Psalm 16 begins with a cry for divine help: "Keep me safe, O God, for I have come to you for refuge" (16:1). Yet the bulk of the Psalm does not focus on that from which the psalmist needs refuge, that which threatens to shake him. Rather, Psalm 16 celebrates God's help in difficult times, his presence that keeps us safe and gladdens our hearts.
Verse 8 reads: "I know the LORD is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me." In fact, the Hebrew of this verse affirms God's presence, but suggests that the psalmist has chosen to fix his attention here, rather than on his problems. A more literal translation of the first part of verse 8 would read, "I have set the LORD before me continually." Thus the NRSV translates, "I keep the LORD always before me," while the NIV suggests, "I keep my eyes always on the LORD." The Message puts it this way: "Day and night I'll stick with God." So, though the fact that God is always with the psalm writer provides a foundation for verse 8, the language of the verse indicates that he has chosen to pay close attention to this truth.
From Jesus, we have received the promise of his continual presence: "And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matt. 28:20). So there is never a question of whether the Lord is with us or not. But there is a question about whether we fix our attention on this wonderful reality or not. How easy it is for us to live as if God is distant. How easily we focus our minds on our problems and challenges, forgetting to keep the Lord before our eyes.
When we choose to live in light of the truth of God's persistent presence, then we will be reassured. Like the psalmist, we will "not be shaken" by the inevitable disappointments and detours of life. We will stand firm in the midst of opposition and suffering. We will find the strength to press on in service to God as we live for his kingdom in this world.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How aware are you of God's presence today? Have you chosen to set the Lord before you continually? Will you remember him when life gets hard? What helps you to know that God is right beside you?
PRAYER: O Lord, as I read Psalm 16, I find myself wishing that I could set you before me more faithfully. It is so easy for me to focus my attention on all sorts of other things. When life isn't going as I wish, I can become preoccupied with my frustrations and fears. How different it would be if I chose to fix my attention on you?
When I do this, I don't neglect other things. I don't forget about my work or stop caring about those around me. In fact, the more I keep you in focus, the more I am empowered to work faithfully and to love generously. Knowing that you are with me gives me confidence to live boldly for you and your kingdom.
Thank you, dear Lord, for being with me always. And thank you for helping me to attend to your presence. Amen.