Posted by: stpowen | December 7, 2014

Setting the Lord Always Before Us

James 4:8a. ‘Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.’
Psalm 16:8. ‘I have set the LORD always before me. Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.’
From a sermon first preached at North Curry Baptist Church, Somerset.

Please read Psalm 16.

We are looking this evening at Psalm 16. We observe at once that it is a psalm of David. It is described as a michtam, or ‘Golden Psalm.’ It is also one of the Messianic psalms; it was quoted by the Apostle Peter in his great sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:25-28), and he linked it to the Lord Jesus Christ.

David was a man who led a very tempestuous life. Much of his youth was spent fleeing from the murderous intentions of King Saul. As a king, he experienced almost constant wars. One of his sons died in infancy; one was murdered, and one rebelled against him. Many of his friends betrayed him at various times. He wasa a man who fell into great sin, but who was also known as a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14). Through all his sins and failures, through all the disasters and calamities which came upon him, he was able to keep going forward with his God. Here, in these verses, he is able to look back on his life and say, “the boundary lines have fallen to me in pleasant places.” “Yes,” He says, “Life has been good to me!”

I wonder if everybody here tonight can say that. I have come to know some of you a little in my visits here, but I don’t know much about anyone’s history. But I expect that many of you have known what it is to be bereaved; maybe some of you know what it is to be betrayed by someone you love, and I’m sure all of us know what it is to be ill and what it is to fall into temptation and sin of one sort or another. I wonder if such experiences have left you bitter or cynical. Or can you say like David, as you look back upon your life, whatever sorrows or trials you may have had, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; yes, I have a delightful inheritance’? That was what David could say and in this Psalm he tells us how he was able to be, and how we can be, as it were, ‘More than conquerors through Him who loved us’ (Rom. 8:37).

I shall not be looking at the whole of the Psalm in an expository way this evening. I want to concentrate on verse 8. ‘I have set the LORD always before me. Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved (or ‘shaken’)’. We have seen that David’s life was very tempestuous; it was also very uncertain. One moment he was a favourite in Saul’s court, the next he was hiding in a cave in the desert. Then he was himself reigning as king in Jerusalem; then suddenly, he was fleeing for his life from his own son, Absolom. Yet despite this uncertainly, he could still say of God, ‘Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.’ Nothing finally could get this man down because God was with him. He knew his God and kept him close, and therefore could say with Paul, ‘We arre hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair’ persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed’ (2 Cor. 4:8-9). Paul and David shared the same secret- they set the Lord always before them; this was their guiding principle.

There are those who make a Christian profession of faith, but who fail to do this; they just place their religion in one little corner of their lives, and then get on with what they perceive to be the serious matters of life- making money and acquiring luxury and pleasures- but then, suddenly, some disaster strikes- bankruptcy, sickness, marital breakdown- and they find that they have nothing. Their pleasures have gone and their faith nproves to be just a sham (cf. Matt. 7:26-270). Some people treat God as though He were the Lucky Pixie, a sort of good-luck charm or talisman, to ward off bad luck. God is not there simply to ward off troubles, but rather to lead us safely through them. David said, ‘Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.’ In other words, it was the setting of the Lord always before him that led to David not being moved or shaken. The converse is also true. ‘Now in my prosperity I said, “I shall never be moved………You hid Your face and I was troubled’ (Psalm 30:6-7).

So what does it mean to set the Lord before you? It seems rather sacrilegious to talk of manipulating God or setting Him in some way. I think David had in mind the pagans who lived around Israel who would set up an idol on a plinth in front of them in order to worship it. We might think of some Romasn catholics who will set up a crucifix or a statue of Mary in front of them and worship that (in defiance, of course, of the Second Commandment- Exod. 20:4-5).Daid says, “I’m not going to do any of that; I am going to set the true and only living God- Jehovah, the LORD- before me.” But God is Spirit, so how do we do it?

Well, we can find our clue in the New Testament, in Col. 3:2. ‘Set your minds on things above, not on things on the earth.’ It is in our minds and in our heats that we must set God before us {1}. It is a question of action and determination. Dr. Lloyd-Jones likened it to the setting our an alarm clock. If you want to get up at a certain time in the morning, you need to set your clock. You might say, “I need to be up at 6 o’clock tomorrow morning so I’m going to set my clock for that time.” So, in the same way, we might say, “I must have communion with the Lord; I can’t do without it so I’m going to set Him before me in my mind.

We all seem to be so desperately busy these days, whether with work or with social commitments, and when we have finished what we’ve been doing there is this tendency to collapse in front of the television and before we know it, it’s time for bed and another day has gone by without us setting the Lord before us. Do we not all find this? The days whip past us and we never do half of the things that we meant to do, but this man David says, “Whatever else I have done or not done, I have spent time with God. I have set Him always before me.” You might suppose that if ever there was a person who could do without such a time, it would be the Lord Jesus Christ. But no! In Mark 6:46 we see Him sending His disciples on without Him so that He could spend time alone with His heavenly Father in prayer. We might feel that on especially busy days it is permissible to miss out one’s ‘quiet time,’ but actually the reverse is true. The famous Martin Luther is said to have remarked to his colleague Melancthon, “I have a particularly busy day before me tomorrow, so I shall need to spend an extra hour in prayer.”

