Content and Confident

Delivered December 28, 2003 by Rev. John Schmidt.

Theme: Because of our faith in God we can be content in the present, and confident about the future. But getting there is an internal struggle.

Sermon Text:
Psalm 16

Let’s pray. Lord God, we thank you for this your Word, for this time of worship. And we pray now that the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts together will be pleasing in your sight, our Lord, our Rock, our Redeemer. Amen.

Well, I’ve got to ask. How was Christmas? I am looking at the survivors now. I am amazed at the group that’s in the front that not only had Christmas, but a wedding as well. It’s good to see you. The rush is pretty much over and maybe some of us are enjoying a little bit more of the season now that the rush is over than before when we had all of this rush of activity leading up to it. Savor a few days with family; maybe see a few football games, particularly those of us who are fans of teams that happen to be in the national championship. Yes, LSU. Go LSU.

It’s time too, to reflect on the year, because it’s not only that the Christmas rush is over; the year is just about over too. 2003 is coming to a close and depending on who we are, it’s brought some wonderful surprises and it’s maybe brought some hard ones. If it’s been a good year, there is a sense of being on top of the world. Hey world, look at what we have accomplished. And maybe we are tempted to look forward to even more of the same. The sky is the limit. It’s a great time. Or maybe it’s been a hard year and you are looking back on some depressing things. Problems that didn’t go away or maybe just got worse, or dealing with loss and grief and might even be afraid to look forward because we are cynical about what lies ahead. But neither response, neither the cocky self-confidence of success or the cynical fear that comes with difficulty is right for the Christian. Next year is a blank slate, at least from our perspective, and even though it’s a blank slate, it’s not there for us to fill it with whatever we want, whatever our hearts desire, whatever fulfills our need. It’s not there for that. And yet, it’s not something to fear either, as if because last year was difficult, next year has to be terrible. The One who holds the details of our future is the One that we call Father. Nothing has happened to us. Nothing will happen to us apart from his ultimate control.

King David, thousands of years ago knew this. When we read Psalm 16 and we take a look at words like pleasant and delightful, rest, rejoice,when we take a look at words like this, we are tempted to think that David had it easy. You look at something like this and you think somebody has had it easy all the time. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. But we need to look a little closer at the Psalm. The first thing is that in the top of the Psalm, in most of our versions it says that this is a miktam of David. Now, we haven’t the slightest idea of what that word means. It might have something to do with the literary form or it might have something to do with the musical form, but the thing we do know in looking into scripture is that most of the miktams are in Psalms 56 to 60, and they deal with being in danger at a time that David was running from Saul. And, even though this Psalm is in a different place, it does begin with verse 1 that says, “Keep me safe O God for you I take refuge.” Now it depends a little bit on how you say this as to you know, you could say this “Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge” and it would be sort of like a now I lay me down to sleep sort of thing. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. It could just be something reflexive that David is saying. But then again he could be saying, “Keep me safe O God for in you I take refuge.” In other words, this miktam, like the others, might be at a time that David is in difficulty. In fact, in verse 10 it says, “because you will not abandon me to the grave,” why is David thinking about the grave at this point? What’s going on in his life? We don’t know, but perhaps this like the others is at a time of crisis. So, maybe David is not in an easy a situation, as it seems at first. He might be in a crisis as well.

Whether he is or he isn’t, as he looks back David is content. And as he looks forward, David is confident. We see this particularly in verses 5 and 6. “Lord, you have assigned me my portion in my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” There are images here of portioning out things, assigning my portion and my cup. “you have made my lot secure.” There is a portion assigned by casting out lots. And then in the next verse the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. It reflects a little bit of David’s memory of all the things that have been written about the portioning out of the Land of Israel.

