The prayer of Psalm 16:1 is a prayer of faith, since I am no longer attempting to reason about God in his absence but addressing him as Father in his presence. And through such awakenings and interruptions, God answers my prayer. He keeps me, because I seek refuge in him.
Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. –Psalm 16:1
This verse has become the most common prayer that I pray. I pray it both for its simplicity and its profundity. The logic of the prayer is that of a child’s: “Save me for no other reason than that I’m in danger and I’ve run to you for help.” “Keep me because I seek safety and protection in you.” Not, “Keep me because of my past or future faithfulness.” Not, “Preserve me because I’m useful or because I’m worthy.” Just, “Preserve me, because I’m frightened and I’m here and my eyes are looking to you.”
The childlike spirit of the request is reflected in Thomas Ken’s “Evening Hymn.”
All praise to thee, my God, this night
For all the blessing of the light.
Keep me, O keep me, King of kings
Beneath thine own almighty wings.
But the prayers of a child are not necessarily childish prayers. Often there is a depth and weight to such prayers which make them fitting for Christians of all ages. Meditate with me on the depth of this simple prayer.
Preserve Me from What?
King David’s prayer implies perils we must seek refuge from. There are threats, dangers, hostile forces, challenges. And there are. In the world. In the church. In your life and mine.
The psalm does not specify the dangers. But we can imagine. The dangers could be external. Enemies who plot and scheme and set traps. Wicked men who lie in wait and pursue the innocent. Liars and slanderers who utter false things against us. Disease and sickness which lay us low. The loss of wealth or job or other forms of earthly security.
All of these (and more) could be in the mind of the psalmist. More importantly, the absence of specificity allows us to fill in the gap, to supply our own dangers and threats and challenges so that David’s prayer becomes our own.
In the face of the danger (whatever dangers we face), the response is the same: we seek refuge in God. The notion of “taking refuge” is a common one in Scripture. It means to find shelter and protection and safety in something. When the scorching sun beats down on us, we take refuge in the shade of a tree. When the icy winds and snowstorms threaten, we take refuge in a warm house.
The image often connotes a pursuer (Psalm 7:2; 17:7). If a man accidentally kills another, for example, he flees to a city of refuge in order to be kept from the avenger of blood. Or the city of Zion, founded by Yahweh, is a refuge for the afflicted of his people (Isaiah 14:32). If someone shoots an arrow at us, we take refuge behind a shield.
A refuge belongs to a cluster of biblical terms that identify places of sanctuary and strength. Psalm 18 stacks such terms one after another. “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Psalm 18:2).