If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Psalm 116 as we continue to make our way through the fifth book of the psalms. This psalm is the personal tribute of a person who has experienced an overwhelming answer to prayer and it supplies us words to pray and to praise with when we can't find the words we need to lift up to the Lord in gratitude for the answers that He has given to us in prayer.
If I were to outline the psalm for you, it would go something like this. In the first two verses, you have an overarching resolution that the psalmist makes. He declares his love to God and his determination to pray without ceasing as long as he lives. And so there's an overarching resolution that's made in the first two verses. And then after that, the psalm breaks down into basically three parts. The first part is the recounting of this trial, this affliction, and God's deliverance of the psalmist from this trial and affliction. You see that in verses 3 and 4. The second part is the response of gratitude of the psalmist to God for this deliverance from affliction and you see that in verses 5 to 11. And then the third and final part is this determination to render praise to God in gratitude for the debt that is owed to Him for His mercy and His deliverance. And you see that in verses 12 to 19. But there is so much in this psalm there's no way that we can possibly do it all justice. So let's ask for God's help and blessing and dive into this treasure of a psalm. Let's pray.
Our heavenly Father, we thank You for every word, every last word of Your Bible. We need every last word and we thank You for this word which is spread before us tonight like a feast. Help us to understand it, Lord, to share in the sense of gratitude and praise expressed in the psalmist's inspired words. More than that, we ask that the Spirit would work these same heart attitudes and responses in us by His grace. Open our eyes to behold wonderful things in Your Law and sanctify us by Your truth. Your Word is truth. We ask this in Jesus' name, amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it:
“I love the LORD, because He has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because He inclined His ear to me, therefore I will call on Him as long as I live. The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the LORD: ‘O LORD, I pray, deliver my soul!’
Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; our God is merciful. The LORD preserves the simple; when I was brought low, He saved me. Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.
For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling; I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living.
I believed, even when I spoke, ‘I am greatly afflicted’; I said in my alarm, ‘All mankind are liars.’
What shall I render to the LORD for all His benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD, I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all His people.
Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints. O LORD, I am Your servant; I am Your servant, the son of Your maidservant. You have loosed my bonds. I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the LORD. I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the house of the LORD, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the LORD!”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Has the Lord ever given you an answer to prayer that was so soul-shaking and peace-giving that you felt welling up in you spontaneous praise and gratitude to Him? Those answers can come in a thousand different forms, by the way. Sometimes it's when the feared diagnosis doesn't materialize. Other times it's when a dramatic healing has been given or a situation has been changed. But still other times, when there have been prayers for a circumstance to change or a condition to improve and that circumstance hasn't changed and the condition hasn't improved but a spirit of resignation and acceptance and peace has been granted that you didn't think was possible. Perhaps it's been a prayer that you would be able to love someone who was hard to love and you didn't think that you could do it and the Lord has answered you in a remarkable way. Or, to bear something that you didn't think that you could bear and the Lord has answered you in a remarkable way. There are a thousand different ways that that can happen, but that's the situation that the psalmist is in.
The psalmist is either in a situation in which his life hung in the balance. There was some disease or illness that literally had taken him to the edge of death. You see that, if you’ll notice, in verse 3. “The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me.” The psalmist literally feels himself in the grip of death. The claws of death are in him. So it's either a situation in which he is physically on the edge of death or it is a situation in which he faces an almost despair and disillusionment with life because of the opposition of enemies around him. And you see this if you’ll look down in verses 10 and 11. “I believed even when I spoke, ‘I am greatly afflicted’; I said in my alarm, ‘All mankind are liars.’” And you get the idea that there's some kind of grave opposition that is coming against him from people. Why else would he say this? Or, it could be both, like it was with Job. Job's life, physically, hung in the balance, and his counselors, far from encouraging him and buoying his spirits in his time of need, became his greatest enemies! And then there were those who were surely, even outside of the circle of his counselors, saying that the reversal of his fortunes and the loss of his family and the loss of his material possessions and his wealth and his own health were the curse of God on him. And so his physical trial was joined to a situation in which he faced disillusionment from those who misjudged him and opposed him.
