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A Psalm for when the boundaries tighten

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Every stage of life brings certain limitations: whether they come from being a parent, or single, or old, or unwell. Being limited is part of life, but it’s a part we rage against. We’re encouraged to push the boundaries, throw off inhibition, expand potential, and don’t let anyone or anything hold you back. We’ve equated limitation with oppression, and we reach for that which is beyond us: a child, a partner, more time, less pain, a different place…

Today, we’re all feeling the pinch of tightening boundaries. The number of people we can be with. The amount of toilet paper or mince meat we can buy, if we can find it. The walls of our homes seem to stand thicker and higher than before; the ways we worship or celebrate or are entertained are postponed or digitised or shared with a couple instead of a crowd.

We are people accustomed to the lavish, and suddenly we’re facing lack.

But between the lavish and lack, there is holy ground. Life can be lived well – splendidly – within limits.

In Psalm 16, David (who once self-isolated in a cave, guys. Pretty sure he didn’t have toilet paper there either) writes this:

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. - Psalm 16 v 5-6

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The boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places. Not just reasonable places, or necessary places, but pleasant places. Now it’s one thing to say this when you’re King of Israel and your boundaries could best be described as palatial; it’s quite another when there’s a pandemic on the loose, you’re stuck in your house, and (Lord have mercy) you’re a meat-loving extrovert.

But the message of this Psalm holds, regardless of where the boundaries fall at any given time. Because God’s hand was not absent when the margins were marked out. Whether He was the one to draw up those limits, or they were crudely carved by the enemy, it is the Lord who both secures the boundary and is your refuge within. When you receive the Lord as your portion and cup, the place you find yourself – whether walled in or wilderness – is pleasant.

And David reminds us that there’s an inheritance beyond all of this too. Be free from the panic of trying to pleasure-stack in these uncertain times, and let your heart grow in anticipation for what God has in store for those who love him (1 Cor 2:9).

There’s so much in this little Psalm: the ever-present counsel of God, how we are not shaken with the Lord at our right hand (social distancing does not apply, hallelujah!)... but for now, let me jump to verse 9:

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave…

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave…Psalm 16 v 9

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This verse is loaded with good news, and I implore you to preach it to yourself whenever you feel the cramp of those COVID-19 boundaries, or whatever other limits loom over you:

Does your heart feel anxiety? Because the Lord is your portion, your heart can be glad.

Are the words you are reading, hearing or speaking amplifying fear? Because the Lord is your portion, your tongue can rejoice.

Is your body feeling the fragility of stress or illness? Because the Lord is your portion, your body will rest secure.

Friend, you are not abandoned. In isolation, you are not abandoned. In frustration, you are not abandoned. Even in death, you are not abandoned! And as verse 11 continues, there is a path to life that God is just busting to make known to you.

The size of the boundary you find yourself in does not limit the fullness of God's presence with you. The lines that have been drawn need not cut you off from His joy. Go wash your hands in that fountain.

Melody is the Content Lead for TEAR's Communications team.