child asleep

Psalm 16 – Keep Me Safe!

 March 19, 2024

Over the past month I’ve had many reasons to cry out with the writer of Psalm 16 – keep me safe! Traveling thousands of miles, sideswiped once, unfamiliar territory. and visits to the hospital. All reasons to cry out: Lord, keep me safe.

Safety is a basic need. On Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it comes in second after basic physical needs like food, water, clothing, and shelter. Children need to feel secure, that their basic needs will be taken care of.

What of children in war torn areas or children that are abused? How does this affect their ability to feel safe and secure? How does it affect their ability to believe in a God that protects them? Does Psalm 16 have anything to say to them?

Psalm 16

The psalm begins with the cry to God for safety:

Keep me safe, my God,
for in you I take refuge.”

The writer is no stranger to God as protector. God provides refuge and all good things.

I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
apart from you I have no good thing.”

God makes his lot secure:

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance
.” (5-6)

The writer goes on to praise God. His eyes are always focused on God, praying to him during the night.

 “I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken
.” (7-8)

He concludes with words of confident trust in God who fills him with joy.

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
nor will you let your faithful
 one see decay.
You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

Psalm of Trust

Psalm 16 is a psalm of trust in God. God is in his heaven; all is right with the world. We don’t hear of any struggle that may have proceeded his ability to trust God. Perhaps he had to overcome adversity to arrive at this point, but we don’t see that in the psalm. It is the trust of a child secure in the knowledge of the love of his parents. Walter Brueggemann would term this a psalm of orientation.

It is a beautiful psalm but what of those children mentioned above? What of those whose childhood was not secure, who grew up in abusive situations, or war-torn parts of the world? Are they able to experience this trust in God? Or those of us who have experienced more of life and know that, despite our best efforts, we are not always safe. How do we pray this psalm?

Personal Experience of Trust in God

I have not always had a strong image of God as protector. I’m also aware that, praying for God to keep you safe is no magic formula. Sometimes you can pray with the depths of your being, and bad things still happen. So how do I pray this prayer?

As I look back over my life, I can see times that God has kept me safe. Near misses, things I considered to be bad at the time that proved to be not so bad. Or difficult, challenging circumstances where God protected me from some of the worst of it.

These give me some basis for trust, though not the blanket trust of the sleeping child. It is the trust of someone who recognizes there are no guarantees in this life. That just because you strive to be good and do what is right, doesn’t mean you will escape the pains and sorrows of this life. It is the trust of someone who has wrestled with God, challenged and argued and finally achieved some resolution. It is the trust of someone who has experienced God’s peace and love despite the challenges of life.

As Brueggemann might say, it is the trust of someone who has gone from orientation through disorientation to a new orientation. A more mature, deeper trust in God, one that has been challenged over time and remains. A trust that can keep on believing despite what has happened; a trust based on faith.

Psalm 16 – Keep Me Safe!

A person with this trust, prays Psalm 16 and believes/trusts in God despite what they have seen of this world. They simply pray with no expectations or requirements that God do what they expect. They pray for safety, whatever that may mean. Their God is trustworthy, even if God doesn’t give them what they demand but rather what they need. They aren’t shaken by not getting what they ask for because they trust in God’s love and goodness.

As the psalmist states they trust that God is bringing them into “pleasant places.” Psalm 16 – keep me safe, is for everyone. We all need to feel safe. We all need a mature faith that is based on the hard realities of life.

What has been your experience of God keeping you safe? Have you gone through a period of disorientation in order to rediscover trust in God?

(For another take on this psalm see Psalm 16 – Quiet Trust in God – Patricia M Robertson)

This post is part of a series of blog posts on the Psalms. Sign up to follow this blog and receive a free copy of  Still Dancingthe second book in my Dancing through Life Series.      click here to sign up

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