ortlund has a simple definition of idolatry, and I really like it. He says, “Idolatry is the folly of asking a gift to be a giver.” Isn’t that a good definition? I see the gift, but I ask it to be the giver. I don’t let that gift lead me to the true giver, the true source of goodness.

I think we can fall into this syncretistic error. C.S. Lewis, wrestling with this, I think has a good expression of it. It’s one of his letters that he wrote. He says it like this:

“It’s all there in the New Testament—dying to the world, the world is crucified to me and I to the world—but I find I haven’t even begun, at least not if it means (and can it mean less than) a steady and progressive disentangling of all one’s motives from the merely natural of these worldly objects. I don’t mean disentangling from things wrong in themselves, but say, from the very pleasant evening which we hope to have over one of your hams tomorrow night, or gratification at my literary success. [Here’s the important part.] It is not the things, nor even the pleasure in them, but the fact that in such pleasures my heart, or so much of my heart, lies. What right have I to expect the peace of God while I thus put my whole heart, or at least all my strongest desires, in the world which he warned me against?”

I was really struck in meditating on that over the last couple weeks. It really made me reflect, and I wonder if it does the same for you.

At the end of this week, if you really think about it, what were your strongest desires? What were your strongest hopes? What were your strongest yearnings? What were the things you really hoped would happen? Was there any consideration of God in there at all? Was there any consideration of how this could lead you to see God, know him; to worship him, to walk in his ways more and more; or was it really just about the good thing in and of itself? If that happened, you’d be okay, even if an engagement with God didn’t happen at all.

See, David sees rightly in Psalm 16:4: “The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply.” If you seek your good outside of God and his ways, it only leads to more and more sorrows.

Why is that? I think it’s simply this: you can’t ultimately find your good in things which are not good in and of themselves. You can’t ultimately find your good in things which are not inherently good in and of themselves.

(2) That leads me to my second point: God is also the substance of good. God doesn’t just give good things and he doesn’t just tell us to avoid trying to get our good things from other things, but God is the substance of good. That’s a very important thing we see in this psalm.

We see it in Psalm 16:5-6. It says,

“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.”

We’ve already said how verse 6 is one of those things that seems to be David recounting his lot in life and God’s blessings, but we see there in verse 5 the context of it. He says, “No, actually, the Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; he holds my lot.”

He’s saying, “Yes, all the good things in life are great; I’m going to recognize those, I’m going to thank God for them. But really, my true good in life—the true gift—is that I get God. I know God. I get to walk with God. I know his heart, I know his ways, I know his truth. He speaks to me at night and leads me into good ways and into the path of life.” That is the greatest good in life.

David is saying here, “My lot in life is you. Because I am yours, I get to experience the overflow of your goodness.”

The Belgic Confession of Faith, Article I, simply says, “We believe in God,” and then it says a few other things, but here’s how it ends: “. . . who is good and the overflowing source of all good.” God is good, and it’s out of the overflow of his goodness that we experience more of his goodness.

This is what the Christian church has always held: that God is good in his essence. In the same way that we could say, “God is love,” we can say, “God is good.” In fact, most theologians would say that God’s goodness is the broad category that encompasses all of God’s moral attributes. So it kind of works out like this—his goodness toward those in misery is called mercy; his goodness to forebear with those who are deserving judgment we call patience; his goodness to those who are guilty we call grace; and so on. I got that formula from Kevin DeYoung.

There are a hundred others like that, they’re just usually longer and more complex. But you get the idea. God’s goodness fleshes out in all kinds of ways in relationship with other people, his benevolence does.

This is why God, in the revelation of who he is to Moses at Mount Sinai, when Moses said, “I want to see your glory,” and God reveals his name, “I Am who I Am” (he’s revealing his name, he’s revealing his character, who he is in and of himself); what he says to Moses is, “I will make all of my goodness pass before you.”

It’s a really interesting formulation, right? “I will make all of my goodness pass before you.” What God is indicating is, “That is my very essence; that is who I am.”

