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3 Reasons to Call on the Lord

As I’ve grown older, the phrase “you’ll understand when you’re older” has become simultaneously useless and true. On the one hand, it’s useless because it does no good to say that phrase to a young person. He won’t understand it. On the other hand, it’s true because there are things you simply cannot know without experience.

Prayer is often called a “spiritual discipline.” But consistent prayer isn’t merely a matter of discipline; it’s a response to the actual experience of life, and the understanding of how utterly dependent we are on God. We look in the mirror and say, “I’m going to need help today. This is not going to work without help.” I’ve never understood that need more than I do today, after years of learning to rely on God through the life-giving importance of prayer.

Psalm 116 reminds us of our need for the Lord’s help and gives us three reasons to call on the Lord in prayer.

1. Because we need help.

3 The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. 4 Then I called on the name of the LORD: “O LORD, I pray, deliver my soul!” Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; our God is merciful. 6 The LORD preserves the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me. 7 Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.

Growing up in West Texas, there is not a lot to do outside other than killing (or running from) tarantulas and rattlesnakes. I was always fascinated, however, with tumbleweeds. Some tumbleweeds are big enough to swallow your car, but when you drive into them, they explode. It’s scary in the moment, because the tumbleweed looks so substantial, but you come to realize that it’s empty and hollow.

Many of us live that way. We hold up our accomplishments as though they are substantial and monumental, but when the reality of life hits you like a car, you realize that they were like the tumbleweed—empty and hollow.

If you haven’t been hit by life, you will. And then you will understand what the psalmist is saying here. In those difficult moments of life, those moments where the snares of death rise up and surround us, those moments where the tumbleweeds we have built our lives on collapse, we recognize the depth of our need for God. And in those moments, when we cry out to the Lord, he rescues us. He is not only willing to help; he has already done all that is necessary in Christ.

Therefore, we call on him.

2. Because he cares about us

8 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. 10 I believed, even when I spoke: “I am greatly afflicted”; 11 I said in my alarm, “All mankind are liars.” 12 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, 14 I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people.

In Stephen Crane’s short story “The Open Boat,” the main character says, “My one little marvel of the voyage is a wave throwing me overboard.” He does nothing at all; his one contribution to his adventure is to be thrown overboard. That’s the irony in this passage. The psalmist says he is going to keep his vows, as if he holds great power to keep them. His great powerful accomplishment, actually, is to fall on his knees and cry out to God.

God has built his covenant with us based on his own faithfulness in Christ. The covenant doesn’t depend on us, so we can come to him even in the darkest of times, and God is pleased. In that moment God sees what he’s looking for: someone who, in covenant with him, will call upon him and receive the help he is willing to supply.

We often use the phrase from Psalm 116:15, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints,” when preaching at funerals. While I’m not opposed to applying it in that way, the context here is a little simpler: God cares when his people go through trials, even to the point of death, because we are valuable to him. He doesn’t just care about our death; he cares about the things that could lead us there. And he can deliver us even at the brink of death.

Therefore, we call on him.

3. Because he cares about others.

16 O LORD, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant. You have loosed my bonds. 17 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!

The psalmist says, in effect, “I’m not your son. I’m not your heir. I’m not even your servant. I’m your servant’s son whom no one cares about.” He is the unwanted offspring, the one you should wish hadn’t been born. Yet the Lord released his bonds. The psalmist’s response is the same as before: “I will pay my vows.” God cared about him and answered his cries.

The psalmist doesn’t cry out as some noble offering. In the end, he is calling out because he genuinely needs help. All he can offer to God is, “Help!” The Lord counts that cry—not the great achievements we think we can offer to God—as faithfulness.

God cares for his people. If he answers the cries of others, who are no better than you, he will answer your cries too. Before God, we are all on the same playing field. We can only offer God our utter dependence on him. When you see his hand in others’ lives, you can cry out knowing that he cares about you as well.

Therefore, we call on him.

God holds infinite power, and he uses that power to care for his people. When we understand this power, we see that prayer is more than something we train ourselves to do; it’s something we have no other choice but to do. If he doesn’t answer, we will perish.

Therefore, we call on him.