You’ve probably been there. Lying in bed, unable to fall asleep, thinking, thinking, thinking about a situation, which has grown substantially (in your brain) since you crawled into bed. You try to pray about it, but your mind makes its way back to worrying or fretting or fuming. Something about the darkness can make the small problems of the light seem indomitable. I know that in these moments, I should “counsel my own heart.” I need to sit my crazy brain in a chair and give it a good talkin’ to, reminding myself of truth rather than stewing in lies. Many psalms demonstrate this very technique in action. Today, consider Psalm 16, which shows us both how to counsel our own hearts and what happens when we do.
David begins his psalm with a simple request. “Preserve me, O God, for I take refuge in You.” Though we don’t know David’s circumstances as he penned this song, it doesn’t require much imagination to come up with some possible scenarios. Perhaps while on the run from Saul, he found himself sleeping under the stars, wondering whether he would survive the night. Or in his later years while evading his murderous son Absalom. Or as a warrior-king thinking of an upcoming battle against one of Israel’s enemies. Regardless, we know David had cause many times to cry out to God for deliverance. This request is the only request in the entire psalm, while the rest gives an inside look at how God answers this prayer through David’s counseling his own heart with truth.
First, David tells us that he has submitted to Yahweh, the self-existent, covenant God of Israel. In verse 2, he says, “I said to the LORD, You are my Lord.” The first LORD in this verse is Yahweh, or Jehovah, the name God gave to Moses at the burning bush: I AM THAT I AM. David remembers the covenant God has made with Israel, and perhaps (depending on the time of writing), the covenant that God has made with him specifically (see 2 Sam. 7). He also acknowledges that his God is not dependent on anyone or anything. He doesn’t wait for the wind to change or for a season to end or for a virus to run its course. David recognizes God’s absolute sovereignty—in his circumstances and in the world.
The second Lord is “Adonai,” which means “Lord,” or “Master.” In using this name for God, David acknowledges his position before God. He’s a servant and in no position to question, usurp, or dictate to his Master. Though he’s cried out to God for deliverance, he accepts God’s sovereignty and providence in his circumstances.
Next we see that David’s hope rests in his God.
I have no good besides You
The LORD is the portion of my inheritance and my cup;
You support my lot.
The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;
Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me. (vv. 2b, 5-6)
David does not place his confidence in his armies, his victories, his musical abilities, his leadership skills, or good looks. He hopes in God alone. I don’t know about you, but I find the end of verse 2 daunting. “I have no good besides You” sounds pious, but if I’m honest, it doesn’t sound very much like reality. I tend to have lots of “good” besides God. Theologically I know that all that I consider good comes from God; yet, in my mind, many good gifts in my life are not so much gifts as rewards for my awesomeness. I convince myself that in some way I deserve what I have. A much truer statement for how I often think would be “I have no good besides myself.”
David goes on to call God the portion of his inheritance and his cup. To put it another way, God is his everything. In the past several months I’ve experienced some pruning and some stripping back of luxuries I often take for granted, yet I’m still not quite at the place where I can call God my cup and my inheritance. What about you?
Thankfully, I doubt that David did this perfectly either. Remember, we’re looking at how he counsels his own heart. He’s speaking truth to himself, reminding that voice in his head of what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8). And he’s giving us a script that we can follow when we find ourselves in his shoes.
The Script Flips
Our psalm has been clipping along, David rehearsing truth to himself; but in verse 7, the script flips:
“I will bless the LORD who has counseled me.
Indeed my mind instructs me in the night.”
Wait. What? Who’s doing the counseling here? God? Or David? According to this verse, it’s both. Yes, David is counseling himself, meditating on what he knows to be true. However, at the same time God is counseling and comforting his heart. He continues by rejoicing in God’s nearness, telling us that setting our hearts and our minds on our heavenly Father will quiet our trembling hearts.
“I have set the LORD continually before me;
Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken” (v. 8).
Verse 9 holds another surprise. David has moved from crying out for deliverance and instructing his own heart to joy, glory, and, most surprising of all, security.
“Therefore, my heart is glad and my glory rejoices;
My flesh will also dwell in security.”
David’s circumstances that caused him to cry out to God for salvation have not changed. He finds himself in just as much peril as before. However, his mindset and heart have done a 180. No longer scared and anxious, now he is confident and secure. But this confidence is more than posturing and bravado. Verse 10 tells us exactly why he can make such audacious claims:
“For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol;
Nor will You allow your Holy One to undergo decay.
David grasps in the Old Testament what Jesus teaches during His earthly ministry: “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt. 10:28). David’s security rests in the assurance he has in Yahweh. But that’s not all this verse has for us.
Verse 10 is quoted in Acts 13:35 in reference to Jesus, demonstrating that it is a prophecy fulfilled in Christ’s resurrection. Here we find the blessed assurance to calm our shaking souls:
Because God did not leave Christ’s body in the grave to decay and decompose but raised Him, victorious over death, my flesh can dwell in security no matter what.
David finishes his psalm of self-counseling with another hint that God has counseled him.
“You will make known to me the path of life;
In your presence is fullness of joy;
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.”
This psalm ends on a very different note than it began. Because David has chosen to meditate on truth rather than feeling or circumstances, his thoughts have transitioned from fear to the fullness of joy. So, counsel your heart as you lie in bed, and God will make known the path of life.