There are two sides to the Christian life. Before someone is converted he can do nothing; he is dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). God must take the initiative with what theologians call, “Prevenient Grace.” But when that person has been born anew, when he has become a Christian, he must, as the Scriptures tell us, ‘set [his] affections on things above’ The writer to the Hebrews informs us (Heb. 11:6) that anyone who comes to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him diligently. That is at least a part of what it means to set the Lord before us.

So how do we go about setting the Lord before us? Well, I have nothing new or startling to say about this. The Scriptures tell us, ‘Draw near to God and He will draw near to you’ (James 4:8a) Therefore we set Him before us by bringing Him constantly into our consciousness. We do that by speaking to Him, which we do in prayer, and by Him speaking to us, which He does through His word. We need to read our Bibles every day; not just a few favourite passages, but from Genesis to Revelation, so that we can understand God’s gracious purposes from eternity past to eternity future, and see running through the Scriptures the golden thread of God’s covenant love for sinners. There is nothing so wonderful as understanding that God knew you and me before the very foundation of the world, set His love upon us in all our sinfulness and unbelief (Rom. 5:8) and determined to bring us to Himself holy and without blemish. To achieve that took the Lord Jesus by the way of the cross, so that all my sins and yours could be placed upon His sinless shoulders, and all His perfect goodness, righteousness and obedience credited to us.

Is that not the most wonderful thing that you could ever know? If you are a Christian you are the purchased possession of God- loved from eternity by the Father (Jer. 31:3), purchased by the blood and suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ and sealed ‘til the day of redemption by the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13-14). No wonder David said, ‘Because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.’ We belong to God! What can shake us? Read how he continues in verses 9-10.

‘Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices; my flesh also will rest in hope. For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see [or ‘undergo’] <strongcorruption.’

We look back to the cross and resurrection of Christ, but here David looks forward (cf. Acts 2:27). God raised the Lord Jesus, the First-fruits from the dead (1 Cor. 15:20, 23); therefore He will also raise us up at the Last Day. Whatever trails, whatever sorrows or hardships you may face today, you are going to live with God forever.

I expect you all know this in your heads, but it is as you set the Lord before you that these truths become a living reality (Rom. 8:16), and as Peter says, you can rejoice with ‘Joy inexpressible and full of glory.’</strong Do you know anything about that? Well, set the Lord always before you and He will give that joy to you, and you will say with David, “You are my Lord, my goodness is nothing aprt from You” (v.2). He continues, “As for the saints who are on the earth, they are the excellent ones in whom is all my delight.” In setting the Lord before you, it is essential to join with others for mutual encouragement; church fellowship is most important (Heb. 10:24-25). Spiritual (not physical) separation from the world is also important (v.4).

One last point. How often should I set the Lord before me? The answer is, always, constantly. We are told these days to have a quiet time, and that’s fine, but it’s no good setting God before you for 10 minutes a day and then forgetting Him the rest of the time. Have your quiet time and then be thinking about what you’ve read and the prayers you’ve made during the rest of the day. At a conference recently, I heard Joel Beeke relate a lovely story that illustrates all this. In the 18th Century a Scottish Presbytery was meeting and the presbyters were discussing the meaning of 1 Thes. 5:17, ‘Pray without ceasing.’ There was no agreement among them and eventually, in despair, one man turned to the young girl who had been waiting on them and asked her, “Do you have any idea what the verse means?” “Yes, sir,” she replied, “I think I do. When I rose at dawn this morning, I prayed that the Sun of righteousness would rise upon me. As I had my breakfast I prayed that God would also feed me with His word today, and as I swept this room, ready for your meeting, I asked God that the Holy Spirit would cleanse and purify my heart. And so I pray my way through the day.” That is what it means to pray without ceasing, and also how we are to set the Lord always before us. Send little prayers of praise and thanksgiving up to God throughout the day and last thing at night (v.7); talk to Him about the problems and challenges you are facing and you will find that instead of being a theoretical concept, God will become as real and personal as He was to David, and you will be able to say with the Psalmist, ‘The LORD God is a sun and a shield; the LORD will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly’ (Psalm 84:11), and with Paul, ‘If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all. How shall He not with Him also freely give us all things’ (Rom. 8:31-2).

If we want to see the blessings of God in our lives, let us put Him at the very centre- let us set Him before us at all times.

Notes

{1} The NRSV translation of this verse – ‘Keep your minds on things above……’- is much less good. We need to be proactive.

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