Distress of soul, God’s benefits and our resolution.
I love the Lord because He has heard my voice and my supplications. Because He has inclined His ear to me, therefore I will call upon Him as long as I live. The pains of death surrounded me, and the pangs of Sheol laid hold of me; I found trouble and sorrow. Then I called upon the name of the Lord: “O Lord, I implore You, deliver my soul!” Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; Yes, our God is merciful. The Lord preserves the simple; I was brought low, and He saved me. Return to your rest, O my soul, For the Lord has dealt bountifully with you. For You have delivered my soul from death, My eyes from tears, And my feet from falling. I will walk before the Lord In the land of the living. I believed, therefore I spoke, “I am greatly afflicted.” I said in my haste, “All men are liars.” What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward me? I will take up the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord Now in the presence of all His people. Precious in the sight of the Lord Is the death of His saints. O Lord, truly 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 will call upon the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord Now in the presence of all His people, In the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of you, O Jerusalem. Praise the Lord! (Psalms 116:1-19 NKJV)
At the end of a new year, I think it is fitting to look at this Psalm and to reflect on what God has done for us. We should reflect what situations of difficulty we were in before we knew the Lord and then renew our “vows” before the Lord. It is fitting to recommit our lives to God at the end of the year. For many it may have been a bad, stressful and difficult year, the past year, it may have been a year of missed opportunities, for others a year of prosperity and blessings and success. Whatever this year was like, we can look forward to new things. This year may have been a year where you have backslidden into sins you thought you’ve had victory over or it may have been a year of great triumph, financially, emotionally or/and spiritually. Let’s look how Psalm 116 can help us!
Verse 1 is in a sense a summary of the whole Psalm. Verse 1 is a declaration of the Psalmist’s love for the Lord, because the Lord has answered his earnest prayer and supplications. The Psalmist declares His love for the Lord not only because the Lord heard his supplications, but because God delivered him from his distress. And then the Psalmist gives a resolution that he will call upon the Lord as long as he lives. In other words, the Psalmist gives himself to God for time and as long as he will live because God did something for him. The rest of the Psalm is an unpacking of these three realities and can be divided into three parts. Firstly the Psalmist distress and difficulty are described, secondly, what God did for the Psalmist or “the benefits of The Lord” are described and then his declaration of purpose or his resolution is given.
1) The Psalmist describes his situation:
–The writer was in a desperate situation and called for help. He said: “The pains of death surrounded me, and the pangs of Sheol laid hold of me; I found trouble and sorrow. Then I called upon the name of the Lord: “O Lord, I implore You, deliver my soul!” (Psalms 116:3,4 NKJV). The person who wrote this Psalm wasn’t in a small fix. He was in a desperate situation! It could have been a physical danger or a near death experience, but what we can conclude is that he felt that “the gates of hell was about to swallow him up and that it would be the end of him.” He felt an intense spiritual need. He pleaded, “..deliver my soul!”. He not only experienced a need but that he was bound for hell. “The “pains of death surrounded me” and “the pangs of Sheol laid hold of me.” These are the words that he used. He knew something of the gravity of being lost and damned before God. He felt as if God was about to lay down his wrath on him. He was at the point to be overwhelmed by the powers of hell. It would not be wrong to say that the powers of sin overwhelmed him. He was bent on hell. It would not be wrong to conclude that he saw his immense guilt before God and that the reason why he felt trouble and sorrow was a consequence of his sins. He was in a desperate situation. He said: “I was brought low.” Dear listener have you been brought low before God? Maybe this Psalm describes your situation!
— If you are a believer in Christ you know that these words described you before you were saved. If you are not a Christian, these words describe a man who has been awakened to his sinful state and for many this will describe people who will go to eternity to hell who don’t know Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. They will experience the “pains of hell” and “the pangs of Sheol” forever and ever. When I read this Psalm, I could immediately identify because I was in such a fix before I met God. For those who know me, they know that I was involved with drugs and the occult before I met Christ. And I know that I experienced a war between darkness and light in my life when I came to Christ. I experienced attacks by the evil one, sorrow upon sorrow, distress, anxiety, and harassment by evil and then eventually deliverance from demonic oppression. I can identify with this Psalmist. But brother and sister do you know that even though you didn’t experience demonic oppression or possession that “the pains of death” also surrounded you and that the “pangs of Sheol” also laid hold of you? We were all hell-bent sinners before we were saved. We all have gone astray each to his own way (Isaiah 53:6). All of us have sinned (Romans 3:23) and we all have fallen short of God’s glory. We were all guilty before God. And the penalty for our numerous sins is spiritual death (Romans 6:23). The soul that sins must die (Ezekiel 18:20). Separation from God for eternity is what we deserve. — The wrath of God abided on all of us before we believed and obeyed the gospel of God (John 3:36).
