Many times in the Bible, the writer says that the Lord is his “portion.” What does that mean and how is it relevant for us?
Devotional Text: Psalm 16:1-11
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Hi, this is Brent White. It’s Friday, January 19, and this is podcast number five in my new series of devotional podcasts. I post new episodes in this series every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I also post my Sunday sermons here, as I did yesterday when I posted my January 7 sermon. Look for my January 14 sermon soon!
You’re listening to a song by one of the original British invasion bands, The Zombies. This comes from their 1968 album, Odessey and Oracle—one of the greatest albums ever made, I promise. You need to hear it!
One of my absolute favorite memories of my three kids is related to this song, “A Rose for Emily.” It happened when they were young—between the ages of 5 and 10. They were riding in the backseat of my car. And this song came on the car stereo. And all three of them, all at once, without any prompting from me, began singing every word. I didn’t even know that they knew the song—you know? I mean, I knew they’d heard it, but I didn’t know they were paying attention to it—enough to memorize all the words and know it so well. And here they were, singing every note.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that those voices from the back seat were probably the sweetest sound I’ve ever heard! Just a moment of pure joy—for them, for me!
Joy has been on my mind this week. It snowed this week in Atlanta, and my kids have enjoyed three days off school. Three “snow days”… Is there anything better than a snow day? When I was a kid, snow days rivaled only Christmas for the happiest times of my life.
Today’s scripture, from Psalm 16, is about deep happiness and joy. Listen to verses 2, 5 and 6, and 11: “I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you… 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… You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
The Bible speaks often about the Lord being our “portion,” including David in today’s scripture. What does that mean? The earliest reference is in Numbers 18:20. God is talking to Aaron: “You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel.” Aaron and the rest of his tribe, the Levites, weren’t entitled to inherit land—so for them, their “inheritance,” their wealth, their “portion”—what they received in place of material prosperity—was nothing less than the Lord himself. The Lord was supposed to enough for them. The Lord was supposed to satisfy them.
Later, David and the other psalmists, along with Jeremiah in Lamentations, applied this principle to all of us believers, regardless of whatever else we have or don’t have. If the Lord is our portion, we will always have enough, we will always be satisfied, we will always be wealthy in the only way that counts! If the Lord is our portion, we can experience the “fullness of joy” in God’s presence.
Fullness of joy.
I can’t read today’s scripture—along with many other psalms and many other passages of scripture, including Jesus’ own words—without concluding that being a Christian is supposed to make us happy. Deeply, genuinely happy. With a happiness that is mostly invulnerable to external circumstances—joy, in other words. In the sermon I posted on this channel yesterday and on my blog, I talked about the rewards that Jesus promises us when we pray in the right way, for instance. Those rewards are not simply in the sweet by-and-by. They are for right now, too.
And you say, “Then why are Christians so often unhappy?” And if you knew me well enough, you might ask, “Brent, why are you so often unhappy? Why have you been so unhappy?”
Let me tell you: Because I have a lifetime of experience trying to find my “portion” in things other than God—and it’s as if God has spent these past 47 years showing me, through painful personal experience, that, “No, Brent, your portion is not found in career success or ambition. Look somewhere else. No, Brent, your portion is not found in relationships. Look somewhere else. No, Brent, your portion is not found in money. Look somewhere else. No, Brent, your portion is not found in recognition and praise from others. Look somewhere else.”
Honestly. It’s as if through the process of elimination, God has made me miserable enough with each of these things I’ve desired to teach me that if I want to be happy, my portion cannot be anything other than the Lord!
And I promise the message is getting through! I preach differently now! My sermons have taken a different tone. It’s because I’m learning that the Lord is my portion. He’s everything I need!
Do you remember that popular singer-songwriter Paul Williams? You would know him if you saw him. When I was a kid, he was all over TV—he guest-starred on shows like The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. He was a frequent guest on Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin. He was on game shows all the time. And he was all over the radio, at least indirectly—he wrote three hits, including “We’ve Only Just Begun,” for the Carpenters. He wrote hit songs for Three Dog Night, Barbra Streisand, and even Kermit the Frog—he wrote “Rainbow Connection.”
And you might be wondering, “What happened to him? Didn’t he die, like, in the ’80s or something.” One filmmaker, Stephen Kessler, who, like me, grew up seeing Paul Williams everywhere on TV was surprised to discover that, in fact, Paul Williams didn’t die. So this filmmaker made a documentary about Williams a few years ago called, appropriately enough, Still Alive. I watched it recently. It’s not very good…
Why? Because Williams, who by the late-’80s nearly killed himself with drugs and alcohol and reckless living, checked himself into rehab in the early ’90s. And he’s been clean and sober ever since. He’s become a stable family man. And he’s done it all outside of the public spotlight.
But the question Kessler kept asking, in one way or another, was, “How can you be happy with so little after having so much? How can you be happy playing concerts for dozens or hundreds, when you used to play for thousands—or millions on TV?” And Kessler seemed disappointed that there was no juicy story here. See, the story he wanted to tell was, “Isn’t it tragic how Williams lost everything?” But from Williams’s prospective, the tragedy was the family that he ruined and the people that he hurt—back then, in the throes of his addiction and self-destructiveness, at the height of his fame! He was miserable back then… when he had it all. Now he’s happy. The story isn’t “look what I lost.” The story is “look what I’ve gained!”
At one point, Williams said, “I’ve sorry I’ve ruined your movie by how O.K. I am with my life now.” In other words, Williams wasn’t supposed to happy without the fame, the money, the women, the adoration of millions.
I have no idea whether Williams is a Christian. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was. He’s seen wearing a cross in the movie. He’s worked the twelve steps. The question of his faith, if it was discussed at all, was left on the cutting room floor.
But it doesn’t matter: his story resonates with me because it’s ultimately a story of trying to find one’s “portion” in people, possessions, and things that can never truly satisfy. On a much, much smaller scale, I’ve chased after some of those things, too. And I know they bring heartache and misery. Thank God he’s shown me that!
Thank God there’s a better way! Find your “portion” in the Lord!