Jesus says as much in Mark 10:18, when the rich young ruler comes up to him and calls him “good teacher.” Jesus says, “Good? Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” It’s a little tongue-in-cheek, because Jesus knows he’s God, but the idea is that God is the good one; he is the source and the substance of all goodness.

This is what David understands here. Interestingly, what he does is he kind of ascribes to himself what was true of the Levites in that day and age. When the people came into the land, all the tribes had a portion of the land; they had an inheritance. They had a lot that God had given them to bless them. But the Levites were not given a portion in the land. They weren’t given an inheritance like that. God said, “The reason that is is because I am your portion; I am your inheritance. You get to be with me in my temple, in my tabernacle, ministering to my people from me and also ministering in the worship of me. I am your portion.”

What David is saying is that is kind of the ideal for all the people of God. As a child of God or as one who walks with the Lord, I have a lot in life, and I have an inheritance, and it is ultimately the Lord himself. That is the great good. Let this land pass away, but if I have God I’m okay. (I didn’t mean for that to rhyme, but it came out all right, didn’t it?)

The psalmist says it like this in Psalm 73: “Whom have I in heaven but in you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

A Christian articulation of it would be this, from Paul in Philippians 3: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Everything is loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

That’s the key that I want us to recognize. That’s where God is trying to get us in this life. All of the good gifts that he gives us are supposed to lead back to the unfathomable ocean of goodness, which is God. All of the hard situations in life are supposed to wean us away from putting our trust in this earth and in this world and make us come back to God and find our good in him. All the Scriptural commands, all the fatherly discipline, it’s all to lead us to know him more and more deeply and to find our rest in him more and more surely and to experience his goodness as true, no matter what the circumstances of our life are.

Because of the deception of sin and the fallenness of our flesh, this is something that we just have to be progressively taught all through life. Sometimes that experience can be painful, and it can be disorienting and confusing.

Dane Ortlund says it like this—he takes the analogy of the vine and says it in a helpful way. He says,

“Each of us is like an otherwise healthy vine that has a perverse inclination to entangle all its tendrils around a poisonous tree that appears nourishing but actually deadens us. There’s only one result for a loving gardener, right? He must slice us free, lop off whole branches, even. He must cause us to pass through the pain of loss, the pain of being diminished, of being lessened, in order to free us.”

Some of you might be feeling a pain of loss this morning, or being diminished in some way, or being lessened. Please hear me: I am not minimizing the deep and real pain and grief of those things. Here’s what I am saying: the Father’s tender care is at work in it, even if it’s tough for you to see. You can trust in his goodness.

I think in times like this the expectation actually, if we learn anything from the psalmist, is that we are probably not going to understand God’s ways. We’re not going to understand his purposes. We’re not going to understand what he’s doing. In fact, we might look at the situation and say, “This is not a good situation. I don’t see any good in this.” I think that’s a normal experience, but we can trust that God is good. He is good in and of himself, and his actions toward us are an overflow of his goodness.

Spurgeon says it like this—it’s really a timeless quote because it’s so good. He says, “God is too good to be unkind and he is too wise to be mistaken. When we cannot trace his hand, we must trust his heart.” I think David here puts a lot of that truth here before us this morning.

How do we trust in God? We dwell on his goodness.

2. How Do We Experience His Goodness? We Dwell in His Presence

Another question, though, that I think is important is, How do we actually experience his goodness? I use the word experience. Maybe it’s not the best word, but what I’m trying to get at is this: the difference in experiencing it and just knowing about it as something that’s out there but doesn’t have an effect in our lives. So experiencing it—having it actually be an active reality in our day to day—such that, as we meditate on the goodness of the Lord it fleshes out, it changes, it gives us that new perspective, that new frame of reference that means all of life is different and we engage in all the circumstances of life in a different way. Whether those are the highest highs we experience or whether they are the lowest lows we experience, we have a different perspective and a different frame of reference for engaging them. That’s what I mean by experiencing this goodness. It’s a real reality that is manifesting in our lives, in our day to day life.

