What Shall I Render? Back to all sermons

Date: July 26, 2013

Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen

Series: Psalms

Category: Psalms

Scripture: Psalm 116:15–116:15

Tags: Psalms, psalm, death, gratitude, answered prayer

Synopsis: After a series of messages on negative (painful) emotions, in this message What Shall I Render? we consider a positive emotion – the emotion of gratitude; especially gratitude for answered prayer. In Psalm 116 the writer reflects on his experience when God delivered him from deadly peril. Pastor Cam shared six responses that gratitude for answered prayer should produce in our lives. We also take a look at Psalm 116:15 to discover what God’s perspective is on death (particularly the death of a believer).

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In this series of messages during this summer, we have been exploring different human emotions. We have been doing it by finding a particular psalm or psalms that reflect that emotion and studying that psalm to glean lessons on how to respond Biblically to that particular emotion.

So far in the series we have reflected on the human emotion of discouragement or depression, the emotions raised by a guilty conscience, the emotion of anger and last week, the emotion of fear.

So far, every emotion we have looked at has been negative or painful. So today, for a change of pace, we are going to do something different. We are going to look at a positive, life-affirming emotion. Specifically, we are going to look at the emotion of gratitude: the response of the believing soul to the experience of answered prayer.

The psalm we are using for our text is Psalm 116, which we read for our Scripture reading a few moments ago. There is no inscription at the beginning of this psalm, so we do not know who wrote it, although many scholars attribute it to David because of its style and vocabulary. The lack of an inscription also means that we have no specific event or circumstances to attach it to. However, the life experience the psalmist is reflecting on is clear in the content of the psalm itself. The writer had had a near death experience. He thought he was going to die. Whether the threat of death came from a serious illness, or on the battlefield, or from some enemy’s evil intentions, or some other life-threatening circumstance, we don’t know. But death was a very real possibility; even a probability.

Verse 3 reads:

The snares of death encompassed me;
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.

The poetic language is graphic; the snares, ropes or cords of death were wrapped around him. Sheol was the Hebrew name for the place of death. The word translated “pangs” refers to anything narrow or confining and restrictive, thus causing distress. This word and the word “distress” in the next line are actually variations on the same root. There is actually a play on words here that is not apparent in the English translations. We could literally translate these two lines:

“The restrictive, confining distress of impending death found me.
I found confining distress and anguish.”

Death, with its accompanying distress was closing in on him. This was the experience the writer was reflecting on as he composed this psalm. In his distress, what did he do? Look at verse 4:

Then I called on the name of the Lord:
“O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!”

In his distress, he prayed and called on the Lord. And God answered. This is clear in verse 1 and 2:

because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy.
2 Because he inclined his ear to me,

The psalmist prayed and pleaded with God for mercy and God listened and answered his prayers. He makes this clear again in verses 8-9:

For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling;
9 I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.

God saved him from death and restored him. It was a dramatic answer to prayer and a dramatic deliverance from the jaws of death.

This is the experience that the psalmist is pondering as he wrote this psalm. Now I want you to consider. What do you think the writer felt as a result of that experience? Remember, we have been describing our emotions as the response of the human soul to life experiences. This is a dramatic life experience. What do you think he was feeling as a result? What would you have felt? What is our reaction when God answers our prayers and delivers us from our dilemmas? This is what we want to focus on in this message, using this psalm as our textbook.

I have six points to my message, based on what I have found in this psalm.

1. Gratitude for answered prayer should lead to greater love for God.

The Psalm opens with this open and clear testimony in verse 1:

I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy.

Do you think that means that he did not love the Lord before? No. But his love overflowed. His love was intensified. His love for the Lord grew as a result of this experience of answered prayer. Whenever we experience answered prayer, it is fuel to feed our love for our great and awesome God. “I love the Lord!” How often do we say that to others? How often do we say it to God himself? “I love you Lord!” We should say it often. But we find ourselves saying it with a little more fervor and a little more felt emotion when we have seen God act in answer to our prayers. Gratitude for answered prayer should lead to greater love for God.

2. Gratitude for answered prayer should lead to greater commitment to prayer.

This is the point he makes in verse 2:

Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.

When we experience God’s deliverance and his answer to prayer, it should give us the incentive to double our prayer efforts. It should lead us to make prayer our response of first resort, not our last resort. The psalmist makes this a kind of vow; Because God listened to me and answered my prayer, I have added motivation; “I will call on him as long as I live.”

