How Can I Repay the Lord?
What are you thankful for? It is easy to forget how much you have been given. I remember when I was a child and I visited a friend’s home. I thought, growing up, that I was poor. But then I visited my friend in his home and I saw what poverty looked like. And from that experience one of the lessons I learned was to be thankful—especially for the little gifts we take for granted. For there are so many little gifts from our Father in heaven that we are thankful for that are easy to overlook: food, shelter, clothing, house, home, land, property. And it is good for each of us to set aside time to thank our Lord not just on this day, but many times each day. But if we thank our Lord for the little gifts, then shouldn’t we also thank him for the huge, massive, big gifts? This evening, that’s what God’s word speaks of. In psalm 116 the psalmist does not focus on small, little gifts. He speaks of large, huge gifts: “1 I love the Lord because He has heard my appeal for mercy. 2 Because He has turned His ear to me, I will call out to Him as long as I live. 3 The ropes of death were wrapped around me, and the torments of Sheol overcame me; I encountered trouble and sorrow. 4 Then I called on the name of Yahweh: “Yahweh, save me!”” (Psalms 116:1–4 HCSB)
Notice how the psalmist here speaks. He says that he loves the Lord. But he doesn’t say that he loves him because of the change of seasons, or his favorite food—no, he loves him for a real and big reason. The Lord rescued him from death.
Right after high school I was driving on an old winding road in Kentucky. I had balled tires. And it was rainy. I went around a corner and lost control of the car. I hit a tree on one side of the road, then the other, then finally I went into the ditch. I blacked out. And when I woke up I did what they teach you to do when you might be in shock: check yourself to see if your body parts are where they are supposed to be. And I got out of the car without a scratch. On that day I gave the Lord thanks, but not for small gifts. No I gave him thanks that through his angels he rescued me from death.
Each of us has that same privilege. For, no doubt, there have been many times throughout your lives that the Lord has preserved you from death: the stupid days of your youth, the dangerous actions others have taken around you. Death was there, staring you in the face. But the amazing thing was that you didn’t know it. You didn’t even think about it because the angels were doing their job. They were guarding you in all your ways. It’s only when we pause and ponder words like these that we can begin to understand how amazing our Lord is. For he saved us from death. But as the words move on, he rescues us from more: “5 The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is compassionate. 6 The Lord guards the inexperienced; I was helpless, and He saved me. 7 Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. 8 For You, Lord, rescued me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling. 9 I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalms 116:5–9 HCSB)
The Lord rescued him from death. But in these words there is a shift of focus. The result of the Lord rescuing him from death is that now he walks in the land of the living. The Lord did not just rescue him so that he lives, breathes and walks around in this life. No, he rescues him in such a way that he also lives, breathes and walks around in the next life. For what good is is to live, breathe and walk around in this life and then endure hell forever in the next life?
This too, my brothers and sisters in Christ, is not a small gift. All of came into this world enemies of God. We do not deserve the small and simple gifts God has given to us: food, family, shelter, clothing, jobs and earthly joys. We don’t deserve them because we are born enemies of God and all our lives we prove that we are enemies of God. And if we do not deserve the small gifts, how much more do we not deserve the big gifts? Food, shelter and clothing don’t cost our Father very much, do they? But being rescued from death and hell—that is costly. It required blood as payment. It required that he give up his only Son whom he loved. It required that Jesus would die so that we would share in his victory over death. It required that Jesus would endure hell so that we would have to work in our imaginations to begin to figure out how bad hell might be.
What are you thankful for? This Thanksgiving we don’t speak of little gifts. No instead, we speak of huge, massive gifts. The Lord rescued us from death. The Lord rescued us from hell. As the psalmist begins to ponder how amazing the Lord is for not just rescuing him from death but also rescuing him from hell he pauses and ponders. Then, in verse 12, he asks this powerful question: “How can I repay the Lord for all the good He has done for me?” (Psalms 116:12 HCSB)
I might be able to repay people here on earth for earthly gifts, but how can we repay our Father in heaven for his gifts to us? Just think about that: If you borrow your neighbor’s chainsaw, you can thank him by buying him a new chain for it. But what do you have to offer God? How can you pay the Lord back for rescuing you from death and hell? So much false teaching flows from a wrong answer to this question. Some say that you can help earn Jesus with your hands—you can help Jesus out and do good works to help earn your way to heaven. Others say that you can earn Jesus with your heart—that you can decide for Jesus and make him your personal Savior. But the truth is this: both your hands and your heart are filthy. Your soul was covered with sin. That’s why what Jesus did for us is so amazing. Jesus gave up his own life knowing that, when it came to our salvation, there was no way we could pay him back.
And notice then, there’s the answer to the question. How can I repay the Lord? I can’t. I can give a neighbor a tool or a pumpkin pie to pay him back. But I cannot give the Lord anything that comes even close to what he gave to me. We cannot pay him back. But we can thank him. And notice how we don’t need to make up ways of thanking him. He’s the one who shows us how we can thank him: “13 I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of Yahweh. 14 I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people.” (Psalms 116:13–14 HCSB)
Notice two of the ways we can begin to thank our Lord. First, we can call on the name of the Lord. That phrase, “call on the name of the Lord” is more than you might expect. It’s praying, praising and proclaiming God’s name. In other words, it’s a phrase that speaks about public worship. One of the ways you can thank him is by doing what he takes joy in. And what the psalmist highlights is public worship. You don’t need to sacrifice your firstborn son. You don’t need to give away a billion dollars. It is a simple action to gather together for worship. But our Lord delights in it. And second, we can fulfill our vows. Jesus encourages us to let our yes be yes and our no be no. If we can go through life without taking any vows, then don’t take any. But if there are times we need to take a vow, then let your words and actions back up your vows. Notice how we don’t need to make up ways of thanking the Lord because we will have enough on our plate to simply follows the ways he has already spoken of. In my own life it saddens me to see how often I can say I’m a Christian with my words and then shortly after that give people around me every reason to conclude I’m a liar by my words. And that’s why, like the psalmist, on this Thanksgiving I’m thankful for the big gifts of being rescued from death and being rescued from hell. For Jesus payed for that sin too. Thank him by calling on his name in public worship. Thank him by struggling to lift up the Lord’s reputation in your words and actions.
The psalmist ends in a very interesting way. In verse 15, he tells us: “The death of His faithful ones is valuable in the Lord’s sight.” (Psalms 116:15 HCSB) The death of those who believe in him is precious and valuable. Notice how this is the complete opposite of what he said at the beginning. At the beginning he thanked the Lord that he rescued him from death. Now he says that death is precious. This verse is a reminder that if Jesus delays in coming, each of us will die. And when that happens we will have one more reason to thank him. Through death he will bring us into heaven. And then, there in heaven, forever we will have every reason to thank and praise him. Amen.