And what is the experience that the psalmist speaks about here? I think we see it in Psalm 16:9. This is what it was for him to experience the goodness of the Lord, and he says, “Therefore my heart is glad. My whole being rejoices. My flesh dwells secure.” Gladness, joy, peace—that’s what it means to know the goodness of the Lord. It doesn’t mean there isn’t still difficulty, but there is a gladness and a joy and a peace that is there even in the midst of it. And it’s not that there’s a gladness and a joy and a peace that can’t be gained from good circumstances, it’s that, ultimately, it leads to a deeper, fuller gladness and joy and peace in God himself, even as we enjoy those good things.

And if David had ample cause to walk in joy and peace, brothers and sisters in Christ, how much more do we? How much more do we, who know God in Christ and who have been given the promises of Romans 8? Listen to these, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 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 with him graciously give us all things?”

What an astounding promise. Can we not walk in joy and peace because we walk in those realities this morning? This is a big burden of my sermon this morning. As the people of God we really ought to be a people who on a regular basis are manifesting the joy, the peace, even the downright happiness of the Lord. I’m not talking about a foolish giddiness or a head-in-the-clouds type of thing; I’m talking about a real, deep, joy that’s grounded in reality. Our knowledge of God and his promises to us in Christ, the work of the Spirit in our lives to make us new day by day, it ought to flesh out in a real happiness and a hope-grounded peace in this life.

Some of you need to hear it. I needed to hear it while I was studying this. And we need to hear this. The fruit of the Spirit is not, incidentally, negativity, or stress, or anger, or self-centeredness, or a taciturn realism, right? All of you who call yourself a realist, you’re probably just a pessimist, right? I get it. It’s good to be realistic in life, but if you hold the title “realist” you’re probably a pessimist. (Don’t take that too hard. That was mostly a joke.)

What is the fruit of the Spirit? It’s love. It’s joy. It’s peace. It’s self-control. And as those who have experienced and know the indescribable goodness of God, we need to be people who actually manifest that and who radiate that to others pretty frequently in our lives.

Listen, I know we still groan, awaiting the final day and the full bringing of our salvation. Scripture gives testament to that. But we can also start enjoying that salvation in the here and now, and we should be enjoying it in the here and now. We should be celebrating what God has accomplished, what he surely is accomplishing, and what he will accomplish at the end. That should flesh out in our day and make us a people of happiness and joy.

How do we experience his goodness? And how do we have this experience that we’ve talked about? The answer in the psalm is this: we dwell in his presence. I’m going to sum up this point in three simple statements: God before us, God beside us, God within us. We see them here in this Psalm.

In Psalm 16:11, it’s in his presence. “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” As I walk with you there is joy, there is pleasure, and so what is it to dwell in the presence of the Lord? or to walk in the presence of the Lord? Maybe dwell wasn't the best word, but it did match really nicely with the first point I made earlier in the sermon. To walk in the presence of the Lord on a day by day basis, do you know what that looks like? And I think some of the phrases that the psalmist put before us helped us. God before us, God beside us. We see both of those in Psalm 16:8. “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.”

(1) I’ll take God before us first. That’s the first part of verse 8. What does it mean for David to set the Lord before him? Well I think it meant, ultimately, it meant that the Lord is his sovereign. He is his king. He is his Lord, the one who calls the shots. And so he lives before God as one who is obedient and who is one under authority as God is before him. And he puts God before him so that he knows who he is in relation to that and he knows what he is supposed to be about. Or it’s about what the sovereign’s about and what he’s calling him to.

But also I think it’s more than that. To set the Lord before him is to set him before him as a goal or an aspiration. It’s to seek the face of God. We see that in Psalm 42. It says, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” You see what the Psalmist really wants? He says, “Listen, I want to know God. I want to come and walk closer with God. I want to be in the presence of God. I have a thirst in my soul for that. God is my goal and aspiration of life.”

The Latin phrase that the church has used for this is to live coram Deo—to live before the face of God. Do you know what it is to live before the face of God? I think it’s a good reality.

