Psalm 116, 26 April 20

Isaac Watts (1674-1748) whose paraphrases of the psalms are used in many songs.

WE LEAP FORWARD a hundred psalms from last week’s 16 to find in Psalm 116 a paean of thanks for deliverance from the power of darkness and the hold of the grave, grief and sorrow.

So the psalmist resolves to “walk in the presence of God in the land of the living”. (v.9) The psalmist then leads an act of dedication and thanks:

What shall I return to God for all this bounty? I will lift up the cup of salvation.and call on the name of God. (verses 12, 13)

Stripped to the core, it might be as simple as ‘Count your blessings’.


So many songs … you can read a summary in a previous post from 2017 on this great psalm.

There’s a chance you may have the red hymn book Together in Song at home. If so, have a look at TiS 71; you probably will not know this refrain but you can try chanting the verses following the pointing.*

However, inspired by the life, courage and vision of Joseph Lowery, a great civil rights champion who died last month at age 98, a better way to bring these words to life is with an African-American song, 116C in Psalms for All Seasons.

Listen to a moving modern tune by Richard Smallwood of verses written long ago by Isaac Watts in 1719. Whitney Houston souled it out in the film The Preacher’s Wife, but this one might be easier to join in:

Here are just three verses of the ten originally written by Watts:

I love the Lord; he heard my cries,
And pitied every groan;
Long as I live, when troubles rise,
I’ll hasten to his throne.

I love the Lord; he bowed his ear,
And chased my griefs away;
O let my heart no more despair,
While I have breath to pray.

What shall I render to my God
For all his kindness shown?
My feet shall visit thine abode,
My songs address thy throne.

Our feet, or our imaginations, may have to visit a spot in home or garden where we can reflect happily on our blessings, despite darkness and fear around.


*Pointing? That’s the little dot over a word towards the end of the line. More specifically, it’s three words or syllables before the end.

The verses are sung on one chanting note until that dot. Then the singer resolves the line by adding the final three notes, usually but not necessarily downward in pitch. Different notes may be chosen for the second line.

The whole simple construct is called a tone. A harmonised tone is usually provided; that shown in TiS71 is actually a double tone, and the words are therefore presented in groups of four, rather than two, lines. But if this is all Greek to you, just pick a few notes and go for it, line  by line.


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