So David is taking things from other parts of scriptures, about the Levitical priesthood and about the history of Israel, and talking about all of these times that things have been portioned out and he is saying, what’s been apportioned out to me is good. In other words, over all of this there is a sense of contentment, a sense of well being, a sense of completeness and its all the more striking because David at this time may have been separated from all his earthy rights by flight and exile. And even if not, it was something that was recent in memory for him because his life is punctuated by deep crisis and in the center of this entire Psalm is verse 5 and I prefer a translation that’s different than the New International version, it’s more like the King James and others where is says, “The Lord is my assigned portion and my cup.” When David says words like this he is referring to the lifestyle of the Levitical priesthood. It comes up in Deuteronomy 18, verses 1 and 2. “They had no portion in the land. They had no sure thing that would come from acres of plantings and harvest. The Levitical priesthood was dependent upon God, upon the offerings that were brought by the rest of Israel for their own livelihood.” And so for the Levitical priesthood in particular, God’s faithfulness was their allotted portion. They had no other portion in the land. And so David reflects this in his own words in this Psalm, that God is his allotted portion. And what it shows us is that security and contentment grow out of relationship for David. It’s not because it has been a good year, because everything has been under control, its not based upon his own success, his leisure, his comfort, his possessions. It’s based on his trust in God.

Verse 2, this comes up again. “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.” That is the center of his sense of contentment and security. Every good thing I have God is a gift from you. And so then he shows that trust in God by accepting his place in the world at that moment. He submits to Gods control and loving wisdom. He submitted to the wisdom of God that led to a series of events that placed them in caves that exiled him into foreign lands and had him scraping by for food off the countryside. Good year or bad, for David his security was that “You are my Lord, apart from you I have no good thing.”

So, whether it’s been a good year or bad year for us, we can learn from David. For a moment we need to take our eyes off of comparison with other people. You know that’s an easy thing to do. If its been a good year, we kind of look around and we think, I am doing pretty well compared to what other people have had to put up with this year, and so you feel good. You know, thank you God that I have had an easy year. That’s a natural thing to do. But, we need to put that aside for a moment. In a difficult year, it’s even harder not to compare ourselves with other people; to look around and be envious that others haven’t had to struggle what we have had to struggle with. But again, we need to put aside this sense of comparison and focus on the truth that ultimately God is our allotted portion. It has to do with relationship. He has been with us in our success and achievement. Every good gift is from Him.

He has also been with us in our failure, our grief, our struggle and our loss and so we need to focus on him again and to submit to the portion that’s been assigned to us;to give thanks for it even. If things are going well, giving thanks like this is going to guard us from pride because we recognize that it’s not all our doing, so much of it is a gift from the hand of God and that leads to a sense of contentment with what we have. Because even when we achieve good things, there is an avaricious hunger that lies there, that can take all of the joy out of the achievement because you are constantly looking at the next mountain that must be climbed, the next issue that must be dealt with. And so, as we give thanks we can be content. And if it’s been a bad year, giving thanks opens us up in a fresh way to the presence and comfort of God and that also can lead to contentment even in difficulty as God himself ministers to us.

Now, David looks forward to the future too in this Psalm. In verse 6 even though he is dealing with the present here, he also deals with the future when he talks about his inheritance. “Surely I have a delightful inheritance. The future is bright.” Verse 7, he expects God’s guidance. In verse 8, he expects Gods protection. And in verse 9, he has expectations, 9 through 11 that even extend beyond the grave, that ultimately David’s hope isn’t even rooted in the things that are going to come to him in this life. He is looking forward to the resurrection of the dead. Now naturally these words proclaim Christ to us, and these are words that most clearly refer to him, but they were words that were true for David, and are true for us too. “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” So, part of David’s hope is a hope that doesn’t even come in this life. And so that means that David’s hope as he looks to the future is God centered. It’s not self centered. It’s not ambition centered. It’s not economy centered. It’s not health centered. It’s not people centered. And this confronts our worldly sort of confidence. Ability. Influence. Money. Drive. All these things are good, but they are insufficient as a foundation for confidence in the future for a number of reasons, and I would like to mention just two. The first is because none of these other things in life are powerful enough to really protect us. The economy changes and jobs disappear and we have seen that happen in the life of this congregation. And sometimes our ability isn’t enough. And maybe what’s worse, sometimes our ability is enough but then it goes unappreciated because of politics and personal grudges in the workplace. Stocks take a dive. Prices rise. People let us down. We get sick. None of these other things are powerful enough for real security and confidence as we face the future.