— We started to experience a need for salvation and that the Holy Spirit worked in our lives. It was, in fact, a grace that we were burdened by the thought of God’s wrath abiding on us. It was, in fact, a mercy that God opened our eyes to our desperate plight. Many in the world don’t see their need for God, and they are the ones who are blinded by the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4). The care-free, happy-go-lucky, self-sufficient are the ones in real danger. They are headed for an eternity without God, and many don’t know it! Friend, do these words describe your situation? Do you experience the “pains of death” or the “pangs of Sheol?” If you do, listen to what I am about to say to you.
2) What are the benefits of the Lord? What did God do?
— The Psalmist’s situation changed when he had a revelation of who God was. He mentioned three things. When he looked back on his life, he said: God is Gracious. God is Merciful. God is Righteous, and it is implied that he is Faithful as well, which He is. He preserves the simple. The Psalmist had a revelation of who God was. That is what the Bible reveals as well about anybody who are saved from their sins. Jesus said: “All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Matthew 11:27 NKJV). Salvation doesn’t come by education, but by revelation as an old missionary said. Then after the revelation the Psalmist started to call on the Lord. The Psalmist started to call for deliverance and mercy and grace from God. And He found that God was able to meet all his needs. Listen to what he says: “Return to your rest, O my soul, For the Lord has dealt bountifully with you” (Psalms 116:7 NKJV). After he had called to God, he found the benefits of the Lord. He found the bounty of the Lord. He tasted that the Lord was gracious. So let’s look at these benefits in particular.
— God is gracious. That God is gracious means God gives us what we didn’t work for ourselves. For us as New Testament believers God gives us the righteousness of Christ. This righteousness is imputed to the believer in Christ. Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life in our place. Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the law on our behalf and credited it to our account. We cannot earn this righteousness, we cannot buy it with money, and we cannot work for it because we are all sinners. We all have a flawed righteousness. But God gives us this righteousness when we trust in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. That is why a God is gracious.
— God is merciful. God gives us not what we deserve. We deserve hell. We deserve eternal punishment. “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness” (Habakkuk 1:13 NKJV). Because we transgressed the law of God, we have guilt before a holy God. We have offended an infinite worthy and glorious God. We have lied, stolen, coveted other people’s possessions and wives or husbands, we have taken God’s name in vain, and we have made or worshiped idols numerous times. If anything or anyone has ever been more important to you than God, then you have committed idolatry. Jesus said: if you only look at a woman with sexual desire you have committed adultery (Matthew 5:28). If we hate another person, we have committed murder in God’s eyes (1 John 3:15). We needed to be punished for our sins. We need God’s forgiveness. The just punishment of sin is death. But God gives believers in Christ not what we deserve. He gives those who believe in Christ mercy. God is merciful. Over and over in the Bible God is called the God of mercy (Exodus 32:6,7; Psalm 145:8,9; Psalm 103:8; Jonah 4:2).
— God is righteous. Our sins will never go unpunished. Never (Exodus 34:6,7; Nahum 1:3,4). God is righteous and holy and because of that we had to be punished for our sins, but God made a way so that we don’t have to bear the wrath of God and so that we don’t have to suffer everlasting punishment. Because God is righteous, we need to receive justice from God. But because of the perfect life and sacrifice of Christ on the cross 2000 years ago, outside Jerusalem on the hill called Golgotha, we can be justified. Because Jesus died as our substitute for our sins and took our punishment upon Himself, we can be acquitted. Only because of the crucifixion of Christ can we be blameless in God’s sight. God can now be just in forgiving us and be merciful and gracious to us, because of the substitutionary life and substitutionary death of Jesus Christ on the cross on Golgotha 2000 years ago.
— God preserves the simple. God saves those who humble themselves and confesses their sins. The Bible promises: “Everyone who calls upon the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). But why would you call on God unless you think you need help? Unless you came to the end of yourself? Unless God humbles you, you would not call upon Him. God PRESERVES the simple. In other words, salvation is not an once off event where I needed God 20 years ago or four years ago when I was saved but now I go on in my own strength. No! We need preservation, sanctification, and protection from the powers of sin, self and Satan. We need constant help and saving power of the Holy Spirit. We need preservation and the main Agent here is the Holy Spirit. He preserves us from falling away from the faith. “You delivered my feet from falling.” God is in the business of preserving his saints. Salvation is ongoing and progressive. We need Him still. God preserves us. “You delivered my soul from death.” This may have been true in a physical sense for the Psalmist, but how much more is it true of us who believe in Jesus Christ? Through Jesus Christ’s life and death and resurrection, the power of death has been totally and decisively destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:50-58). O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?
