How My Prayers Can Lead to Thankfulness
A party of pioneers on the Oregon Trail suffered for weeks from a scarcity of water and grass for their animals. Most of the wagons had broken down, causing endless delays in the stifling heat. A feeling of fretfulness and futility prevailed. Optimism and cheer were gone. Courage was in limited supply.
One night the leaders called a meeting to air complaints. When they gathered around the campfire, one man stood up and said, “Before we commence our grief session, don’t you think we should at least first thank God that he has brought us this far with no loss of life, with no serious trouble from the Indians, and that we have enough strength left to finish our journey?”
The other settlers agreed. After the brief prayer, all that could be heard were the cries of a distant pack of wolves. There was otherwise stone silence around the campfire, because no one had any grievances they felt were important enough to voice.
They suddenly realized if they couldn’t be satisfied with what they’d received, they could at least be thankful for what they’d escaped. Thankfulness enabled them to see the mercies of God they had been overlooking.1
This psalm was written by a man who had experienced something so hard that it almost killed him. For this reason, many theologians believe that this psalm was written by King Hezekiah. The writer of this psalm recalls why he prayed to God. He notes the different reactions to God’s goodness as a result. Then the psalmist ends by thanking God.
So this process in this psalm can apply to every single person who trusts God.
I PRAY TO GOD BECAUSE ____________.
The cause for praying to God may be different for each person. However, the results by God will be the same. Prayer works. The writer of this psalm knows this. He shares reasons why he prays to God.
WHY I PRAY TO GOD
1. God listens to my prayers (Psalm 116:1-2)
“I love the Lord because he has heard my appeal for mercy. Because he has turned his ear to me, I will call out to him as long as I live.” (Psalm 116:1–2, CSB)
The threats to me are deadly at time. (Psalm 116:3-4, Psalm 116:8, Psalm 116:15)
“The ropes of death were wrapped around me, and the torments of Sheol overcame me; I encountered trouble and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Lord: “Lord, save me!”” (Psalm 116:3–4, CSB)
“For you, Lord, rescued me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.” (Psalm 116:8, CSB)
“The death of his faithful ones is valuable in the Lord’s sight.” (Psalm 116:15, CSB)
You know what happens when you call out? God is listening. But God does more than listens. He acts.
2. God acts for me (Psalm 116:5)
“The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is compassionate.” (Psalm 116:5, CSB)
God acts on my behalf. For His children, God is gracious, righteous, and compassionate. He will lead me in the right direction, He will treat me better than I deserve, and He will show compassion for my circumstance. When God acts, when He answers my prayers, He will answer in a way that He thinks is best. That may be hard for some Christians to understand. When God answers prayer, He may not answer it in a way that you and I may want. Instead, He answers in a way that He feels is best for you and me.
3. God guards me (Psalm 116:6)
“The Lord guards the inexperienced; I was helpless, and he saved me.” (Psalm 116:6, CSB)
One of the reasons that we may not understand why God answers the way He does is because He is guarding me.
Sometimes, I am inexperienced. I encounter a problem that I have dealt with before. I am helpless. Whether it is a new job, an illness, a troubling relationship, many times I don’t know what to do. You know how God responds? He gives wisdom to me, but first He’s guarding me.
Divine help comes in the context of human pain. The question is not if we will have crises. The question is how we will respond to them. We can live in denial. We can rationalize our situation, or we can medicate ourselves against the reality. The psalmist’s response, however, is to face it squarely and then turn to the only one who can help him, the living God. We too must make the same response.2
Through it all, God is good to me.
4. God is good to me (Psalm 116:7-8)
“Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. For you, Lord, rescued me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.” (Psalm 116:7–8, CSB)
God is the God of the supernatural. He is no distant Creator who has wound up the universe and then left it to others. He is no God of nature who is locked out of our lives by a closed universe. He is no mystical blur, aloof from our physical pain, who calls us into an undifferentiated spirituality. He is the living God, Creator, Preserver, and Redeemer. When we cry to Him, He answers. When we are in pain, He knows and cares. His arm is not shortened that He cannot save.3
However God answers, it is always good for me. God shows His goodness when He answers my prayers.
