The Barnabas Ministry

In Memory of Dan Rice- Psalm 63.
This past week, my friend Dan Rice passed away at the age of 44, leaving behind his wife Heidi and children Alex and Taylor. I met him the night he was baptized into Christ in 1982 in Tucson, Arizona, and he was a great and loyal friend of mine ever since then.

This was one of his favorite passages of scripture, and in his memory I'd like to discuss it briefly. Here is the text:

Psalm 63

A psalm of David. When he was in the Desert of Judah.
 1 O God, you are my God,
       earnestly I seek you;
       my soul thirsts for you,
       my body longs for you,
       in a dry and weary land
       where there is no water.

 2 I have seen you in the sanctuary
       and beheld your power and your glory.

 3 Because your love is better than life,
       my lips will glorify you.

 4 I will praise you as long as I live,
       and in your name I will lift up my hands.

 5 My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods;
       with singing lips my mouth will praise you.

 6 On my bed I remember you;
       I think of you through the watches of the night.

 7 Because you are my help,
       I sing in the shadow of your wings.

 8 My soul clings to you;
       your right hand upholds me.

 9 They who seek my life will be destroyed;
       they will go down to the depths of the earth.

 10 They will be given over to the sword
       and become food for jackals.

 11 But the king will rejoice in God;
       all who swear by God's name will praise him,
       while the mouths of liars will be silenced.

As always, we must begin a discussion of a text with a discussion of the context. Fortunately, the scripture tells us the context- "When he was in the Desert of Judah." Most commentators agree that this is a reference to the time when he was on the run from King Saul. We can read more about this in 1 Samuel 18-20.

So up until this point, David had been anointed as future king, had served as a leader in the army of Israel, had achieved great success, yet was hated by King Saul and ultimately had fled for his life to the desert. Talk about exepriencing some highs and lows in your life!

Discussion of Text
v1 To my recollection, the metaphors David used for seeking God were always Dan's favorite parts of this psalm. Seeking, thirsting, longing. Having grown up in Arizona, it was readily apparent to Dan what it was like to use these in reference to "a dry and weary land where there is no water." Even this metaphor of "a dry and weary land..." may refer to David's own heart and soul-- likening his spiritual need and bewilderment to a dry and weary land without water. Yet, he knew who had the "water."

v2-5 David could easily remember the good times-- "I have seen you in the santuary, and beheld your power and glory." God was the center of his worship experiences and his spiritual life.

v6-8 Yet we should not think David was untouched by his present poor circumstances. He mentions "remembering you in the watches of the night." Whether through sleeplessness or a deliberate choice to pray and meditate in the peace of the night, his remembrances of God built his faith. This is especially significant considering his present circumstances.

v9-10 He speaks of those who "seek his life." This is no doubt referring to Saul's henchmen who had been ordered to track down and destroy David. As an abusive leader, Saul wasn't content to simply let David just go away. He sought David out to kill him, and to retain his own position of authority, control and power. David's words about them being "given over to the sword" reflect knowledge that God would sustain his justice, not that David necessarily wished evil upon those seeking him. This is a subtle but important distinction.

v11 David's previous anointing at the hands of Samuel would eventually lead to him being the king. David's way of dealing with his circumstances was certainly informed by his faith in what God had promised to do in his future. In addition, David planned to live as king the same way he was living in this desert- rejoicing in God. Though David clearly had his failings as king, he goes down in history as the greatest king of Israel.

Application for Today
Most people with any kind of church experiences have had bad or hurtful elements to that experience. For some, they are particularly hurtful and damaging, and they can know that David had a similar thing going on in his life. He had served Israel greatly, yet was despised and hated by its leader and chased into exile in disgrace. How David made sense of this can help us today.

v1-8 David was concerned about God, not Saul. When wrong is done to us, this is a hard transition to make. Especially, we tend to equate spiritual leaders with God himself-- if we have the leader's approval, we have God's approval. If we don't have the leader's approval, we don't have God's approval. Unfortunately, some leaders are eager to enhance this connection. David was able to separate these, and this psalm paves the way for us to do the same.

v1 Times of despair are equated with one suffering in a desert. What a metaphor! While we often want relief from our circumstances, the one who provides relief is God and our drawing near to him. This is truly a shot to our pride and desire to control things, but the true way to peace in our lives. God bypasses the difficult circumstances and oppressive people, and gives us peace directly.

v2-5  God was the center of David's spiritual life. How well we can learn from this in a day when glitz, personality, programs and positions seem to dominate many parts of the religious landscape. And how well we ought to remember this when those things fail us and our souls are wounded deeply because of it. David resolved to praise God as an integral part of his spiritual life. And what will heaven be, if not a time of praising God? Yet it is something we can do here and now, no matter what our circumstances.

v6-8 Often I find myself lamenting "why" through my poor circumstances, just desiring some understanding. And there are some psalms where the "why" question is asked. Chances are, we wouldn't be able to understand why a lot of things happen anyway. But remembering how God works, and how we've seen him work in the past, can speak to us at these times, just as they spoke to David.

v9-11- Few of us have prophets roaming around anointing us as future kings in our youth; we don't always know what our future will hold. Yet, we can know that God has a purpose custom-made for all of us, and it will be realized in spite of the schemes of others or hardships along the way. It just unfolds one day at a time. God's ultimate purpose for all of us is to be with him in heaven (2 Corinthians 5).

I can remember more than one talk where Dan would encourage me to trust God through all sorts of hardships and discouragements in life, even as he had to do the same. Reviewing this psalm, we see this as a prevalent theme of the scriptures. Our ultimate peace in life is our secure relationship with God, not triumphing over every adverse circumstance that comes our way or "fixing" everything we don't like. These circumstances will come and go, but that ultimate peace is eternal and completely untouchable by any circumstance.

Great passage, Dan. I will miss you greatly. See you in Paradise, brother.

Dan Rice and John Engler before Dan's wedding
Boulder, Colorado March 24, 1990

Dan Rice Photo Album
Dan Rice Funeral Video Excerpt
Dan Rice Funeral Service Audio

Copyright © 2008 John Engler. All rights reserved.

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