The second reason that these areas of life are insufficient for real confidence in the future is because even if you have all of those things, health and ambition and friends and money, even if you have those things, it doesn’t mean you will be happy. It doesn’t mean you will be content.

Joe Ehrmann points out that some of the best athletes in the NFL, the highest achieving people, the richest athletes that we see, people who have it all together at least in that area of life live in anxiety because they are constantly trying to prove that they are real men. They never get to enjoy what they have achieved. Movie stars and musicians at the peak of their careers still look for things to fill the void in their lives. We can see that through their drug abuse and through suicide. Every generation has had these people. Marilyn Monroe. Jimmy Hendrix. River Phoenix. Chris Farley. Money, success and fame doesn’t fill the void. There are powerful business leaders that are out there who never enjoy what they have accomplished because they are always focusing in on the next challenge. And that’s because contentment and confidence come more from the inside than from the outside. It’s more about what’s happening in you than what’s happening around you. And David knew this. David knew how to be content and confident. He could make it through great times without fatal pride. And he could make it through some hard times without despairing. Paul knew how to do it too. In Philippians 4, Paul tells us this, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” You see how it’s relational. How’s it something that’s inside? It’s not true only for people who live 2000 years ago or more. It’s something that is still true today.

I have a good friend in Baton Rouge. And he put together a wonderful business at the beginning of all the dot.com’s stuff years’ back. And he is a wise man in the way he handles his finances. And he actually counsels other people about financial management. And near as we can tell he did all of the things right, but when the crash came it affected his business as well. And he got to the point where he was having to drive up the East Coast of the United States to visit personally with an investor who reneged on their commitment to support his business. And it didn’t happen and so the business spiraled down. This despite the fact that he prayed about it and prayed earnestly about it. He prayed with me about it. He prayed with other people about it. And yet, it never affected his life, the core of his life. When things were abounding and he was able to give to the church all he could want to and everything, there was a humility about him because he had this sense that what was happening in his life was a gift from God and that he was merely a steward to handle it and when things went out of control and the business tanked and he had to come before us and say, you know I can’t fulfill my commitments to the church this year he still had joy inside. He still didn’t despair because there was something more in his life than what was going on outside. There was something solid inside in his relationship with God.

So as we finish the Christmas season, as we finish up the year, I have to ask you, how’s it going inside? It may have been a great year and right now you are flying high and next year looks even better and so I want to ask you, how’s it going inside? It may have been a terrible year. One that we definitely want on the do not repeat again ever God list. But how’s it going inside? We might not be doing as well as David at keeping this sort of balance with God and if not, we need to make room to wrestle with God about this. This isn’t the sort of problem that you can say, ah I heard a sermon about it. I am going to go home. God you know, make me content and confident. Amen. It’s not going to happen. I don’t want to disappoint you. This is something that has to be wrestled out. This is an internal battle of faith and if you are going to wrestle this out with God, you need to have some room for that. We had some friends in the past and one of their family traditions was to periodically have a massive pillow fight in the house. It’s not our family tradition. This was another family. But before they did that they would always take all the breakables in the room that they were going to do and put those away and push the couch and chairs back against the wall to make room for this family fiasco. Well, in this same way, we’ve got the make room for this fight and so that means you can’t do it while you are stepping around full commitments and a busy schedule. You need time to pray, to read, to maybe pray some more. Maybe to talk to someone who is a little farther along in this sort of struggle than you are, because we are never going to be able to solve this kind of problem by waiting for the outside to change. You can’t do it by just hoping that next year is going to be better. But you can begin to deal with it even today by working on what’s inside.

Let’s pray. Gracious God, we thank you. We thank you for the truth that you are in control of all things; that you do love us, and that we are secure in that love. And so now we commit our lives afresh to you and pray that we might be able to take steps forward in a faith that honors you, in a faith that can grab on to joy and contentment in the midst of difficulty or at the heights of achievement because our relationship with you is real and intact. And we ask all of these things in the name of Jesus who made it possible. Amen.