In Eat this Book, Eugene Peterson teaches us to chew on a passage of scripture, digest it, and then put it to use in practical ways. Our Christian fathers and mothers called this process Lectio Divina. In this passage, the Psalmist offers gratitude . . . and promises.
Psalm 116: 12 -17 (MSG); What I Promised to Do
What can I give back to God
for the blessings he’s poured out on me?
I’ll lift high the cup of salvation—a toast to God!
I’ll pray in the name of God;
I’ll complete what I promised God I’d do,
and I’ll do it together with his people.
When they arrive at the gates of death,
God welcomes those who love him.
Oh, God, here I am, your servant,
your faithful servant: set me free for your service!
Psalm 116 is sung or read each year at Passover celebrations in Jewish homes to this day. This psalm is part of the collection called the “Egyptian Hallel” (Egyptian praise), centering on the story of the deliverance from Egypt. Psalm 113 is a model example of hymn of praise. Psalm 114 is the centerpiece of the collection, reporting the events of the Exodus, “When Israel went out from Egypt.” It tells the story of the nation’s deliverance from bondage. Psalm 115 then celebrates this deliverance with a call to praise.* (see below)
Our focus today is on Psalm 116 which tells the story of an individual’s deliverance from death and what the response to that deliverance should be. Verses 12-17 of Psalm 116 focus our hearts on gratitude. How shall we respond to all the blessings we have received from God? The psalmist suggests four responses:
- Give God a toast! We raise our glasses to the one who has delivered us.
- Pray in the name of God.
- Deliver on our promises.
- Offer ourselves to God and pray that he will set us free to “freely serve.”
♥ Write a prayer that “toasts” God for the blessings he has showered on you. For a change of pace, ask your family or dinner guests to “toast” God for some blessing in their lives instead of your normal prayer. You might even want to give God some applause for his great works.
♥ Have you ever offered a shallow promises to God: “If you make her better, I will serve you forever.” Or “Please forgive me for this, and I’ll never do it again!” If so, have you followed through on the promise? The Psalmist encourages us to deliver on our promises! Another question: Have you offered sincere promises but broken those promises? Think about what genuine promises you can make to God. Are you willing to hold those promises in your heart and fulfill them?
♥ Is the service we offer others pleasing to God? Or are we motivated instead by the need to keep busy or to feel good about ourselves, or to feel needed or to gain approval? Ask God to set you free from your selfish motivations to serve and to show you how and where he is working and would like your collaborate and creative efforts. Watch for how you are becoming truly free to serve – or not serve – as God directs you.
♥ Offer yourself to God every morning and try to be a servant as God leads you through the day. At bed-time, review the day and see what opportunities to serve you have grasped and which you have missed or ignored or denied. Have you fulfilled the role of a “faithful servant?”
MORE FOOD FOR THOUGHT
“The first half of [Psalm 116] does not portray a bad life. God is wonderfully active in every difficulty. But the second half is markedly different – freer, happier. We now discern notes of extravagance, of reckless spontaneity . . . . How do we get from verses 1-11, a life marked by remembered pain and deliverance, dark and light mingled together, a saved live, true, but also a rough life to verses 12- 19, marked by a rush of energy put to the uses of praise and vows, a coherent, put together life? Why didn’t the psalmist fill in that blank space [explaining that transition.]
The blank space, the unmarked, unexplained transition from the cry for help to the celebratory thanksgiving is fairly common in Psalms. It turns out that a lot happens in that blank space. And we have a name for it: growing up in Christ . . . . We would very much like to be in charge of this transition into Christian maturity, but we cannot be. The work and presence of the Wind, Holy Wind work, is in the blank space between the lines and is the main thing. . . . it is a mystery to which we can only submit. We cannot manipulate or control the Wind-Spirit that forms us and sets us free in the land of the living. Our only access to it is prayer” (Eugene Peterson in As Kingfishers Catch Fire, p. 76-77).
* This short summary of Psalms 113-116 is based on information shared in a sermon on May 8, 2011 by James Limburg on the Working Preacher website