A Reflection on Psalm 116:1–4, 12–19
In our time of distress, and a dramatic loss of life and freedom in our world, we may feel afraid and ready to rebel and strike out against our leaders, and our God. We miss one another, we are missing our friends and family, and we may be getting stir crazy! We are more prone to making choices that are selfish and for our own good, rather than the good of God’s Kingdom.
Such is the debate going around now, as we see that some things and places are going to be starting to open up again soon, while other locations remain shut down. Our thought process is that if we aren’t getting what we want then we feel as if we are suffering a loss. God does not take our losses lightly, but rather His love for us is present for us, and wants us to thrive in all things.
We are all in danger, not just from disease and death, but we are in danger of losing our perspective about God’s control over the universe. This perspective must be firmly placed upon what God is capable of and upon the things that God has already done for us and for his people. Just as Israel was reminded that God had rescued them from slavery, from death, and from destruction, so too we need to be reminded that God has been with us and rescued us in times of danger and death.
The Psalmist uses this recollection of God’s salvation power and mercy as an important aspect of worship in the community. Psalm 116 is a recitation and recollection of God’s salvation of the Psalmist, and while this was a personal experience, it has become a part of the corporate worship experience. The joy and gratitude expressed in this Psalm reminds the hearer that we cannot thank God enough for what He has done.
In our current situation let us read the text of Psalm 116, and worship with the Psalmist.
I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live. The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came over me; I was overcome by distress and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Lord: “Lord, save me!”Psalm 116:1-4
What shall I return to the Lord for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants. Truly I am your servant, Lord; I serve you just as my mother did; you have freed me from my chains. I will sacrifice a thank offering to you and call on the name of the Lord. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the Lord— in your midst, Jerusalem. Praise the Lord.Psalm 116:12-19
The opening of this Psalm expresses the love for God, and although present in worship, is still rare in the Old Testament. This expression is a fulfillment of the call to love God with our whole selves, heart, mind, soul, and strength. We often entreat God with our admiration after God has come in and showed us that He hears us, He cares about our condition, and when we need God- God intervenes on our behalf.
Out of control, we too often grasp for something that we can control. Unfortunately, in the situation we find ourselves now, no protest, no yelling and screaming, nothing will give us any lasting comfort. Our circumstance reminds us how we cannot control life and death, even if we do everything we are told, we can still fall ill, we are still susceptible to death.
We need God, and thus we need to call out to God when we are in need. We must place our trust in God, we must fully submit to God’s grace, guidance, and guardianship in order to fully experience the benefits of that covenant relationship with the Almighty God. In the midst of trials, we must bind our heart and mind to God, and seek out God in that time. As we do that, we are breaking the bonds that death has over our life, and binding ourselves to God and God’s purpose for the world.
Even though we ask God to guide us in all things, we are not immune from the negativity and disease of sin in the world. Bad things still can happen, and we cannot ignore that, but we need to call out to God. As so many of us have been brought through some terrible experiences, sometimes they have even been worse than the situation we see in the world now. God is by our side, and delivers us from evil, and we worship God, because He never fails.
What could we possibly give to God to repay His love for us? Nothing. No offering, no sacrifice, no praise, no worship, no vow, nothing is enough to repay to God for the grace that has been poured out upon us. We cannot possibly give enough back to even the ledger with God, so we must give back the most we can, which is our very selves, all of ourselves must be given to worship. It is this that Paul writes about in Romans when we are asked to present our bodies as living sacrifices.
We do this to make sure we don’t take God’s blessing for granted. God doesn’t require our praise, but God loves receiving our prayers, as a loving Father loves the words of devotion from His children. As a loving Father, God does not expose us to the death lightly, as He looks upon us as His precious children. In this, His salvation for us, out of the darkest of darkness, shows how powerful, and how in control God is over all things.
God’s salvation comes as a response to the cruelty and injustice in the world. When we take up our cross and follow Christ, we submit ourselves to be God’s servants, and to submit ourselves to be a part of God’s salvation and kingdom coming to the world. God doesn’t want to see anyone suffer and die, and invites us to be an expression of God’s mercy to bring peace and love to those hurting, those suffering, those dying.
Because God has saved us, we bring His grace, His peace, and ultimately His salvation to a world facing an executioner. We practice and live out our faith so that the world can see life in the face of death, hope in the face of despair, and peace in the midst of chaos. We don’t do this alone, but if the church raises up to bring this, we practice our mutual faith, and it ultimately will stimulate the cultivation and environment that leads to godliness. This is ultimate freedom, freedom from death, freedom from despair, and freedom to live a life as a precious child of God.