Reflections & Reactions to God's faithfulness
We grow most from the difficulties that we overcome. It’s funny how we usually have most of our pictures from our happy moments, but the difficult times had the most impact on us. Those are the times that truly shape us into who we are.
In the Old Testament, after a defining moment, like a victory in a battle, or a revelation from God – like the dream Jacob had of the ladder from heaven, or a great miracle of God – like the crossing of the Jordan river, the Israelites would pile up a bunch of stones to a pillar which would be a symbol of what God had done. It would stand there as a constant reminder of God’s faithfulness in difficult times.
We still do this today, just differently. Some do this through putting up an object in the house like a piece of art. Some would have a piece of jewellery as a reminder or writing about what they’ve gone through as a way of reflecting on it or dealing with it. Actually, a very popular way to carry memories and defining moments with you nowadays, is through a tattoo. People put a certain symbol or image on themselves in ink, as a constant reminder of something that is meaningful to them. I’m not going to encourage or discourage you to get a tattoo, I’m just pointing out that people with tattoo’s may actually be very eager to share their life’s story with you.
Psalm 116 (which I’ll present in a deconstructed way) is much like that as well. It is like a pillar that the unknown writer sets up after receiving a victory over a difficult time. He is determined not to forget what God has done for him and writes down what he is thankful for, what he has learned and how he will respond.
After a hard time, we may be tempted to just leave it in the past, be happy it’s over and move on. But the psalmist choses to go back to that place of distress to realise how good God was to him right in the midst of the misery.
3 Death wrapped its ropes around me;
the terrors of the grave overtook me.
I saw only trouble and sorrow.
4 Then I called on the name of the Lord:
“Please, Lord, save me!”
5 How kind the Lord is! How good he is!
So merciful, this God of ours!
From his place of victory, he reflects back on his place of misery and says: “God has been good to me”. I cried out to God, and He was there. That’s when I got to understand, not only in a rational way but in my heart and in my experience, who God really is. And I don’t just want to move past this and maybe forget about it, but I’m going to take what I’ve learned and let it shape the rest of my life.
Next time I face something like this again, I’m not going to panic as much, I’m not going to be confused and depressed like last time. Because God’s been teaching me some things, and I’m not going to let them slip away. The price for those lessons was too high to just let it go by.
And so, we are going to look at three reflections and three reactions from a time of trouble.
1) God listens when I pray
1 I love the Lord because he hears my voice
and my prayer for mercy.
2 Because he bends down to listen,
I will pray as long as I have breath!
In his time of trouble – whatever that was exactly – he discovered that God heard his prayers. Now, let’s be honest, it doesn’t always feel like that. Especially in the midst of the chaos we may lack the faith and the strength to pray. We don’t know what to say,
or we just keep on repeating the same sentence or only pray the most popular prayer of all: “HELP!”
But still, so many will testify that in times of trouble, their faith has grown more than ever before. This gives us hope when we are in the pit. It may feel like God is far away, but I know He is not. My feelings will not quench my faith. I know that God is with me in the middle of my misery because His Word promises that He will be.
The text says that God bends down to listen. Isn’t it encouraging to know that God is leaning in when we pray? Did you know that as unique as your fingerprint is – so is the sound of your voice. When you call out to God, He knows who you are. He recognises your voice. And He also knows why you are calling and what you need.
2) God is who He says He is
5 How kind the Lord is! How good he is!
So merciful, this God of ours!
A more literal translation says: The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.
These may be things that we know and wholeheartedly believe from the time we were young. It’s not the first or the last time that the Bible will ascribe these characteristics to God. But what I love about it here, is that it so clearly comes from someone’s personal experience. The psalmist experienced the grace and the righteousness and compassion of God when he needed it the most.
You know what I love about God? He is always exactly what we need and can give us exactly what we need – even if it is not exactly what we want.
3) God gives rest for my soul
7 Let my soul be at rest again,
for the Lord has been good to me.