What I want to do in these three points here, is I want to grab hold of your imagination. I want you to practically start using your imagination to flesh out what it looks like to walk in the presence of God on a day by day basis and let that help shape your perspective in life and the frame of reference from which you’re engaging the realities of life.

In Christ, what does this look like? Jesus is also our sovereign. He is our king. He is our Lord, so we need to set him before us is to say, “Boy, I’m imagining that in the circumstances of my day, as I’m going throughout it, King Jesus is here. He’s before me. I’m living before his face and I’m saying, ‘King Jesus, what would you have me do? What is your purpose? What is your plan? Who am I in relation to what you have called me to? What are your kingdom pursuits and how can I be about this in my day to day?’” You can do that throughout your work day. You can do that while you’re taking care of the kids at home. You can do that in the night hours when you’re struggling to sleep. Jesus is before you.

But also, Jesus, you can put him before you as your forerunner and example. Jesus did this life, he lived this life perfectly, he had the perfect character, he set the perfect example. And we can say in any situation that kind of classic statement, “What would Jesus do in this situation?” And that demands that you kind of know Jesus, right? It means that you seek him in his word and that you know what he’s about, that you know his character and his ways and you’re meditating on that regularly, that you’re checking that with good, sound truth. But it is to put him before you as your example.

So, “Man, I don’t know how to engage in this situation. How might Jesus have engaged in this situation? I put him before me and I see the example of my Savior and I seek to follow.”

What we see here are two spiritual disciplines and just obedience, raw obedience, and also following Jesus’ example. Sometimes we just need to obey. What would Jesus have me do? I don’t really wrestle around with, “I don’t know if I want to do that.” Or, “Will it feel good? Will I really like it?” No, no, no! I just see what Jesus wants me to do and I obey, and I trust that it’s good and that it leads me into God’s goodness more. And then sometimes I’m saying, “Man, it’s not really clear, but I can maybe see what Jesus would do.” And I put him before me and I try to see an example. I try to imitate what Jesus would do in this situation. I try to live as a little christ. Brian talked about that in his sermon, either last week or a couple of weeks ago.

(2) But also we see God beside us, the reality of God beside us. “I have set the Lord always before; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.”

In Hebrew understanding, the right hand was the place of power. The place of strength. To put someone at your right hand was to put a defender, a warrior at your right hand to go and contend for you. It’s the right hand of power. And so when he says, “The Lord is at my right hand,” he says, “The Lord is beside me as my strength and my help, and he is the reason I have peace in the trial, because I might not know what to do in the trial. I might know what to do in the situation. I might not know what to do as people are attacking me. But with God at my right hand I will be okay because he will fight for me and he is at my right side.”

You can use your imagination to picture this. If you do this, if you can bring in this discipline of just saying this as many times as you can all throughout the day from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed, “Lord, you’re with me.” It’s that simple. “Lord, you’re with me.” It’s a repetition that you can just have as often as you can bring it to mind.

I wake up in the morning, “Good morning, Lord. You’re here with me.” I’m getting things ready in the morning and I’m just kind of trying to check things off, “Lord, you’re with me.” I’m trying to talk with my wife or wrestling through something and I’m not hearing her well and she’s not hearing me well and it’s getting kind of frustrating, “Lord, you’re with me.” Some sad news came through and the grief is hitting and the experience of loss is hitting, you don’t know how you’re going to get through it. “Lord, you’re with me. I’m not here on my own. You’re with me.”

You can do that. Picture him at your side as you’re walking the dog and you don’t know what else to do, looking around, “Lord, you’re with me. I can talk to you.” It’s a reality. It’s not just imagining it as if it would be nice if it’s true—it is true. It’s a promise of God. That's how it works.

Jesus is our Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” Jesus said right before he ascended to the Father, “I will be with you even to the end of the age.” And listen, here’s the sweet truth, Jesus is not just our Lord to obey or our example to follow in front of us, but he is our brother at our side, strengthening us throughout all the things we encounter in the day. Get used to saying, “Jesus, you’re here with me.”

