Sometimes it’s easy to see how God answered our prayers. One time I prayed for a young girl at a Sunday night worship service. For weeks she had been suffering with a problem in her bowels. On the way home from that service, she felt a sharp pain in her abdomen. The pain immediately went away and she was healed. It wasn’t hard to determine the moment that prayer was answered.
The writer of Psalm 116:1-19 seemed
to have similar experiences with God. It says, “1 I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
he heard my cry for mercy.
2 Because he turned his ear to me,
I will call on him as long as I live.
3 The cords of death entangled me,
the anguish of the grave came over me;
I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
4 Then I called on the name of the Lord:
“Lord, save me!”
5 The Lord is
gracious and righteous;
our God is full of compassion.
6 The Lord protects the unwary;
when I was brought low, he saved me.
7 Return to your rest, my soul,
for the Lord has been good to you.
8 For you, Lord, have
delivered me from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling,
9 that I may walk before the Lord
in the land of the living.
10 I trusted in the Lord
when I said,
“I am greatly afflicted”;
11 in my alarm I said,
“Everyone is a liar.”
12 What shall I return to the Lord
for all his goodness to me?
13 I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the Lord.
14 I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people.
15 Precious in the sight of the Lord
is the death of his faithful servants.
16 Truly I am your servant, Lord;
I serve you just as my mother did;
you have freed me from my chains.
17 I will sacrifice a thank offering to you
and call on the name of the Lord.
18 I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people,
19 in the courts of the house of the Lord—
in your midst, Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord.”
There’s a lot happening in this psalm. It’s easier to understand it if we break it down into different parts. The writer says he loved and trusted the Lord. The Lord heard his cry for mercy when he brought his problems to the Lord. The struggles he faced were:
* Cords of death entangled him and he was overcome by distress and sorrow (Vs. 1)
* People were lying about him (11)
We don’t know exactly what was going on in his life but there can be no doubt his problems were very serious. Please take a moment and think about the problems you have in your life right now. Now answer these questions: Do I love the Lord? Am I trusting him and calling on him to help me with my problems? If we aren’t doing this, then we need to ask one more question. How is God ever going to answer my prayers if I’m not praying to him?
The simple truth is God answers prayer. According to a 2011 article titled, Statistics on Prayer in the U.S., a group of physicians at San Francisco General Medical Center randomly divided patients into two groups. One group was prayed for by Christians. The other group received no prayer. The patients who received prayer suffered “less congestive heart failure, required less diuretic and antibiotic therapy, had fewer episodes of pneumonia, had fewer cardiac arrests and were less frequently intubated and ventilated.” While praying about our problems doesn’t usually make them disappear completely, it does make a difference.
After the writer of Psalm 116 called on the Lord to help him, the Lord responded with:
*Grace, righteousness and compassion (5)
*Delivering him from death, sorrow and weakness (8)
Many times, the answers to our prayers don’t come fast and they aren’t obvious. Sometimes the answer is “no.” Sometimes the answer is “yes but wait.” Nonetheless, they are responses from God. We typically don’t like these two answers though.
A classmate of mine from middle school suffered a great tragedy last year. Her daughter took her own life. Even though my friend was raised in a very strict Christian household, she isn’t sure if she believes in God anymore. And if she does, it isn’t the God of her childhood. I told her I would pray for her. She responded that she doesn’t pray anymore because God didn’t give her the one thing she had been praying for, which was her daughter to be healed from depression. I sense my friend hasn’t truly abandoned her faith. But she is struggling with it because God’s answer was “no.”
We don’t know if the Lord responded to all of the writer’s requests with “yes” answers. Perhaps some of them were “no.” Still others might have been “yes but wait.” This brings us to another question we need to answer in our own lives. How has God answered my prayers in the past when I called out to him?
Because God did answer him, the writer couldn’t help but worship and serve the Lord. He responded by:
*Lifting up the cup of salvation and calling on the Lord (13)
*Fulfilling his vows to the Lord (14, 18)
*Having no fear of death (15)
*Serving God (16)
*Giving offerings (17)
He understood that walking with God wasn’t a one-way relationship where all he did was ask God to bless him. He knew he needed to respond to God.
Let me give you another question to wrestle with: How do I respond when God answers my prayers? While gratitude is the proper way we should respond, we often overlook this because we’re too busy asking for the next thing on our list.
God saw the writer of Psalm 116 through whatever he was facing. This gave the writer the results he wanted – rest for his soul (7).
This brings us to another question. It’s the culmination of all the previous questions. If we had negative answers to any of the them, then the answer to this next question will probably be “no.”
Please ask yourself: Is my soul at rest?
I hope you’re one of the blessed people in the minority who can say “yes.” If you’re weak in your faith or struggling spiritually you’ve already said “no.” It’s also very possible you’re thinking, “I don’t know. How can you tell?”
Many people don’t even thing about their soul and whether or not it’s healthy. But we should. God created every person with a soul. And it’s unique to each of us.
Dealing with this issue helps us realize the answers to all of the questions we just looked at are issues of the soul. The healthier our souls are and the more they’re in tune with God, the more positive our answers were. If our souls are unhealthy or out of tune with God, our answers were more negative.
Many of you have allowed me to see past the walls we all put up so others won’t see what’s really going on in our lives. There’s one thing we all have in common. We all have struggles, pain and difficulties. Those of you who haven’t let me into your lives are dealing with the same things. Often these struggles, pain and difficulties are so overwhelming that they define our lives more than Jesus does.
Yes, we’ve asked Jesus to be our Savior. We have salvation. But we don’t understand who we really are or what it means to walk with Jesus. Instead of being spirit-filled, grace-led, joyous children of God, we end up being weary, frustrated, legalistic Christians who go through the motions wondering if this is all there really is.
Can anyone besides me relate to this?
This can change if we understand who we are in Christ and how to truly walk with God. We’re going to begin a sermon series on the soul. What is it? How does God interact with it? What attacks the soul? How do we find healing and prosperity for the soul?
To help us prepare for this, please wrestle with one more question: Who am I?
Most people will answer by saying such things as, “I’m a mom” or “I’m a husband.” Others will say, “I’m a teacher” or “I’m a Nittany Lion.” As a Christian, you might respond with, “I’m a child of God saved by grace.” While all of these are good phrases that describe you, none of them tell who you are. They tell what you do, what you like and define your faith. None of them describe your soul.
The soul is the parts of us that aren’t flesh and bones. It is made up of our emotions, likes and dislikes, and mind. Most people, including Christians, go through life not knowing who they really are. We live according to how others think they should live – and not according to how God created us to live. This means we don’t understand our own soul or how it truly interacts with God. So, again, please wrestle with this question: Who am I?
The writer of Psalm 116 understood who he was in the Lord. This allowed his soul to be at rest. I pray we can achieve the same thing.