The Crucible of Worship: Reflecting on Psalm 116Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Hebrew Bible, Hermeneutics, Ministry, Preaching, Psalms, Worship
When I was 15; something happened that changed my life, I got my first pair of glasses! It was time to go down and get my drivers permit. I was excited and ready to take an exam. I hurriedly filled out the answers to the written test and I blew it away. Then that mean lady, you know her, made me sit down and take an eye exam! I stumbled and fumbled over letters trying to read them to her. I was confident I was not blind and did not need any thing attached to my face. Much to my consternation — I failed! I had to go down and get glasses! I was shattered. I was humiliated! Here I expected to drive home in our ugly yellow/brown Dodge Cornet Station wagon home but instead I had to go get glasses!
We went down to the eye doctor a couple of days latter and I came away with a brand new pair of glasses. I hated admitting that I couldn’t see well enough to drive without them. But when I put them on — whoa! I could see! Those were leaves on the trees. The clouds were not just huge blobs in the sky, they had shapes and sizes. That night I went out to look at the stars and the night sky looked very different indeed. I could see four times as many stars as before — so many in fact I lost my bearings and could not find where I wanted to go. I never knew all the good things I was missing out on simply because I didn’t have glasses to see. Now I thank God for my glasses.
I have had similar experience in worshiping God. I grew up going to church, every Sunday and Wednesday. But the concept of `praising’ God was as nebulous to me as those clouds without my glasses on. The thought of worshiping God, I was as blind to what that meant as I was the night sky which I thought I knew so well! I thought I worshipped the Almighty but I was just mouthing words that I didn’t understand, and singing and praying to a God I did not really know!
I remember when I first failed my “praise exam”! I had been going to Bible college for three years so I should have known how to worship — or so I thought! I baptized a lady and she wanted me to teach her how to praise God. I was dumb-founded! No one had ever asked me a question like that before. Well, just pray and sing . . . “go to church,” was what I told her, but I knew that sounded hallow, and realized I myself did not know how to praise my God. I have, btw, failed my praise exam many times since then …
I thought surely the Bible would tell me how to praise God. But I could find nothing that said: “This is how you are to praise God, here are three steps…” But I started to read the Book of Psalms (Book of Praises in Hebrew) and I discovered that these people knew how to praise God. As I read the book over and over I discovered that praise is not so much a routine or technique we go through but a matter of the heart. Worship, simply put, is a heart expressing love toward God.
Then I did begin to notice a “pattern” of sorts in the Psalms, however. There was not a flag that said here is step one or step two. But over and over certain concepts kept coming to the forefront of the Psalms. I want to share with you what I discovered in the Psalms. I want to share how different my world looked, so different that like the night sky I can say before I did not have the foggiest idea of what was really in the sky. Now God has given me glasses to see and those glasses are called the Book of Psalms. I discovered three basic components of praise in Psalms: 1) it is first a simple acknowledgement of WHO God is; 2) it is acknowledging what God has done; 3) acknowledging what he can do or will do in the present. We will see these themes in Psalm 116.
LIFE’S PAST CRISIS (116: 1-4)
I love the LORD, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will cull on him as long as I live.
The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came upon me; I was overcome by trouble and sorrow. Then I called an the name of the LORD: `O LORD, save me”
Our unnamed psalmist confesses to what we ourselves often confront — the harsh realities of life. He describes his situation as being entangled in “cords of death,” he was in “anguish of the grave” and “overcome by trouble and sorrow.” Does any of that sound familiar? It does to me. I don’t know if this person was deathly ill or under severe persecution. Bu whatever it was it was enough to cause anxiety in our psalmist.
The psalmist’s exact situation may not be ours but I have been under similar burdens, haven’t you? The struggle we all have over a loved ones illness or our own. Maybe financial hard times have come upon you and creditors are breathing dawn your neck terrorizing your existence. Maybe the IRS has decided to do an audit on you or your boss is on your case. Maybe your job is in the balance. Perhaps your family is falling apart. We have all been here with this psalmist.
For the psalmist it was this horrible experience that pushed him to call upon the LORD to act in his behalf. God have mercy on me, you know my situation. You know those seeking my life are liars, please deliver me! Lord you know the troubles in my life so “save me!” It is here that we see principle three in action, praise grows out of the belief that God will ACT on my behalf! I must believe that God is active in the world – without that I will never call on the name of the LORD. That leads us to the second section of this psalm.
GOD’S DEEDS ON BEHALF OF THE PSALMIST (116.5-11)
The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The LORD protects the simple hearted when I was in great need, he saved me. Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the LORD has been good to you.
For you, O LORD have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the LORD an the land of the living.
I believed; therefore I said, “I am greatly afflicted.” And in my dismay I said, “All men are liars.