The psalmist is speaking of just this kind of a circumstance in which God has given him an amazing answer. And you can feel the spontaneity of the praise in this psalm. It's such a dramatic change, isn't it, from verse 3 to verse 4. “The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the LORD: ‘O LORD, I pray, deliver my soul!’” And the Lord, verse 8, delivered him. And it is that deliverance that leads him to this praise. So I want to look with you at this resolution of love, this remembered deliverance, this response of gratitude, and this rendered praise.
THE OVERARCHING RESOLUTION
Let's look first of all at the resolution of love and prayer in verses 1 and 2. In this context of this dramatic answer to prayer, the psalmist makes a declaration, he makes a resolution, and his resolution, his declaration, is this — “I love the LORD because He listened to me. He heard me when I prayed. He listened; He inclined His ear to my petition. When I lifted up that prayer, that petition to Him, He listened to me, and therefore I will call on Him as long as I live.” Notice the two parts of that — he loves the Lord and he will always call on Him. Do you know we will never stop praying; we will always need to continue praying until our last breath. There is never a time in this life when there is no longer a need to pray. And the psalmist here resolves to love the Lord in his answered prayer and to pray to Him as long as he lives because of this dramatic answer. Do you know that answer to prayer is at least in part designed to lead us to further prayer? When we're encouraged by God's answer to us, one of God's design is to move us to continue to pray to Him. And so this psalm begins with a resolution of love and prayer. God's answer moves him to love and it moves him to commit himself to a continued life of prayer — “as long as I live,” the psalmist says.
THE RECOUNTING OF THE LORD’S DELIVERANCE FROM TRIAL AND AFFLICTION
And then in verses 3 and 4, he sites for us the case which has moved him to make this grand resolution. And it's this deliverance that the Lord has given. The snares of death were around him, he felt the pangs of the grave laying hold of him, he was in distress and in anguish, and in that moment he cried out to the Lord for the Lord to deliver him and the Lord did deliver him and it's this remembrance of deliverance that evokes the spontaneous response of gratitude which pervades this psalm. And again, we've said it before and we’ll have opportunity to say it again in the psalms, those deliverances that the Lord gives to us are meant to be memorialized because we forget them. Sometimes the experience of the in the moment is so intense that we think that we will never forget them. I can still remember the memory of those experiences many years ago, but very often, unless I've worked at it, I've forgotten the substance of those deliverances many years ago. I can remember how I responded to those moments of deliverance, but I've forgotten so many of the details.
And the psalmist here, again pauses and memorializes a moment of deliverance. And this is a standard part of the practice of the Christian life — not to let those deliverances be forgotten to us. Memorialize them; write them down; remind yourself of them; go back to them frequently because there will be times when the evil one will whisper in your ear, “No matter how many answers to prayer the Lord has given to you, He does not hear you, He does not care, prayer does not work, there's nobody listening to you.” And you must fight back with remembered deliverance and the psalmist here, all of the gratitude, all of the spontaneous praise in this psalm flows from this remembered deliverance. It is one of the weapons of spiritual warfare that the Lord has placed in your hand – remembered deliverance.
THE RESPONSE OF GRATITUDE
And then there's this response of gratitude in verses 5 to 11 and notice how it starts. In verses 5, 6, and 7, it begins with a meditation on the Lord, it continues with a humble estimation of who we are, and then it concludes with an exhortation to the soul. Look at how it begins. Verse 5 — “Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; our God is merciful.” So God's answer to prayer leads him to think about three things — God's graciousness, God's righteousness, and God's mercy. And so he begins to meditate about who God is and what He's like. Isn't it interesting that prayer answered leads him not only to gratitude but gratitude specifically for who God is and what He is like. This experience has, as it were, proven what God had already said to him in His Word that He is gracious and righteous and merciful. And so the first thing that he says in response is about God.
And then, these very interesting words in verse 6 — “The LORD preserves the simple.” Now that is an amazing phrase. “The LORD preserves the simple; when I was brought low, He saved me.” The psalmist includes himself in this group of people that he refers to as the simple. Now as you know, that's a term that's found in the book of Proverbs and I love what Derek Kidner says about this. Kidner says, “The simple is a revealing description to use, for in the Old Testament it has no trace of merit.” In other words, that's not a title that you want to ascribe to someone that you’re trying to flatter. To call them simple, I guess it's sort of like us calling someone a simpleton. It's not a compliment. And here's what Kidner goes on to say. “The simple,” and then he goes on to say, “you could translate ‘the silly’ would hardly be too strong a term for these gullible, feckless people who roam the pages of the book of Proverbs drifting into trouble. It is humble of the psalmist to identify with them; it is humble of God to have time for them if ‘them’ is the right pronoun for us to use.”