But this right hand analogy is really interesting. It uses it in a different way later on in the psalm, where he actually says, “Okay, you’re at my right hand, God,” but also he starts to picture himself at God’s right hand. That’s a really interesting thing. I’m not the strength at God’s right hand. What is happening there? Well, when we are talking about a sovereign or a king enthroned, the right hand is the seat of honor. At the right hand you enjoy all the privileges of the enthroned king and you even get to receive the honor that is due his name. That is an astounding thing for the psalmist to imagine there, “At your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.”

This is what’s really astounding: this is one of the core things that Jesus fulfills in the New Testament. At Pentecost, Peter uses the latter half of this psalm, along with Psalm 110, to say Jesus is the one who is at the right hand of the Father and who experiences this. He says, “Listen—David, I can tell you, he might not have gone to Sheol before his time [that’s what he was praying for in this psalm], but he did go down to death. He did go down to the grave. He’s there now! We have his grave with us. His flesh did experience corruption. We know. You can go check it out if you’d like.” He’s saying, “He’s there. But there is one who did go to the grave and who’s not there anymore, and there is one whose flesh did not experience corruption, but he was raised to newness of life.”

He says in Acts 2:32-35,

“This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”’”

Peter’s just repeating what Jesus had already said about himself. In Psalm 110, when David said, “The Lord said to my Lord,” the Lord there, at the right hand of the Lord Yahweh, is Jesus. He is the one who will sit at the right hand of God. There’s only one who truly sits there.

Here’s where this hits for us. We’re talking about trusting God; we’re talking about the goodness of God. We’re talking about how we walk in the goodness of God and experience it and it changes our lives. How do we know that God actually is with us? How is that not just a truth that’s out there? Maybe it’s in this book, maybe some people say it, but it doesn’t seem like it’s true in our lives right now? How do we know it’s true? How do we know that God actually is for us? How do we know that he won’t forsake us? How do we know that the goodness of God is surely ours to receive and enjoy and that we have a sure foundation for our hope in this?

It’s because Jesus, our forerunner, took the penalty for our sins so that we wouldn’t have to experience it anymore. So God only looks at us with eyes of benevolence and love, the very love that he has for his Son. Jesus did not stay in the grave, but he rose to victory over the grave and over sin, and then he ascended to the right hand of the Father, where he now sits as our sympathetic high priest and as our advocate to the Father. Because his perfect life is what we receive as those who trust in him, his advocacy, his high priestly work on our behalf is sure. We have access to the Father through him, and it will never be taken away. That’s how we know that God’s goodness surely will reign in our lives and that we can trust in him.

Two more things. I want to complete that thought. It’s not just that, as astounding as that is. Listen to these words from Ephesians 2. It’s one of the most mind-blowing things in all of Scripture. It’s one of the most mind-blowing things in all of eternity, that this is what God is doing in our lives. It’s not only that Jesus ascended to the right hand and is a high priest for us, but this:

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that [this is the key] in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

What has God been about for all eternity? Why has he raised us up to be seated with Christ in that place of honor, with Jesus at his right hand? So that he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus for all eternity. Astounding. Do you see the heart of the Father?

(3) The last point is this: God within us. Not only is God before us, not only can we walk with God at our side and that changes everything, but did you see what we just read in Acts 2? This is important. Jesus didn’t just ascend to the right hand of the Father and stay there and do his work there, he did something else while he was there. There’s one more important way he helps us dwell in his presence day by day.

It says this in Acts 2:33: “. . . having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.” He received the Spirit from the Father, and then he poured it out on his people.

The astounding reality is that not only is God before us as our Lord and our aspiration, not only is he beside us as our strength and our ever-present help in times of need, but he is in us. He is in us as our hope and our security. He is there as the comforter of our souls. He is there in us as the one who’s making us new as we walk by the Spirit.

Here’s where I think this hits home for us. Here’s where I want you to use your imagination one more time. I don’t want you to just do it today, I want this to be a daily thing that you’re striving for.