I REACT TO GOD’S GOODNESS
FOUR REACTIONS TO GOD’S GOODNESS
1. I walk with God as I live life (Psalm 116:9)
“I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalm 116:9, CSB)
I can choose to continue my relationship with God. I can choose to continue to walk with God. When God is good to me, that is not the time to tell God “see ya later.” It’s time to continue to trust Him more. Because sooner or later, tough times will come again.
2. I trust God even when things are tough (Psalm 116:10)
“I believed, even when I said, “I am severely oppressed.”” (Psalm 116:10, CSB)
The psalmist knows that there will be times of oppression. There will be tough times. As he walks with God, the psalmist learns to trust God again. It is a continual process, full of ebb and flows of life. Like any other time, my emotions may take over when times are tough. I may trust God, but I may feel anxious.
Trusting God does not mean that I deny my emotions. Instead, trusting God means that I work through my emotions. That leads me to my next reaction.
3. I cry out to God even when I am anxious (Psalm 116:11)
“In my alarm I said, “Everyone is a liar.”” (Psalm 116:11, CSB)
I go a difficult time and I remember that God has been good to me. But it is still tough. Do I panic and run away from God? No. I may get anxious, but that when I trust God more.“Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6–7, CSB)
When I am anxious, I cry out to God. Guess what, He provides the peace that I need. When that happens, do you ask the question like this psalmist?
“How can I repay the Lord for all the good he has done for me?” (Psalm 116:12, CSB)
You should. When you do, you will soon learn that you can take your answered and thank God.
4. I thank God to show my appreciation (Psalm 116:12)
“How can I repay the Lord for all the good he has done for me?” (Psalm 116:12, CSB)
George Matheson, the well-known blind preacher of Scotland, now with the Lord, says: “My God, I have never thanked Thee for my “thorn!” I have thanked Thee a thousand times for my roses, but never once for my “thorn;” I have been looking forward to a world where I shall get compensation for my cross as itself a present glory. Teach me the glory of my cross; teach me the value of my “thorn.” Show me that I have climbed to Thee by the path of pain. Show me that my tears have made my rainbow.”4
The psalmist spends the first half of this psalm praising God for how God has helped him. The psalmist loves the Lord and reminds himself of the ways in which God has shown both mercy and grace. Psalm 116:1-11 sounds like a plea from a dying man for help. Perhaps this is one reason why scholars believe the psalmist is attributed to King Hezekiah. The psalmist has been knocking on death’s door and recognizes that God healed him. He asks to repay God for this “good He has done.”
“How can I repay the Lord for all the good He has done for me?” (Psalm 116:12, HCSB)
The psalmist can’t possibly repay God enough for what God has done. Yet, He can thank Him. Here, the psalmist reveals four different ways he can thank the Lord. I believe that when we come to any kind of difficult circumstance, we can also thank God for what He has done in our lives.
I CHOOSE TO THANK GOD FOR HIS GOODNESS IN ANSWERING MY PRAYER
FOUR WAYS TO THANK THE LORD5
1. Spend time with God thanking Him (Psalm 116:13)
“I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of Yahweh.” (Psalm 116:13, HCSB)
Did you know that this is what the Lord’s Supper is all about? It is communion with God. It is simply spending time with God and thanking Him for His goodness in my life. As a matter of fact, this Psalm is one of the “Hillel” psalms – a group of psalms that would have been sung during the Passover meal that Jesus celebrated when He established the Lord’s Supper. He spent time thanking God throughout that special meal.
You know that when we celebrate Thanksgiving, we spend time with other people. We come together to play games, watch some football or a parade, and then we sit down to eat a Thanksgiving meal.
Why not do the same thing with God?
Take some time to read the Bible, and spend time thanking Him for what He has done. Dine with Him over the Lord’s Supper and thank Him for His goodness in your life. The first way God showed goodness in your life is by creating you. The second way is by saving you. So in essence, when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we eating a Thanksgiving meal every time we celebrate Jesus’ death.
The first way to thank God is to spend time with Him. The second way is to keep my promises to Him.
