‘I Shall Not Be Shaken’
How God Removes Our Greatest Fears
Article by David Mathis, Executive Editor, desiringGod.org
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)
Real confidence is in rare supply. Playing it cool is one thing. It’s easy to straighten your shoulders, arch your back, stick out your chest, and talk tough. But genuine emotional confidence and security of soul is hard to find.
And it should not surprise us. After all, we are sinners, surrounded by other sinners, in a fallen and fragile world. How can any of us truly experience the deep peace and joy of authentic confidence in a world awash with facades of security?
In Psalm 16, we walk with King David the short but significant path from fear to confidence, from instability to security, from anxiety to authentic, lasting joy. He begins, in distress, with the plea, “Preserve me, O God” (Psalm 16:1). Then, amazingly, by verse 8, he declares with confidence, “I shall not be shaken.”
How does such a change of heart happen? Theology. Rehearsing who God is for us can transform everything. Far from detached thought-experiments and philosophical speculations, what we believe about God can be life and death for us today. It will make all the difference if we, like David, know God to be our reliable Savior, our sovereign Lord, and our greatest Treasure.
First, God saves us from harm by being both our safest refuge and our trusted counselor. “In you I take refuge” (Psalm 16:1). There is no safer place to hide than in the arms of the omnipotent God. “I bless the Lord who gives me counsel” (Psalm 16:7). Not only does he protect from without, but he provides wisdom from within through the leading of his Spirit.
God is able to save us from the fears that threaten us, not only by intervening to guard us from harm’s way, but also by guiding us out of trouble. Knowing God as our Savior — both as refuge and counselor — inspires confidence that, come what may, we have a resource beyond compare. But he is not only our utterly reliable Savior. He is also our sovereign Lord.
David says in verse 5, “You hold my lot.” Whether we are drawing straws, rolling the dice, or simply seeking our next breath, whatever happens to us is from God. He rules over our lives, not just in the big picture, but in all the little details.
At first, it may not seem comforting to discover he is in control — when your life is difficult, for instance. But if we know ourselves to be God’s, and God to be ours, then such knowledge is remarkably stabilizing. It doesn’t mean that we will not walk through measures of pain or defeat, but it does mean that we are assured a final victory. It doesn’t mean we take every battle, but it does mean that we will most certainly win the war.
God is not only our reliable Savior and sovereign Lord, though; he is also our supreme Treasure. Side by side with David’s declaration in verse 5, “You hold my lot,” is his statement “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup.” And then, immediately after, he says, “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance” (Psalm 16:6). Rejoicing in the sovereignty of God leads into embracing him as the greatest Treasure.
In verse 2, David says, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” God is the ultimate good. He is the fountain of the river of all delight. All other goods are truly good only when they are in him. Apart from him, all other good things will prove empty in the end.
But doesn’t the next verse threaten David’s deep delight in God? “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight” (Psalm 16:3). How can all his delight be in other people, and God still be his greatest treasure?
Note that David does not say that he delights in God’s people rather than in God, but that people who reject his God give him no pleasure. Godless people, living in godless ways, do not meet with his approval and admiration. He is too captivated by God not to see the folly in godless living. Because he enjoys God as his supreme treasure, he also takes delight in those who treasure God as supreme as well. His love for God spills over in love for those who love God. His love for those who love God doesn’t compete with his love for God; rather, it complements it. Such delight in others is an extension and expression of his supreme delight in God.
Truly Solid Joy
Finally, David closes his song of growing assurance with the high note. Having begun with the plea for God to preserve him, he finishes in confidence and hope. He has moved from anxiety to awe, from pleading to praising, from bemoaning his troubles to basking in the glory of God.
My heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:9–11)
As firm as David’s confidence is, ours can be even more solid today. Jesus took on our flesh, lived without blemish, bore our curse on the cross, and God did not abandon his soul to Sheol, the place of the dead. His flesh did not see corruption because God raised him to complete his conquest of the Serpent and rip the doors off the hinges from the inside. In Jesus’s victory over the grave, we are freed from the greatest fear. “Through death he [destroyed] the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver[ed] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14–15).
And now, seated at his Father’s right hand, he is the final destination on the path of life. He is our fullness of joy. In him are pleasures evermore.
David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor for desiringGod.org and pastor at Cities Church in Minneapolis/St. Paul. He is a husband, father of four, and author of Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines.