Friday, July 12, 2013

Be Still, My Soul

Psalm 116, is one of the “Hallel Psalms” that were sung in connection with the feast of the Passover. Psalms 113 and 114 were used before the meal, and Psalm 116 was one of the Psalms that were sung afterward. So, we can think of it as kind of a thank-you prayer to God after a very important meal of remembrance. Jesus and his disciples would have sung it after He instituted the Lord’s Supper and they were about to go to the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus would be betrayed and arrested.

The author of this psalm uses very personal language—he (or she) is talking about a personal experience. “I” is used a lot. As we read this Psalm is not difficult to imagine a friend sitting down and telling us about something exciting that just happened, something they can’t wait to share with us. It isn’t difficult to imagine someone standing up in church and doing the same thing! The first thing he (or she) says is, “I love the Lord for he heard my voice. He listened to my cry for mercy.” This introduces the rest of what we are about to hear. It sums up the joyful and thankful theme of the entire Psalm.

A) AN OVERWHELMING PROBLEM—When we are young, we are sometimes under the illusion that there is nothing that we can’t do. The future is bright and we are full of youthful optimism. The older a person gets, though, the more we realize that we’re not as strong, powerful, wise, and invincible as we once thought we were.
-A job that had been so lucrative and rewarding is suddenly put at risk because of layoffs…
-A body that once was so healthy and strong is all at once threatened by disease…
-A house that had been in the family for generations is damaged beyond repair by a flood…
The list could go on. At least once in every person’s life, we face a problem that is so enormous and insurmountable that we feel absolutely and utterly overwhelmed by it.

The Psalmist writes, “The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave was upon me; I was overcome by trouble and sorrow.” (v. 3) There is no greater obstacle than death itself. There is no dilemma more universal: “The soul who sins is the one who will die…” (Ezekiel 18:20) “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23), and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). There are few feelings as terrible as knowing that something bad is going to happen and being powerless to stop it. To the writer of the Psalm, it seemed as if death itself had become a living being and was reaching up with its cords to entangle him. The anguish, grief and sorrow he felt in his soul was more than he could bear.

When our world is turned upside down by tragic events, it is easy to become cynical and disillusioned with life. When we witness how evil some people can be, it becomes hard for us to trust anyone. The writer of the Psalm expressed this. In his dismay he said, “All men are liars.” (verse 11)

We have been lied to. The lie is called evolution. The lie says that all we have to do is apply the knowledge and wisdom of our modern  minds to the world’s problems, and through the sheer force of our will we can eliminate them one by one. Evolution says that inevitably we will be able to better ourselves. Science becomes the solution. But we have seen time and again that for every new technological or scientific advance there are even more new problems and new dilemmas that crop up. Instead of the story of mankind being that of a constant upward climb, we find ourselves spiraling downward into ever-increasing degrees of evil and wickedness.

This has left us unsure of ourselves. The old assumptions are challenged, the authorities questioned. Can we really be sure of anything? Are there any absolutes left for us to grasp, any solid foundations on which we can safely stand—or is it all just an illusion, a dream that has suddenly turned into a nightmare?

B) A CRY FOR HELP: What do you do in such a situation? How do we handle our predicament? There is nothing we can do. There is no way we can handle it on our own! Our only hope is for someone else to help us. So the writer of the Psalm says, “Then I called on the name of the LORD: ‘O LORD, save me!’” (verse 4).

Often we resist asking for help. It might mean that we are caught in an embarrassing predicament. It might mean that we have to swallow our pride. It might mean that we aren’t as independent and self sufficient as we thought we were.

A little boy was tugging at a big rock and doing his best to lift it. He was grunting and pulling at it but it didn’t budge. His father came along and asked him if he was having any trouble. He said, “Yes, I am trying and trying and can’t move the rock.” The father said to him, “Well, son, are you using all available energy?” The boy replied, “Yes, Father, I think I am” Then the dad looked at him and said, “No, son, I don’t think you are, for you haven’t asked for my help.”