3. Gratitude for answered prayer should lead us to reflect on the character of God.

Look at verses 5-6:

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful.
6 The Lord preserves the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me.

The psalmist reflects on the character of God. And I think it is very instructive that as he does so, he reflects on God as being gracious and righteous and merciful. There is no sense of entitlement here. There is no sense of deserving the mercy of God. There is only a recognition of God’s grace and mercy to the undeserving. He even refers to himself as “simple”. It’s not exactly a compliment to himself: naïve, foolish, immature are all synonyms for this word. He speaks of being brought low.

Have you ever heard testimonies about answered prayer that seemed to give more credit to the one praying and his great faith than to the God who answers prayer? There is none of that spirit here. Only a deep reflection on the character of God as kind and gracious and merciful to the simple, the foolish, the lowly and the undeserving. Gratitude, after all, is truly an emotion of the humble, not the proud.

4. Gratitude for answered prayer should lead to more faithful service to God.

Verse 9 says it this way:

I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.

This verse actually communicates two things. It is a testimony to the psalmist’s deliverance from death. He is still in the land of the living. But it is also a commitment. What does it mean to “walk before the Lord”? It is an idiom for service and obedience. It is as though he says, “My time in the “land of the living” has been extended. It is therefore my commitment to walk before the Lord in faithful service to him.” When God gives us a new lease on life, another chance, another opportunity, what will we do with it? Answered prayer should lead us to more faithful service to God.

5. Gratitude for answered prayer should lead us to keep our promises to God.

This commitment of the psalmist is actually stated twice in the same identical words.

In verse 14:

I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.

Again in verse 18:

I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.

Sometimes in our times of desperation we are moved to make some promise or vow to God. “God if you will get me out of this dilemma, I will…” We don’t know what the psalmist vowed. But what is clear is his intention to keep his promises. I am not saying whether we should or shouldn’t make such promises to God. But if we do make them, we better keep them.

Maybe you have heard the expression “Foxhole religion.” It refers to men in the military who found themselves hiding in a temporary hole they dug in the ground (called a foxhole) while bullets whistled over their heads. In their great fear and desperation, they pray, “God, if you get me out of here alive, I will go to seminary and become a pastor. God if you get me out of this alive, I will go to Africa as a missionary. God if you get me out of this alive, I will…” But all too often, when God does answer prayer and the bullets do stop flying, the promises are forgotten.

Let me ask you. Have you ever made such vows or promises to God? If so, have you kept them?

Finally…

6. Gratitude for answered prayer should lead to public praise and thanksgiving.

This is really the underlying theme of the entire psalm and the writing of the psalm itself is a fulfillment of this principle.

We see it in verses 12-13:

What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me?
13 I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord,

There is some debate on the reference to the cup of salvation. The best explanation I could find related it to the drink offerings that were part of the Old Testament sacrificial worship. These drink offerings were associated with gratefulness. The psalmist is saying that in gratitude he will go to the temple to offer up the appropriate thank offerings, lifting up the cup of salvation and giving glory to God.

This response is even more clearly stated in verses 17-19:

I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord.
18 I will pay 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, O Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord!

It may be that my points 5 and 6 are one and the same. That the vows that the psalmist made to the Lord were promises to bring his offerings of thanksgiving into the temple. In any case, the giving of public praise to God for his answered prayer should come naturally to us, flowing out of grateful hearts. It doesn’t need to be in a large venue with a stage and microphone. It may be in your Life Group or Bible Study, or just one on one to a friend or colleague at work. But we should be eager to offer up the sacrifice of thanksgiving which comes from a grateful heart.

In verse 12, the psalmist asked the question: What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me?

From this psalm I have offered six answers to that question. But embedded in each of my points is a very deliberately chosen word:

Gratitude for answered prayer should…

Because if we are honest, we don’t always respond as the psalmist did. You may recall an incident in Jesus’ own life and ministry. He was approached by ten lepers. Leprosy was a sentence of death in the ancient world. They cried out to him together: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priests. As they were going, they were healed. In his compassion and mercy, Jesus healed all ten of them! How many of them came back to thank Jesus? That’s right. Just one.

How often are you and I guilty of the same sin of ingratitude to the Lord. What shall we render to God for all his benefits? The feelings that come when we experience God wonderfully answering prayer in our lives – these are wonderful feelings. But what do we do with them?