2. Keep my promises to God (Psalm 116:14)
“I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people.” (Psalm 116:14, HCSB)
When I keep a promise to someone it shows that I value them. The psalmist is reminded that because God kept His promise, he will return by keeping his promises to God. The psalmist says that he will keep himself honest by keeping these promises in public view of others. Perhaps he announced what he plans to do to the public to keep himself accountable.
Even if he made his vow public, God still expected him to keep the vow. Because your word is your bond. It shows how much you value the other person. If I want to value my relationship with God, I will keep my promises to Him.
3. Offer my service to God because I value Him as much as He values me (Psalm 116:15-16)
“The death of His faithful ones is valuable in the Lord’s sight. Lord, I am indeed Your servant; I am Your servant, the son of Your female servant. You have loosened my bonds.” (Psalm 116:15–16, HCSB)
When a person offers their services to you, they are telling you that they have value they want to impart. They don’t offer their service for selfish reasons. They offer their services to you (whether it is a favor, to represent them in court, or to help them in a situation) because they value the relationship that they have with you.
God values you. He created you, saved you, and when you die, He looks forward to you being with Him. Right now, God can be with me, but I can’t be with God. I can’t leave Earth and walk into Heaven and spend time with Him. God can leave Heaven and spend time with me, but I have to die in order to see God. That is why my death is valuable to God. He values that relationship with me. That is why He created me and saved me. In return, I should value that same relationship with God. I should offer my services not because I owe “the Man upstairs” but because I value my relationship with Him.
I show that I value my relationship with God when I spend time with Him, keep my promises to Him, and when I offer my services to Him.
The fourth way I can thank God is to spend time in worship with a joyful heart.
4. Worship God with joy (Psalm 116:17-19)
“I will offer You a sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of Yahweh. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the Lord’s house— within you, Jerusalem. Hallelujah!” (Psalm 116:17–19, HCSB)
Worship comes from the heart. When I want to thank God, I can say so through worship. Worship is a unique expression of thanksgiving to God. No one expresses thanksgiving to someone begrudgingly. If you really want to give thanks, then it will truly come from the heart. That’s how one should thank God in worship – with a heart that expresses joy.
I praise God not out of obligation, but from a sense of joy in the relationship I have with God. I can spend time with God, keep my promises to Him, offer my service as well as my worship, all from a thankful heart.
Deep in our hearts we believe in a good God. Yet how shallow is our understanding of His goodness, especially since we see many things that seem to deny it. Corrie Ten Boom clarified the issue for us. She wrote:
“Often I have heard people say, ‘How good God is! We prayed that it would not rain for our church picnic, and look at the lovely weather!’ Yes, God is good when He sends good weather. But God was also good when He allowed my sister, Betsie, to starve to death before my eyes in a German concentration camp. I remember one occasion when I was very discouraged there. Everything around us was dark, and there was darkness in my heart.
I remember telling Betsie that I thought God had forgotten us. ‘No, Corrie,’ said Betsie, ‘He has not forgotten us. Remember His Word: “For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him.” ” Corrie concludes, “There is an ocean of God’s love available—there is plenty for everyone. May God grant you never to doubt that victorious love—whatever the circumstances.”6
1 PreachingToday.com, More Perfect Illustrations: For Every Topic and Occasion (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2003), 286. “Very Short Gripe Session,” Citation: Gregory L. Jantz, Becoming Strong Again (Baker, 1998)
2 Donald Williams and Lloyd J. Ogilvie, Psalms 73–150, vol. 14, The Preacher’s Commentary Series (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1989), 325.
3 Donald Williams and Lloyd J. Ogilvie, Psalms 73–150, vol. 14, The Preacher’s Commentary Series (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1989), 325–326.
4 Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc., 1996), 1456.
5 Jim Erwin, “4 Ways to Thank the Lord,” Psalm 116:12-19, 15 June 2017, Internet, Patheos, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jimerwin/2017/06/15/4-ways-thank-lord/, 15 June 2017, accessed on 10 November 2017.
6 “God, Goodness of,” Corrie Ten Boom, Galaxie Software, 10,000 Sermon Illustrations (Biblical Studies Press, 2002).