Now did you hear with Kidner just said to you and me? He said, “Actually, you’re simple too, and so am I.” And he's pointing out that the psalmist groups himself in with that group. In other words, this whole experience has humbled the psalmist. The psalmist has been humbled because he realizes how limited he is, how his life hangs in the balance, and he's entirely dependent upon God. The psalmist is humbled because he realizes how quickly he quivers in his faith and fears in the face of danger, and then how gracious God is to deal with him better than he deserves. And it leads him to refer to himself as “the simple.” “The LORD preserves the simple” — that's me.
“And when I was low, He saved me.” And that, then, leads him to give a bit of self-exhortation. And how many times have we seen this already in the psalms? The psalms contain lots of mutual exhortation when the psalmist exhorts you and me to respond to providence or to God's Word in some way or another, but they also contain a lot of self-exhortation and here's one of them in verse 7. “Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.” In other words, one of the results of the Lord's answered prayer to the psalmist is peace. He can be at rest and so he exhorts his own soul. “Soul, enjoy the rest that you ought to be experiencing because of the answer to prayer that the Lord has given to you.” And so this response of gratitude goes on to again, ascribe to the Lord His work. “You have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling,” and then the resolution comes again, “I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living.” So the gratitude again ascribes to God what He has done on His behalf.
And then he turns again in verses 10 and 11 with yet another admission. This is all part of that section in which he's responding with gratitude but here's his admission. His admission is, in the midst of this trial he had cried out in desperation, “I am greatly afflicted and all mankind are liars.” In other words, he's saying, “I was desperate, I felt hopeless, I didn't feel like there was anywhere to turn,” but he throws in this little phrase, notice — “I believed even when I spoke, ‘I am greatly afflicted’; and said in my alarm, ‘All mankind are liars.’” In other words, these desperate words were not faithless. There might not have been enough faith in them, but there was not a complete absence of faith. Even in those desperate moments, there was still the flicker of faith. “I believed even when I said, ‘I am greatly afflicted; I see no hope. All men are against me.’”
You know, we sang, “Abide With Me,” and so appropriately. Would you turn with me to that hymn because one of the stanzas of this hymn catches verses 10 and 11 perfectly? Look at the first stanza. “When other helpers fail and comforts flee, help of the helpless, O abide with me.” And the psalmist is saying that, “When I got to that moment where I said, ‘I'm greatly afflicted; all men are liars, they’re all against me; I'm surrounded. I'm so deeply afflicted I'm never ever going to come up for air again,” that the only place that he could go was where? “The name of the LORD.” “I called on my best friends?” No. “I called on the name of the LORD and the one who is the help of the helpless, He abode with me.” That's what we just sang. And all of this is material that the psalmist is dredging up in this difficult experience to stoke his expression of gratitude to God. He's detailing, he's doing an anatomy of this condition and how his heart responded to it and he's pulling up reasons for gratitude to God and expressing them to God.
THE DETERMINATION TO RENDER PRAISE
And then the final part of the psalm. You see it in verses 12 to 19. Not only this remembered deliverance and this response of gratitude but this rendered praise. The psalmist now has to ask, and this is what we sang before the service — the wonderful Isaac Watts’ rendering of this stanza and we’ll sing the last part of it after the sermon is over — “What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me?” In other words, the psalmist wants to know, “What's the proper way to response to God for this? Since God has answered this prayer and I'm grateful, what can I give to Him?” And the language that he uses is basically the language of public worship. Look at what he says. “What shall I render to the LORD for all His benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation” — that's a picture of perhaps a sacrifice of libation when a drink offering is poured out to the Lord, so that's something that happens in the temple as part of public worship — “and call on the name of the LORD.” Now it's true that sometimes in the Bible, “call on the name of the LORD” is language for prayer, but usually it's language for public worship. Do a concordance search on that phrase, “to call on the name of the LORD,” all the way from Genesis 4:26 and sort of with little dots all through the Old Testament, that's language for public worship, “to call on the name of the LORD.”