Gratitude for answered prayer should

  • Lead to greater love for GodLead to greater commitment to prayer
  • Lead us to reflect on the character of God
  • Lead us to more faithful service to GodLead us to keep our promises to God
  • Lead us to public praise and thanksgiving

It should. But does it? Is there an “app gap” in our lives in this matter of our response to God for his blessings and answers to prayer?

Before we close the book on this wonderful little psalm, I want to take a few moments to explore one particular verse of the psalm. In a sense this is a sermon within a sermon, for it takes our thoughts and reflections in another direction. But I think it is an important direction and I want to spend just a few minutes exploring it together.

This is a psalm written as a response to answered prayer. Specifically, the psalmist was at death’s door. He cried out to God and God answered him and delivered him from death.

Now here is my dilemma. I keep a prayer list or prayer journal. It is encouraging to look back over my prayer journal from time to time and see how many check marks there are for answered prayers. But there are other entries in my prayer journal. They are names; names of people in the church, people I cared about who suffered from life threatening illnesses. They are names that I have now crossed off my list. I didn’t cross them off the list because they got better. I crossed them off because they died. How shall we respond to this reality of all of our lives?

Embedded in Psalm 116 is a verse that I have found to be of great comfort. In many ways, it doesn’t seem to fit. It is a reflection on death; particularly the death of believers, of God worshippers. As I said, in some ways it doesn’t seem to fit, but in other ways it is a perfect fit. In the midst of his rejoicing and gratitude for his deliverance from death, the psalmist takes time to reflect on death from God’s perspective and draw lessons on how God views death.

This is what he says in verse 15:

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.

What is this saying? Why is it here? What is the lesson the psalmist learned and is attempting to pass on to us?

This is the attitude and the perspective of God on death – particularly the death of one of his own “holy ones” or saints, one of his faithful ones. How does he view it?

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.

Does that sound strange to you? Well, let’s first take a closer look at the word “precious.” Here are four synonyms I found to render this Hebrew word: “precious, rare, splendid, weighty”. “Precious” can be reflective of something costly, but also of something highly valued. “Weighty” gives the sense of something significant, important, of great value and honor. The two words come together when you go to the gold souk here in Abu Dhabi and pick out a piece of gold jewelry. When you ask how much it costs, what does the merchant do? He places it on a scale. The “heavier” it is, the more “precious” it is.

This is how God views the death of one of his own. It is precious. It is of great significance and value. It is something that he has weighed out carefully on his scales. The death of one of God’s saints is never random, accidental or something that results from his being inattentive or off-duty. The day of death for every child of God is a carefully measured and valued and weighed out part of his eternal plan and it is of great significance and importance to him.

This was the conclusion the psalmist came to when he was delivered from death. But I would point out that this same reality is present when a child of God dies.

I mentioned last week that while we were in Kenya we took time to walk through the little missionary cemetery at the mission station where I grew up. There are three headstones there with the name “Arensen” on them. One of them is my grandfather’s. Grandpa had never been to Africa, but when he became too old to live on his own in the US, he came out to Kenya to stay with my parents. He died there two years later. The dates on his headstone reflect a long and full life. There is another headstone there for a nephew of mine – who never saw the light of day. He died of complications at birth. The third headstone is for my sister-in-law, Janis. She died at the age of 39, from a bullet wound suffered in a bandit ambush in Southern Sudan where she and my brother were serving as missionaries.

What this verse tells me is that not one of those deaths was an accident. Not one of them was random. Not one of them happened because God didn’t care or because God was off duty. I take great comfort in that. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. You see, the psalmist who wrote Psalm 116 and gave praise to God for his deliverance from death, eventually died. He didn’t die that day. But he did die, on another day, on a day of God’s own carefully measured and weighed out choosing.

I don’t know how or when I shall die. If I could write my own script, I would live to a ripe old age in good health and then die in my sleep in my own bed. But I don’t get to write my own script. God has already written the script. He knows the day of my death. He knew it before I was ever born, and he has chosen the day very, very carefully. I take great confidence in that fact. I do not seek death nor even look forward to it. When death threatens I will call out to God for deliverance. But at the same time, I do not fear death. For I know that my death, as my life, is in God’s hands. And the my ultimate hope, as it is for everyone who has put his/her hope and trust in Jesus as Savior, lies not in the endless prolonging of this life, but in resurrection of the body and eternal life with Christ in the new heaven and the new earth.

Well, as I said, this has been a kind of sermon within a sermon. You got a “two for the price of one” this morning. I am not sure which of these messages you needed to hear today – maybe both. But I trust you will have food for thought and meditation throughout this week.