The reality of the Spirit in us, united to our spirits, gives us this ability to start imagining the Spirit of Jesus in us in close proximity to our inner life. This is where all this wrestling happens, right? Our confidence in God, our trust in God, if we really are experiencing the goodness of God—is there a joy, is there a peace—it’s this inner life that we have, and it’s a wrestle, it’s a turmoil. Sometimes we get lost in it.

You can start imagining the Spirit there, who knows your inner life intricately, he sees it, and he’s right there to go help when you need him.

I got this idea from a book that we’re reading as a staff called God and Soul Care. I’ve been using it as a discipline of the mind the last few weeks and have found it very helpful; I hope you do, too.

When those lies start to swirl around in your head, when those negative emotions start to build, when those temptations start to rage in you and your blood starts pumping, when the bodily pain is really acute, when the stress is tightening up your shoulders and it’s making your heart race more and more, when the sadness is just inexorably drawing your eyes to the ground; you can imagine the Spirit being in you, seeing what’s happening, knowing it intricately, knowing it even better than you know what’s happening yourself, and you can ask him to go to work on it.

“Spirit, do you see me tensing up? Do you see how stressed I am? Do you see this? Can you go and just relax those muscles? Can you go and slow that heartbeat?”

Imagine him in there, rewiring those neural pathways. “I’m not going to go down this path; I have a new path. I have a new way of thinking.” You can imagine him siphoning off that stress and replacing it with peace and calm breathing instead. You can imagine him killing that lust as a warrior, as a contender, and then turning the eyes of your heart to Jesus instead.

You can imagine him in there soothing that anger and infusing self-control and patience to you instead. You can see him in there seeing that dark blackness of grief, and you don’t know what it is, you don’t understand it, but he does it. You say, “Oh, can you soothe it? Oh, can you go to work on it?” You can start to imagine him doing so, and as you do you are yielding to the Spirit’s work in your life and you are then giving yourself to walking and dwelling in the presence of God. This experience of goodness, this joy, some of this peace, some of this happiness, will begin to manifest more and more in your life.

It doesn’t mean the situation changes. It doesn’t mean there isn’t still a high hill to climb. It doesn’t mean there aren’t still battles to fight. But boy, it changes everything to know that God is at your side and God’s in there working with you, doesn’t it? Can you imagine that? Can you build in that discipline in your life? I think if we do it will change everything.

We see in this psalm that God is a good Father, that he loves to give us gifts. Just like you love giving your kids gifts at Christmas and it’s fun to watch them open them and get excited, God loves to give you good gifts. But more than that, God delights to give us the greatest gift of all; that’s himself. He gives freely and fully.

As we dwell in his presence and experience his goodness, it really does lead to a deep faith and trust and a new perspective on life that changes everything. That’s what I want to start walking in. That’s what I want us all to start walking in. I think this psalm encourages us in it. Let’s pray.

Lord, we thank you for your kindness to us in Jesus. What confidence would we have to face the trials of life, what strength would we have to deal with the hurt and pain, what character would we have to even make ourselves new and to not go to sin but to achieve holiness and righteousness? We don’t have it in ourselves, but you have given it. You have given to us in your Son, you’ve given it to us by sending your Spirit to unite to our spirits. We thank you, Lord.

Lord, our heart, our desire, is that we would really be a people who know your goodness, that we wouldn’t get caught up in all the good things of this world unduly, but that we would rejoice in them only in so much as it lets us go to you and know a true, deep, sustained good; so that even if those good things are taken away we’re okay, we’re sound, we’re stable.

Lord, would you work this grace into our lives? Would you give us the self-understanding to start to see where we need your Spirit to go to work in our hearts and lives? Would you give us that humility? Would you help us be people who have a heart of thankfulness, who have open hands, who have received your grace and love? We know that you are honored and glorified in it. We know that really is where our hearts and souls are happiest and at peace. That’s our desire, is to experience that, but experience it from your grace in our lives, so that you get all the glory. So we ask for these things in the name of Jesus, amen.