8 He has saved me from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling.
It is in the times of chaos and disappointment that we come to realise that true peace for the soul is not something that we can achieve by ourselves or we can depend on other people for. True rest for the soul can only be found in relationship with the living God who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. He is constant in an ever-changing and whimsical world.
If you are in the middle of a storm right now – please make sure that you look for shelter in the right place. Sorrow can drive us into the hands of addiction, isolation, bitterness and depression – or it drives us into the arms of the Father who gives true rest for the soul. Make sure you use this moment in your life to go where your soul needs to go.
True rest for the soul can only be found in relationship with the living God who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. He is constant in an ever-changing and whimsical world.
And so, with all this in mind, the psalmist then turns towards the future. He lets what he has learned shape the rest of his life.
12 What can I offer the Lord
for all he has done for me?
This is a rhetorical question. There is nothing you can do to match or repay what God has done for you. Yet, what you’ve received can set the direction for the rest of your life.
1) I’m gonna celebrate
The first decision that he makes about what his life is going to be like from now on, is that it is marked by praise and celebration.
13 I will lift up the cup of salvation
and praise the Lord’s name for saving me.
17 I will offer you a sacrifice of thanksgiving
and call on the name of the Lord.
Celebration was central to the Jewish religion. In their religious festivals they would remember all that God has done and just have a party.
Why are Christians not known for knowing how to party? I mean, I know that so called ‘partying’ is a sinful escape for many young people that embrace doing whatever feels good and what is fun to give life some meaning. It’s called partying, but I wonder what they’re celebration.
But as Christians, we actually have something to celebrate! We serve a God that is gracious, compassionate, righteous and He has brought us through all kinds of trouble and made us stronger people through it. Let’s celebrate!
If you don’t celebrate who God is in the good times, how will you remember who He is in a time of trouble?
If you wonder what the reason is people raise their hands in worship – it’s celebration! Celebration is a very spiritual thing to do. If you don’t celebrate who God is in the good times, how will you remember who He is in the times of trouble? So, let’s be known as a church that celebrates life and celebrates the goodness of God.
2) I’m gonna serve
9 And so I walk in the Lord’s presence
as I live here on earth!
16 O Lord, I am your servant;
yes, I am your servant, born into your household;
you have freed me from my chains.
The psalmist choses to re-dedicate his life to God after what he has been through. I don’t know what you are going through right now, but I’m sure that God wants to use it to bring you closer to Him. And I pray that this will be your conclusion afterwards as well – I belong to God. I’m His servant. I belong to Him. He has redeemed me.
In addition, one of the best ways of making sure not to forget the lessons you have learned in a time of trouble is to share them with others. For other people that go through something similar your encouragement is unique, and your wisdom maybe life changing. Even your mistakes might mean something to them.
There is nothing in life God cannot turn around and use it for good. He is just that great. What the devil may have intended to destroy you, God is using to bring you closer to Him, and serve others.
3) I’m gonna testify
14 I will keep my promises to the Lord
in the presence of all his people.
18 I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people—
19 in the house of the Lord
in the heart of Jerusalem.
We all have a unique story to tell of God’s grace and faithfulness. I remember when I went to Bible college at age 17, I felt like my story was meaningless. No 180 degree turnaround, no addiction or heartbreak that I’ve had to overcome or wild life I had left behind like all my classmates.
I only discovered later that just because my story is less wild, doesn’t mean that I’ve received less grace or have less to say. Actually, my classmates found it encouraging to hear that you don’t have to go down to the pit to realise that you need Jesus.
What has God been saying to you while reading through this blog? As I see it, there is either a difficult time behind you, you are in the middle of it, or it is still coming. What are you going to do with what you’ve learned?
Are you going through something right now? Make sure that you seek peace for your soul in the right place – the loving arms of the Father.
Is there a difficult time in the recent past? Well, did you just move on, or have you taken time to reflect on it yet and discovered God’s faithfulness in that time? Maybe this would be a good moment to just journal with God, go back to that time and discover what He has been teaching you.
Are you in a time of blessing now, when difficult times are just a future thing? Let me ask you: “are you still celebrating, serving and testifying?” God may be calling you to step out with your story.