I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my supplications. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live. Psalm 116:1-2 NRSV
This passage is the beginning of a beautiful psalm in which David praises God for saving him from a terrible illness. David, who felt himself at the brink of Sheol, rejoices that God has relieved his suffering.
It is well and good to praise God for our many blessings, especially when our prayers are answered, and we are relieved from some pain or suffering in this life. But, beautiful as David’s praise of God is, the really important verse in the psalm is buried halfway through, in verse 10: “I kept my faith, even when I said, ‘I am greatly afflicted.’”
David, who is jubilantly celebrating his recovery, pauses to remind us that even in the midst of his suffering he maintained faith: his faith in God was not dependent on the outcome of his prayer.
Without that one verse it would be easy to see David’s praise in this psalm as a quid pro quo relationship with the Almighty: God gave me what I wanted, so I will call on him all my life – because I got what I wanted.
It is easy to praise God when things are going our way, when the answer to our prayer looks and feels like what we ordered, when it lines up with our narrow view of how things should turn out. The far more difficult, and far richer praise, lies in surrendering our own desires and praising God in the faith of gifts yet unseen.
Paul tells us, in Romans 8:18, the reward when we are able to set aside worldly concerns and live in the peace of Christ: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
When we are able to remove self-interest from prayer, and desire only that God’s will be done – even in the face of feeling greatly afflicted – then we open ourselves to complete union with God. And in that union is a blessing far greater than we can conceive.
Lord, help us today to set aside our fears, to place your will at the center of our prayers, and to trust in your perfect love. Amen.