Before I got my spiritual glasses (which hardly gives me 20-20 vision by the way!) I thought praise was just a matter of singing. Nothing could be further from the truth! Praise is dependent upon knowing God, and not just facts knowing God but knowing him accurately I praise him because I KNOW him. If I do not know him I am just mouthing words that get no higher than the ceiling.
Throughout the whole Bible, but especially in Psalms, God’s people come to know him through his actions. Even in the NT when John the Baptist is sitting in prison wondering if he made a mistake about Jesus, he sent his disciples to ask Christ “are you the one?” Jesus did not respond by quoting prophecies or give a list of his divine attributes. The Savior said:
Go back and report to John what you heat, and see: the blind receive sight, the the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised., and the good news is preached to the poor (Mt. 11:4-5).
Jesus wanted John to draw his own conclusions about his messiahship on the basis of what he DID!! Actions speak louder than words we always are told, well God has given us a plethora of action to determine if he is a faithful and trustworthy God. In the Hebrew Scriptures in God says in essence: look at my record, it speaks for itself, now you draw your conclusions about me from that record.
Hebrew saints did just that. Again and again in Psalms believers refer to that marvelous experience of crossing the Reed Sea and they use it as a rallying point of experience to encourage themselves and others — if God could do that, then surely he can do wonders now in the present!
This is absolutely fundamental to praise. Our psalmist believed God could and would act — and he did. He KNOWS the Lord because he has experienced the Lord. Yahweh delivered him and he praises him for a concrete personal deliverance. That is the crucible of praise! Listen to the psalmist: “the LORD is gracious and righteous . . . full of compassion. The LORD protects the simple hearted...” The minstrel alludes to Exodus 34.6: Yahweh is gracious. How did the psalmist know that? He knows because he himself has experienced the grace of God first hand: “when I was in need, he saved me!” Praise grows out of that intimate personal knowledge of God. Who has God delivered? ME! Based an the accurate knowledge that God delivers, the psalmist can calm his troubled spirit; “be at rest once more, O my soul” Why, because God has been, active in his life.
Did you notice those extremely significant words in verse 10. “I believed; therefore I said, ‘I cam greatly afflicted.” What did the psalmist believe? He believed that God would act. He believed in the God who had proven himself as trustworthy! His faith in God drove him to praise & prayer. This gives us a big clue to the crucible of worship. Worship are a response to the mighty deeds God has worked in the context of our own lives.
How can I put my spiritual glasses on so I can see the mighty acts of God in my life? The best way to do that is to do what the psalmist did -¬ keep a list of victories that God brings. David kept one: he knew how many lions and bears Yahweh had delivered him from so when he met Goliath he knew God would give him the victory. The Israelites praised God for the Exodus and her deliverance; we must acknowledge the Egypts, Babylons and bears that God has defeated in our lives. When you pray, keep a list and date the request, then come back and put the date of the answer. Listen to other Christians prayer requests, ask them about times when there could be no doubt God was watching faithfully over them. When you are troubled and a Scripture suddenly speaks to you — it seems as if God put it in there just for you — mark it down in on your list. Your Bible will be knitted together with the threads of your life, they become the fragrance of praise.
HOW CAN I REPAY THE LORD (116.12-19)
How can I repay the LORD for all his goodness to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD. ? 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 saints. O LORD, truly I am your servant, the son of your maidservant; 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, O Jerusalem
Praise the LORD.”
Once we start seeing the world with our new glasses and we see how gracious our Lord really is toward us, we realize how inadequate any praise from our lips must be. I can never repay the Lord for what he has done in the past nor for what he is doing in the present. The psalmist realizes this. The best he can do is fulfill his vows to the Lord. He will lift up the cup of salvation, which is part of the thanksgiving offering and praise Yahweh as best he can. His true intimate knowledge of God convinces him how inadequate his attempts at praise really are; but it is from his heart and he means every word of praise offered to God. That is why it is a sweet sacrifice to the Lord. The rest of the psalmist’s life will be spent in praise to God for what he has done (v.1)
Do we have any vows we need to keep before the gracious God of heaven? You made a vow when you were baptized didn’t you? You vowed before heaven that you were making Jesus the Lord of your life! Does that vow need a little attention? I vowed I would give him my heart for allowing his Son to die for me, have I? Am I fulfilling my vows to God? My praise flows out of these. If I am not seeking to honor him, and to know him intimately then how can I really praise him. The words I sing out of the song book are someone else’s praise. They become mine when I can say these words represent the knowledge that God has been active in my own life. It is my praise when I say with our psalmist “how can I repay the LORD ;or his goodness to me?” Before I can say that I must know that he has been very good to me!
The daily deliverances in our become the crucible of praise. The little things that happen day in and day out — keep track of them and praise God for them! Think of the bad times in your life — did God see you through them? Have you thanked him for his grace in those situations, or did he rescue you and you forget to acknowledge it was He who delivered you? I must confess that I have frequently forgotten . . .