Anatomy of the Soul - Prayer and Unshakeable Joy

A Prayer Guide

1. Read psalm 16 Aloud

2. A Guide to Understanding Psalm 16

Psalm 16 is not just a joyful prayer, it’s a prayer of unshakeable joy. It’s a prayer of joy that fills our entire being (v9); a joy that can be had in any circumstance, a joy that cannot be shaken (v8), a joy that somehow even death itself won’t take away but will only lead us into its full experience.

How can we get this kind of joy? The first Christian sermons (see Acts 2 and Acts 13) said this kind of joy can be ours because of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. All who believe in the Risen Jesus get this kind of joy. They said this is what Psalm 16 was about all along. Let’s see how Psalm 16 leads us straight to Easter.

Why Our Joy Gets Shaken: The first verse in the Psalm shows us that this was a prayer written by David when he was really shaken up. Verse 1 is the prayer of someone who was badly shaken and needed a safe place to regain perspective. We don’t know exactly what happened but it had to be something big since David was contemplating the end of his own life. Verse 1 is our “gateway” into the rest of Psalm 16. Like David, our joy in life gets shaken. This happens to everyone. Why? Because in life, everything gets shaken - our beliefs, our dreams and circumstances are all challenged or change. Not only does everything get shaken in life, but eventually everything gets taken. Our achievements, our comforts, our loved ones and our own lives – eventually all of these are taken from us. How can we be truly joyful when the things we take so much joy in can be shaken or taken from us at any time? In Psalm 16, David refuses to accept “that’s how life is”; he’s after an unshakeable joy.

When Our Joy Gets Shaken– In life, our joy will get shaken and it will be taken. When it does, we can do what David did in this Psalm. He took the opportunity to ask himself, “What is the joy I am really running after?” He prays, “the sorrow of those who run after another god will be multiplied” (v4) When our joy is shaken–we can more clearly see what we are running after. Is it the God of the bible or another god?

At this time, the things they were running after were attached to idols. They were deities (gods) with names. There were gods of harvest for those running after the joy of security and success. There were gods of fertility for those running after they joy of family. There were gods of festivals for those running after the joy of pleasure. We don’t have the same gods anymore, but we are running after the exact same joys they were. They are not just good things we hope to enjoy in life; they are the ultimate important things that drive us. They are the gods we run after. David says I see clearly now that my joy can be shaken - if I run after these things and make them my gods, because there’s no joy in them. There is only sorrow that multiplies. These good things can’t bring joy if we make them gods. Only God Himself can be our ultimate joy.

Instead of running after another god, he says to God, “You are my Lord, apart from you I have no good thing!”. The person who can say this to God finds the joy of verses 5-9 flooding in. This is the teaching of Christianity on joy. We must say to God – I run after you for you alone! The bible says there are only 3 options in the search for joy: 1) Keep running away from God and chase after good things as our gods = sorrow multiplied. 2) We run to God… to get good things from Him = sorrow multiplied (same as option 1) 3) We Run to God to get God = unshakeable joy.

How We Get an Unshakeable Joy – How can we become people who run after God for God? How can we stop chasing other joys and run after Him for Him? Easter is the answer. Easter gives us a joy that is grounded in unshakeable truth and is better than any other joy we could imagine.

In v10 David is giving us the reason and ground for his unshakeable joy (“For…”). The whole Psalm stands on the ground of verses 10-11. All the joy is based on this. David says, “I don’t believe death can be the end of my relationship with God. How could he abandon me to the grave? How would he let my body corrupt? Our relationship will last forever!” If David isn’t right, then he is chasing the wrong joy. If his joy in God doesn’t last forever, why would he stop chasing after life’s other joys? Is he right?

In their sermons on the resurrection, both the apostle Peter and the apostle Paul point out that David died and his tomb was still with them in their day. Was David wrong then? Was he wrong about joy? No, they explained because this prayer wasn’t just about David. It was about one of his descendants. David spoke ahead about the resurrection of the Holy One whom God would not abandon to death; whose flesh will not see any corruption. He spoke of One whom death could not hold and who would rise bodily from the grave. He spoke of Jesus.

Easter is our ground for unshakeable joy. We get this unshakeable joy by following our reason to the resurrection. It’s not just a wish, a myth or a story – it’s true. It’s a solid, historical basis for our joy. But reason will only take us so far. We also need to follow our joy to the resurrection. Nothing promises a joy like the bodily resurrection of Jesus! All who believe in Jesus will be raised bodily from the dead to live with God forever in a new creation. No other religion or belief system dares to promise such joy! In the new creation, our joy in God will be full and eternal. The joy of unhindered communion with God will spill over into all the other pleasures we were made to enjoy for his glory – the joys of food, of creation, of relationship, of art, of work and of music. All these joys will find their fullest expression in unending praise of the Holy One who saved us from sorrow into eternal joy. This is the joy Jesus died to give us – an unshakeable joy

A Guide to Praying Psalm 16

REFLECT – What is your response to this imaginary appeal from God based on Psalm 16? Which of the bullet points below do you most need to hear?

I know you are running after joy. I made you to do this!

o   You won’t find it running away from me…  I have to save you from irreligion.

o   You won’t’ find it if you are running to me to give it to you apart from me… I have to save you from religion.

o   You will only find it when you run to me for me.


Praise God and Take Refuge in Him

  • Praise God as your Protector and Refuge. Thank Him for his loving protection over your life. Praise him for being a refuge who is safe.

  • Tell God specifically how you are feeling: Describe your lack of joy and what you feel has caused this.

Repent – Feel from False Joy

  • Confess how you are running after other things to give you joy in life. Confess what’s holding you back from saying: “You are my Lord, apart from you I have no good thing!”

  • Be specific and tell God how you have made these good things into gods. Be specific about how these things have failed you and caused you sorrow.

Believe - Ground Yourself On Jesus, Our Unshakeable Joy

  • Pray slowly through verses 5-9. Though you may not feel these things turn them into requests – ie “Lord I want you to be my portion – you are everything I need!” “Lord you are my cup – you are worthy of celebrating and praising!” “Fill my entire being with joy, flood my body and spirit with the joy that can only be found in you” (v9).

  • Using verses 10-11 as a starting point, prayerfully ground yourself on the joy of the resurrection.

    • Jesus rose from the dead and conquered all our sin, all evil, suffering, sin and death itself!

    • Jesus saves us from running after false joy!

    • What happened to Jesus will happen to all who believe in Him. We will glorify and enjoy God forever and eternally experience the joys of the new creation!