— “I was brought low, but He saved me” God saved the Psalmist. He made him His child.
— God delivers us from depression and sorrow. “You delivered my eyes from tears.” He gives us joy. Salvation by God gives us inexpressible joy as 1 Peter 1:8 says. If there is not joy in your life, then it stands to reason if you are saved, because the fruit of the Spirit is joy.
— “He has loosed my bonds.” This statement refers to deliverance from the power and slavery of sins. Did you forget Christian that you have been delivered from the power of Satan? Did you forget that God has loosed your bonds? Satan is a defeated foe. Jesus broke the power of Satan once and for all at the cross. He disarmed him and made an open spectacle of him at the cross (Colossians 2:15).
— “I believed, therefore, I spoke” God granted him faith. The Psalmist had faith in the divine attributes of God. Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). All these benefits would mean nothing unless we believe in them. Unless we believe they actually apply to us and are meant for us the benefits of God are of no value to us. This brings us to the next point.
3) What shall I give to the Lord for all His benefits? The Psalmist’s resolve.
— “I will take the cup of salvation.” In other words, I will believe that all God is for me, and all that He has done for me in the Person and work of Jesus Christ ACTUALLY applies to me. I will run with His salvation. I will allow the Holy Spirit to apply it to my life. I will hold on to His salvation. I will take this cup, this treasure of Jesus Christ and the Father and the Holy Spirit and rest in God. “Return to your rest, o my soul.” I will soak it all in and be satisfied in God.
— “I will call upon the Name of The Lord.” In other words, I will continue in my relationship with God. I will not give up or lag behind. God will not only be my God in distress and adversity but also in abundance and prosperity. I will keep on praying, seeking for help, advice, counsel, strength and salvation from God.
— “I will walk before The Lord in the land of the living.” I will stay close to God. I will seek His fellowship. I will hide nothing. I will walk in the light as God is in the light. I will humble myself and confess what I need to confess. I will do restitution to whom I should do restitution. I will walk before God and ask for prayer from other Christians. “O Lord, truly, I am your servant,” Can we say this for this year? We are not serving and pleasing man, but God. “Truly?” “Really?” Is it money, man, wife, husband, family, children, career who you are primarily serving or are you primarily serving God?
–“I will pay my vows in the presence of His people.” I know Jesus told us never to make a vow because many times in the heat of the moment we promise God things something extraordinary which we find later on we cannot do. But every Christian owe God their lifelong worship, adoration and service. I will do what I promised God I would do. What promise did you make God when you were in a desperate time in your life? What did you promise God you would do if He were to save you from your sins? I know I had promised God certain things when I was in distress and when the “pangs of Sheol” got hold of me. Are your eyes still set on doing what you promised God? I know I purposed to serve God for the rest of my life just as the Psalmist did. This resolve means: I will lay my life down for His church. I will serve the Lord. I will die to self and comfort. I will take up the cross, deny myself and follow Jesus. It is interesting that the next verse after this resolution is: “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints”. By doing what you promised God, may result in your physical death, (like we witness now around the world as ISIS are beheading Christians in Iraq and Syria, just because they are Christians), but it will definitely mean death to self and death to your own selfish interests and selfish desires. This year is a new beginning for us all. Will we devote our lives, our time, our resources, our abilities, our talents, our money, etc. to God and live for Him?
— “I will offer thanksgiving to God.” I will keep in remembrance the benefits of the Lord. The Bible is replete of the command to give thanks to God.
— “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful” (Colossians 3:15 NKJV).
— 1 Thessalonians 5:16 “in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (I Thessalonians 5:18 NKJV).
— Philippians 4:5-7 “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6 NKJV), etc.
–Will you count your blessings this year as a regular exercise? Will you offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving to God? These five things were the Psalmist’s resolves. When he looked back on how God delivered him and when he pondered all the benefits of the Lord, he made these resolves. Will you do the same in the coming year?
Looking back on what God has done for you, will you take the cup of salvation?
Will you keep on calling on the Lord?
Will you walk before the Lord in the land of the living?
Will you pay your vows in the presence of his people?
And will you offer thanksgiving to God?
The rest of your life is taking off with a bang! Are you set to take off in it, with God, for God, and in God?