Keeping Close to God

September 19, 2023  - By Jared C. Wilson

Keeping Close to God - an article from Well-Watered Women - quote

The Fullness of Joy Series celebrates the launch of the new Give Me Jesus Journal and the Fullness of Joy Collection. Each article in this series is a devotional on a passage from Psalm 16. Read the other articles in the series here:

 

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.
Psalm 16:7–8

 

Fullness of Joy: Keeping Close to God

I have not been through nearly as many trials as David. I’ve never had to run for my life from anyone. I’ve never felt like I had nowhere on earth to find safe harbor. And yet, I still find ways to see the world around me through a lens of disappointment. 

My wife Becky and I were talking recently about several publishing projects I’d undertaken. I was being my typical cynical self, complaining about this and that related to the nitty gritty of publishing. Becky stopped me in her gentle but very direct way and said, “You know, you sound really entitled right now.” The faithful rebuke stopped me in my tracks. Of course, I demurred and deflected, but I knew she was right. Instead of being thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given—it has been my dream since childhood to be published!—I was focusing on the things that bugged me. I was losing perspective, not just on the specific writing projects but more broadly on God’s goodness, which is always grounds for rejoicing.

Keeping Our Eyes on God

In Psalm 16, David marvels at the goodness of God despite the difficulties he has faced in service of him. While there are plenty of psalms of lament, in this song he focuses on the blessings of grace God has given him. He is choosing to rejoice, to see his world through redemption-colored glasses. In verses 7–8 in particular, he credits God with the wisdom and the direction he needs to navigate life. “All things considered,” David appears to be saying, “God has been exceedingly good to me, and following him closely is how I plan to live with as few regrets as possible.”

If you find yourself constantly riding some undulating waves of disappointment and unmet expectations, take care that you’ve not made the mistake of thinking life is all about you. In these verses, David turns whatever he is going through in life into the grounds of a Godward blessing. He worships. He rejoices. “I bless the LORD,” he says (v. 7).

But how do we develop that impulse? How do we nurture that instinct to worship, especially when the ways the lines have fallen in our lives (16:6) tempt us to “be shaken” (v. 8)?

Keeping Near in the Darkness

What does David mean in verse 7 when he says, “In the night also my heart instructs me”? Is he suggesting that in addition to God’s counsel, he also follows his heart? I don’t think so. After all, Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that “the heart is deceitful above all things.” David has followed his heart before, and it didn’t lead anywhere worth going. No, David is referring to the experienced closeness of God in times of darkness and obscurity. He carries God’s counsel with him, hiding God’s Word in his heart (Ps. 119:11) so that when he especially feels the invisibility of God, he can still hear God’s voice.

It's reassuring, isn’t it, when you feel alone or in the dark, to be reminded of the nearness of God? Despite all visible evidence, God is closer to the believer than their own skin. By keeping his counsel inside of us—where some translators render the word in verse 7 “heart,” an alternate reading is “kidneys”!—we can maintain felt closeness with God at all times.

Sometimes, in the middle of the night, when it’s as dark as it’s going to get, Becky reaches across the space between us in our big king-size bed and I feel her hand rest on my back or lightly grasp my arm. Sometimes I do the same to her. We are half asleep, but in the night, in the darkness, when we can’t quite see each other, we are reassured by reaching out and knowing the other is there with us. This gets a bit at David’s meaning in verse 8. He couldn’t see the invisible God any more than we can today, and yet he “set the LORD always before [him].” He keeps the LORD “at [his] right hand.”

Keeping Our Eyes on Christ

Like a blind man grasping the arm of his sighted guide, believers in God trust his leading despite their inability to see what he sees and know what he knows. This is an important part of what it means to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). Instead of trusting in all that we can see, we keep our spiritual vision of the God who lives ever before us. He who is in us is greater than whatever is in the world (1 John 4:4). So when our sight fails us—whether in the darkness of night or just the darkness of spiritually confusing or circumstantially difficult times—we keep God close, in our heart and at our hand, and we know we will not just get by, but prevail.

This metaphor of darkness in verses 7–8 is contrasted by verse 10: "For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption." This seems to point to the resurrection of Christ, and beyond that, to our own future resurrection because of Christ. The apostle Peter quotes from this passage in his sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:25–28), further establishing that David is prophesying of the Messiah he has yet to see. He can’t see the Christ—not yet—but he still keeps the promise of him and hope in him close. This practice is a good word of counsel for us, as well.

Keeping God Close

Do you tend to see the world through the lens of your disappointments and struggles rather than the joy and promises of God? Do you struggle with a complaining heart or a cynical spirit? David’s remedy for discouragement and dejection was to focus on the goodness of God and the setting of the LORD before himself.

What can you do to practice keeping God close? Maybe it means keeping God’s Word physically nearby at all times. Maybe it means dedicating some time each day to memorizing Scripture so that his counsel will be in your heart too, even at night. Whatever practice you adopt, you can know that Jesus is always near to you, even if you feel distant from him, because his Spirit resides inside of you, and he has promised that he will never leave or forsake you. He will always be with us, even to the very end.

Keeping Close to God - an article from Well-Watered Women

Meet the Author

Jared C. Wilson is a pastor and the director of the Pastoral Training Center at Liberty Baptist Church in Liberty, Missouri, as well as an assistant professor of pastoral ministry and the author in residence at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. He is the author of over twenty books, including The Imperfect Disciple, Love Me Anyway, and Friendship with the Friend of Sinners. Jared and Becky have been married for 27 years, and they have two college-age daughters.

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