And to finish it off that that's in fact what it means, look at the very next verse. “I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all His people.” So clearly, the psalmist says, “What can I give to the LORD? I can go into public worship with a grateful heart and worship Him for all that He is worth. I can pour myself out to Him in grateful praise in the assembly of His people and give witness to the face that He has heard my prayer.” Public worship is his response. That's what he can render to the Lord.
But it doesn't stop there, does it? He goes on to say, verse 16, “O LORD, I am Your servant; I am Your servant, the son of Your maidservant. You have loosed my bonds.” This lets you know that this is not just public worship where you’re going through the motions. His declaration is, “Lord, I belong to You. I want to serve You. All that I am is Yours. All that I have is Yours. I want to live for Your glory. I'm Your servant. I give me.” This is the living sacrifice of Romans 12:1-2 isn't it? “Lord, here's what I give — I give me! “Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” That's exactly what the psalmist is saying.
And then it's expressed beautifully in another favorite hymn of mine. Turn with me, I think it's 559 — yes. Look at stanza 4 of “Father I Know That All My Life.” “In service which Thy will appoints, there are no bonds for me.” Now isn't it interesting — I'm Your servant; You've loosed my bonds. Hold on; put that one together for me. I'm Your slave; You've loosed my bonds. Help me there! Because he wants to belong to the Lord and it's not just the bonds of death that the Lord has loosed for me, He's loosed the bonds of an unwilling servitude and He's replaced it with a willing service. He wants to serve the Lord. And so here's what Anna Warring says — “In service which Thy will appoints there are no bonds for me. My secret heart is taught the truth that makes Thy children free. A life of self renouncing love is one of liberty.” “I'm free,” he's saying, “and now that I'm free what I want to do is serve You! That's what I want to do. That's what I want to do with all my heart and I render that back to You, Lord!”
You know we asked the question tonight why no one can be saved by the covenant of works. One of the answers to that is, our obedience does not put God in our debt. Our obedience does not put God in our debt. That's one reason why the covenant of works can't save you. Now the bigger reason is, nobody does it; nobody obeys. But even if we could, if you could obey perfectly, it would not put God in your debt. What did Jesus say? When you've done all that you’re supposed to do, what are you supposed to say to the Lord? “I've only done what You've told me to do. I've only done what I'm supposed to do.” Your obedience doesn't put God in your debt and the psalmist knows that. God is not in his debt. He's in God's debt. The whole of 12 to 19 is about a debt of gratitude. God has been so generous that we are indebted to Him. Friends, when you have that change, that that's how you relate to God, that He's not someone who owes you something that He's not come through on but in fact you’re the recipient of such generosity that you are indebted to Him, when that change of mind comes it will rock your world. I promise you. And the psalmist understands that. The service that he's talking about is not to put God in his debt, it is to express gratitude to a God to whom he is so indebted he’ll never be able to catch up. And it doesn't burden him, it frees him!
And then he goes right back to the language of public worship again. Look at verse 17 — “I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving; I will call on the name of the LORD. I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the house of the LORD, in your midst, O Jerusalem.” Do you realize that that's one thing that you public worship does? When you come to public worship with your heart filled with gratitude giving testimony to how the Lord has answered your prayer professing your love for the Lord and your determination to pray to Him all your life, it encourages your brothers and sisters because the spiritual life is filled with ups and downs and long, dry marches in the wilderness. And gathering together in the house of the Lord and in the context of the shared life and the fellowship of God's people hearing the testimonies of the cool water poured onto our lips by God in the times when we were parched and ready to die for thirst is often what God uses to help some of us go on, and this too gives Him praise.
Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word. We love You because You listen to our prayers and so we will pray to You until our last breath and we know that precious in Your sight is the death of Your godly ones. Help us to understand this Word and to believe, to trust, even when we are pressed to cry out, ‘I'm greatly afflicted! There's no hope from man!’ Remind us that our help is in the name of the Lord, and abide with us, You who are the help of the helpless. We pray this in Jesus' name, amen.
Would you stand for God's blessing?
Peace be to the brethren and love with faith from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ until the daybreak and the shadows flee away.