So many of the ways God is sovereignly directing our lives are intangible, or they are simply imperceivable to us. But that’s not always the case. There’s one way God sovereignly directs our lives that is very tangible and concrete, as John Piper explained in his recent sermon on Psalm 16 titled, “The Path to Full and Lasting Pleasure.” Here’s what Piper said on Psalm 16:7:
He is our treasure and now we are going to see that he is our counselor.
He goes one step further in exulting in what God is for him (verse 7). God is not only refuge, treasure, sovereign, but now he is counselor. “I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.” Now that is not a small add-on. And the reason I say that is not a small or insignificant add-on to refuge, sovereign, and treasure is because trusting God as your counselor affects how you experience God as your refuge and as your treasure and as your sovereign.
Let me just illustrate what I mean by that. God is a refuge in part by the way he counsels us. God’s being a refuge for you is not automatic. It is not mechanical. It is not like you pay zero attention to his word and his counsel and you simply find yourself safe. It doesn’t work like that. If you find yourself in danger — danger of harm, danger of a sin, danger of some absolutely foolish way of life — and God comes to you with his counsel, he is telling you how to find refuge. Don’t go there. Don’t do that. So his counsel is the means of his becoming refuge for you. This is dynamic. This is interactive. God’s words are his counsels to us and his word is the path of life, not death — the path of safety, not destruction. Therefore, he is becoming a refuge for us all the time as he speaks to us.
Or treasure. How does his being a treasure for us relate to his being a counselor for us? You don’t only treasure God because of his character: He is righteous and just and true and gracious and loving and wise. You also treasure him because of his teachings, his words. Remember the soldiers who came back and the Pharisees said them, “Why didn’t you bring Jesus?” And the soldiers said, “Nobody speaks like this man” (John 7:45–46). The disciples were constantly dropping their jaws at the kinds of things he said. His counsels were stunningly satisfying and beautiful. So he is our treasure not only in the way he is, but the way he talks to us.
And so being our counselor intersects with his being our treasure. And the same thing is true about his sovereignty. God is sovereign over you sometimes in spite of you. He just cuts you off at some stupid direction you are going and you didn’t approve of it at all and he rescues you. Other times he exercises his authority and sovereignty through his counsel to you. God uses means as well as acting sovereignly apart from means.
So the first seven verses are first: “Preserve me, O God. Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. Preserve me, O God.” And then four declarations and exultations: “You are my refuge, my safe place. You are my sovereign, my lord. You hold my lot, and you are my treasure supreme. I have no good apart from you. And you are my counselor.”
Now what in the flow of that worship happens to his petition when you get to verse 8? “I have set the Lord always before me [that is what he has been doing]; because he is at my right hand [this refuge, this sovereign, this treasure, this counselor], I shall not be shaken.” That is not a request anymore. That is an affirmation.
So the way I understand verses 1–8 is that what begins as an aching longing — preserve me, O God — ends with, I will not be shaken. I will be preserved. I will be kept. He will not let me be lost. And the pathway from the petition — aching and longing — to the assertion and the affirmation and the confidence is heralding and exulting in what God is for us.
And I would simply commend to you that way of praying, because almost all my beginnings in prayer begin the way his does. I seldom begin a worship service or a time of prayer in solitude red hot for God, totally confident. “This is going to go well. This day he is in charge. It is going to go right. He will give me his guidance.” My prayers don’t begin that way. They begin: Help! Which is the way he began, right? Preserve me, O God.
And then what do you do? Do you stop and wait for confidence to happen? No. You do what he did. You do what he did. You can do it alone, you can do it in a small group, you can do it as you sing. You declare what he is for you and you exult in what he is for you. And after you do that through safe refuge and highest treasure and sovereign Lord and trusted counselor, confidence is rising. And that is the way this psalm flows, it seems to me.