I read an article the other day about how the seven deadly sins are evidenced during a pandemic. I’m not sure how these infamous vices are playing out for you, but pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth do have a way of gaining marketshare during times like these. Once you transition from the shock of sheltering in place to settling in for a while, don’t be surprised if you’re tempted to self-medicate through the uncertainty with one of the seven, a few, or D) All of the above.
When fear is heightened and anxiety is high, our prayers tend to focus on the temporal and rightly so. We’ve all prayed for our loved ones’ safety, for economic stability, for protection, and so on. But I’d like to add something to our collective prayer lists, preservation. I think protection is a given when praying for preservation, but preservation also carries with it the idea of not only being kept from something, but also being kept in, as well.
In Psalm 16, David writes:
Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”
As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones,
in whom is all my delight.
The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names on my lips.
The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
Therefore 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.
When safety needs are in primary, it’s easy forget there is always another threat, another enemy lurking below the surface. As time in confinement has shown many of us, physical illness and economic pressures are not the only adversaries we encounter in times of crisis. In 1 Peter 2: 11, Peter reminds first century Christians (who were in a much more oppressive exile than sheltering in place) that not only were they to be wary of oppression from without, they were to be aware of those challenges from within that “war against their souls.”
In other words, don’t forget the spiritual component of your life. As you pray for God’s protection from without, include requests for His protection of your heart, that He would keep you. Since external hazards carry immediate threats and create a sense urgency, you may mistakenly believe that it’s okay to let down the guard of your soul.
David’s prayer is instructive. Rather than asking God solely for protection or for help, he asks for preservation. “Preserve me, O God.” That is a profound request. Preserve me. Keep me from going rotten. Keep me from becoming stale. Keep me from hardening. Keep me from this threat AND from being tainted by it.
What if you managed to make it through this pandemic without catching COVID-19 or experiencing catastrophic financial hardship, but came out on the other end angrier, more fearful, less generous, more lustful, more prideful, more gluttonous, and more slothful?
Psalm 16 gives us a wonderful blueprint for understanding our need for God’s preservation and provides a helpful model for prayer. If you’d like to engage in Preservation 101, spend some time meditating on and praying this Psalm.
Begin with a request and a resolution:
We’ve already seen the request in verse 1, then, in verse 2, he restates his allegiance to God and identifies Him as and the source of his hope. I say to the Lord (Yahweh), my Lord (sovereign), I have no good apart from you.
Then take a look around:
When a guy I know encounters someone who tells him that they have no interest in God, he replies with this question: “How’s that working out for you?” In verse 4, David notices those who have abandoned God. Rather than seek the Lord, they look elsewhere. David observes the multiplied misery of those who fail to guard their heart when stressed and, instead, put their trust in other gods.
Rather than choose to be driven by fear or his flesh, David vows to place his life in the hands of Yahweh. He writes that God is his chosen portion. And there he finds not only contentment, but direction and joy.
Keep choosing Him:
While I’d love to write that David’s choice was once for all, verse 8 indicates that even though David has chosen God, he continues to do so. You and I will, as well.
Find life, security, and joy:
David ends with the recognition that with God, his heart, body, and soul find life as it is intended to be lived, security in the midst of difficulty, and supreme joy.
One more thing. Don’t miss the fact that not only is God David’s chosen portion, but He is the cup, as well. He is the container, the holder, the vessel. God as cup is not finite, fragile, or temporal. There are no chips, cracks, or leaks in this cup. The portion it holds is secure. It is this God who holds David’s lot and the lot all of those who trust Him.
He will hold us fast.