An important life lesson is that asking for help is usually a good idea. No matter what your problem might be, somebody else has probably been through the same thing—and knows what to do. As I think back over my own short life, I realize that many of my headaches and heartaches could have been avoided if I’d only asked someone for help.

Of course, when you ask for help, it helps to ask the right person. The person first of all has to care about you. Secondly, they need to be able to do something about it. God meets both conditions! Even when no one else can help us, he can. Even if it seems as if nobody cares, he still does. Just ask Peter!

Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:29-33)

If you don’t believe Peter, ask the two blind men and the beggar whose sight Jesus restored. Ask the Canaanite woman whose daughter Jesus freed from demon-possession. Ask the man whose son Jesus released from violent seizures. Ask the ten lepers Jesus cleansed. They all cried out, “have mercy!” and he heard their cries for help.

The terrible tragedy that we witnessed in New York, Washington DC, and in our nation’s skies, it is good to pull your eyes off of the sights and sounds of destruction on the TV screen. Go for a walk by yourself or with a friend on a clear night. Look up at the stars. They’re still there! There is still a sense of order and purpose in God’s creation, even if you have to look quite a distance to find it.

Paul commends this truth to Timothy as a trustworthy saying: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15) No matter what else Timothy would experience, he knew that he could absolutely depend on this absolute truth.

Even in the midst of an overwhelming problem, we can rely on what we know and believe about God, and we can recall what he has done for us in the past. What God reveals to us in his word is true and will stand forever, even if the stars themselves should fall out of the sky! After his cry for help, the Psalmist recounts the things he knows to be true about God, and remembers what God has done in the past. He is making a sort of checklist of all the things he knows to be true about God, and the things God has done for him.

What God is:
1) Gracious—he loves me with a love I don’t deserve.
2) Righteous—he always does what is just and right.
3) Compassionate—he has pity on me and doesn’t give me the punishment I do deserve.
What God does:
1) Protects the simplehearted—he has a special place in his heart for those who can’t protect themselves.
2) He saved me when I was in great need.

Based on what he knows about God, the Psalmist then preaches himself a little sermon: “Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.” (verse 7)

Do you ever listen to the things you tell yourself? Sometimes these little conversations with ourselves can be pretty negative. We kick ourselves for making mistakes. We talk ourselves out of our successes. It might be a good thing if instead of always beating up on ourselves all the time, we preached ourselves a little Gospel for a change. The Psalms are full of these little one-line wonders!

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Psalm 42:11)

“Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him.” (Psalm 62:5)

“Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.” (Psalm 103:1)

“Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” (Psalm 103:2)

D) PRAISE GOD FOR HIS GRACIOUS DELIVERANCE: From preaching to himself, the writer of the Psalm moves on to talking to God himself—praising him for his gracious deliverance. In this Psalm we have now come full circle. We have moved from the depths of despair to a joyful expression of thanks and praise:

“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 in the land of the living” (verse 9).

God has delivered us for something and he has delivered us from something. He delivers from death, tears and stumbling. He delivers us for the purpose that we may walk before him in the land of the living.

Poetically, the Psalmist describes how God’s deliverance extends to every part of him: his soul, his eyes, and his feet.

How has God delivered us? The Psalmist doesn’t go into detail. Ironically, we now know that it was through the one time that Jesus willingly denied himself the Father’s help. Remember that this Psalm was used before Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane? There he said, “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.” (John 12:27) Jesus gave his life for us on the cross to save us from sin and death.

Yet God’s mighty deliverance still prevailed, because on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead in victory. Because he lives, death has been defeated and we know that we will live with God forever. Now that’s a reason to praise God!


It’s funny. The people I hear saying, “God has been good to me” are often people you wouldn’t expect. They are in nursing homes. They have known tragedy. Their life has been hard. But perhaps when life is the hardest we see just how good God really is. Or just maybe they’ve learned the secret of Psalm 116!

1) Tell God your problems…he hears you.
2) Cry out to him for help…he can help you.
3) Remember what is still true about God, no matter what.
4) Praise God for his gracious deliverance in Christ Jesus our Lord.…Amen!