“You must relax,” pronounces a doctor crisply in Disney’s Rescuers Down Under, attempting to treat the injured albatross Wilbur, a reluctant patient. “Relax? I am relaxed!” a clearly not relaxed Wilbur responds sarcastically as his panic grows. “If I were any more relaxed, I’d be dead!”
Can you relate? In light of the doctor’s dubious methods (such as a chainsaw dubbed an “epidermal tissue disruptor”), Wilbur’s misgivings seem justified. But the scene is funny because it captures how we tend to feel when we’re panicking—whether or not what we’re facing is actually life-threatening.
When we’re terrified, encouragement to relax can feel ridiculous. I know when I feel life’s terrors piling up around me, and when painful “cords of death” (Psalm 116:3) tighten my stomach into knots, my every instinct is to fight back, not to relax.
And yet . . . more often than not, my panicked attempts to fight back only tighten anxiety’s vice-grip, leaving me crippled by fear. But when I, albeit reluctantly, allow myself to feel my pain and lift it up to God (v. 4), something surprising happens. The knot inside me relaxes a bit (v. 7), and a peace I can’t understand rushes through me.
And as the Spirit’s comforting presence surrounds me, I understand a bit more the truth at the heart of the gospel: we fight best when we surrender into the powerful arms of God (1 Peter 5:6–7).
What struggles do you think of as “cords of death” in your life? How could you grow in surrendering to God’s love and care in the hard times?
It’s said that those who’ve come close to death become more acutely aware of the value of life and the imperative of walking right before God. In this psalm, the unnamed psalmist thanks Him for delivering him from the jaws of death (116:3, 8). Assured of God’s sovereignty over his life even in death, he writes, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants” (v. 15). Given another chance at life, the psalmist gratefully asked: “What can I offer the Lord for all he has done for me?” (v. 12 nlt). In response, he dedicated his “extended” years to a life of service to God out of thanksgiving for His goodness (vv. 13–19). He resolved to “walk in the Lord’s presence as I live here on earth!” (v. 9 nlt). Hezekiah and Jonah offered similar prayers of thanksgiving after their lives were spared (Isaiah 38:10–20; Jonah 2:1–9).