The Simple Promises of God
Whenever I’m leading the first few meetings of a small group or discussion group, I like to say, “You all can talk or I can talk. I prefer that you talk but I have no problem filling space with words, after all, I’m a pastor.” We all laugh and after a few people take me up on my challenge, the discussion typically is off and running with little input from this loquacious pastor.
But there is a dark side to my little comedy routine. More words don’t always equate to better communication. Often, more words simply cheapen the subject. Sure, if you’re dealing with a complex subject you are going to have to provide enough description to lay out the point. But in our most important moments, the fewer words often mark the more profound truths. It is the “I do” of a wedding vow. It is the quiet conversation between a married couple on a front porch, enjoying the communicative silence that 3 decades of anniversaries affords. It is the “I love you,” of a new mom cradling her infant for the first time. It is the “I’m so very proud of you,” of a dad to his child on graduation day. It is everyone sharing a little in a small group rather than the leader droning on.
That truth is instinctual to our human nature. We don’t have to learn it. It comes from our good God who is fond of bestowing communicable attributes to his people, ways that we reflect some of who he is as we are created in his image.
A Simple Offer
Psalm 16:11 is one such example of this. It is simple and yet deeply profound. It reads:
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Consider for a moment the triplet synonyms in this verse.
1) The Path of Life
2) Fullness of Joy
3) Pleasures forevermore
In this simple poetic verse, the psalmist lays out a triumvirate of happiness, a trinity of desires, all of them finding fulfillment in the Lord. How many words are spilled across the shelves in your local bookstore on these topics—life, joy, pleasure? How many men and women have lived and died while in between compiling ideologies for attaining just one of the noble ends presented in our psalm?
And here is our list, presented with simplicity, a mere three breaths of spoken verse. It drives deeper than a wedding vow, a romantic moment, or the glance of a new mom. It strikes to the core of our shared human emptiness, a gulf longing to be filled. Humanity’s deepest cravings quietly wait behind verse 11 of Psalm 16. Don’t mistake brevity for unimportance especially when it comes to the Word of God. There are few places in the Bible in which God makes a more bold promise than what is done here in beautiful brevity.
A Simple Dodge
Our own response to Psalm 16:11 should be just as simple as the verse itself. It should result in our saying to God, “Yes, please!”
And yet, how many of us can read through Psalm 16 and not pause at it’s culmination? The jump into Psalm 17 is so easy, just a line, a short space of type set. After all, big promises have to come with a ton of words, or so we think. But not always, as we’ve already seen. A simple scent of honeysuckle on the wind can communicate the fullness of a lush forest in a passing breeze. How many of God’s precious promises are hidden in plain sight and yet inaccessible to the harried and hurried?
So what is it about our lives that demand wordiness and significance must go together? Why can’t we rest in the truth of a simple inerrant promise? Is it the hurry of a fast-food culture? Is it the silence macerating hum of a push notification? Why can’t we rest and receive? Is there anyone who has ever been able to enjoy such repose?
A Savior for the Simple
There is one person. And he is the one who is speaking through this Psalm--and through the entire Old Testament. Yes, the psalm was written by David and experienced by David but his ability to relish the promises of God was a derivative ability. There was another to whom he pointed, another in whom he stood.
As John Owen states about Psalm 16:9-11, “These are the words of the Son unto the Father.” These words, these three blissful realities of divine blessing, find their fulfillment in Jesus’s experience of loving communion with his Father. Peter, in his Pentecost sermon, quotes Psalm 16 just to this end (Acts 2:28), to show that Jesus’s resurrection and ascension to his Father’s blessed right hand is the fulfillment of this Old Testament prophecy.
If we are to know the path of life, fullness of joy, and pleasures forevermore, we must first look outside of ourselves to Jesus’s own relationship with his Father.
But we are not left to simply glance into the throne room of heaven like beggarly children window shopping at the bakery.
Because of our union to Christ we are now in possession of the Holy Spirit, are being conformed into the image of the Faithful Son, and so therefore know, in part, these three blessings of Fatherly approval detailed Psalm 16:11. They are whispered promises upon the page not only from the Father to the Son but from the Father to all those who are found in the Son by faith (WLC 54, 90).
So the question for you becomes, “How could you slow down today and consider the beautiful brevity of God’s gospel promises?” Take time in your car ride home, in the early hours of morning, or at the close of the day to reflect on what God has accomplished for you in Jesus Christ. There is no minimum page limit on Bible reading that yields the sweet promises of God. Meditate on the simple promises of God in Christ that are scattered all through the Scriptures. For instance, in addition to the simple promise of Psalm 16:11, you can meditate on the following simple promises:
I will never leave you nor forsake you (Deut. 31:6; Heb. 13:5).
Lo, I am with you even til the end of the age (Matt 28:20).
I will forgive your sins and your lawless deeds I will remember no more (Jer. 31:34; Heb. 8:12; 10:17).
I have blotted out like a thick cloud your sins (Isaiah 44:22).
But, be assured that you can take up a single verse like Psalm 16:11, find Christ in it, and so find exactly what your heart ultimately longs for—the life, joy, and pleasure that only comes from knowing that you are the beloved of God in Christ, forgiven, favored, and blessed.
Joel R. Beeke and James A. LaBelle Living By God's Promises (Reformation Heritage, 2010)
Joseph Alleine The Precious Promises of the Gospel (Soli Deo Gloria)