When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
The LORD has done great things for us;
we are glad.
Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
like streams in the Negeb!
Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him. – Psalm 126
The Answered Prayer
There have been times when I desperately needed an answer from God. I would pray fervently and lay myself low as if getting thisclose to the floor would have a profound effect on how he’d answer me. When I got the answer, specifically the one that I wanted, I would rejoice. I’d somehow feel vindicated and loved all the more. God has blessed me! I would run and tell people, shout it from the mountain tops! “Look what God has done for me! Right now! In this moment! Hallelujah!”
This is kind of the like the cry found in the opening passage of this psalm which is a little different than the other two psalms I went through. The others felt like they were looking further backward to God’s goodness and restoration. This has what I think is a more immediate response to God moving graciously on behalf of his people. This was likely the response to God bringing Israel out of exile in Babylon.
“We were like those who dream”
I think we can relate here, can’t you? We’ve all been through protracted seasons of life that feel as if we are caught under a captivity of constant sinful behavior, or even what just seems like one random bad turn of event after another. We cry out and wonder, “When will it ever get better? How can I get out from under this constant heavy burden?”
…and then it happens
Somewhere along the way, the smoke clears, the clouds part, the dawn breaks, pick your description. Whatever it looks like to you, you finally got the break you’ve been praying for. As we come to the end of 2020, I think we all can relate to that. This has felt like the longest year ever. Like we would never see an end to this dark period of self-exile and societal oppression. Some of us feel like, “If we just flip the zero at the end of the year to a one, everything will miraculously and magically get better AND normal.” I guess we’ll see.
I think when we do get to that point, businesses and schools opened to 100% capacity, maybe even being able to do everything “maskless”, it will feel like a dream. It’s hard to imagine things might finally get better or normal. As that reality eventually sets in, the natural response will be rejoicing and laughter. The response is a grateful heart before God.
The Next Prayer
There is a second part to this psalm though. It starts out with gratefulness and rejoicing, but it ends with, “God, we still need your help.” After years of captivity, Israel being released came with new challenges. They still had to reestablish themselves in their own land. This remnant left would need to learn to survive again before they could thrive. It was very much like starting over. They would build and plant, but that first year, things would be difficult. I’ve been a part of a church plant, and in most cases, there aren’t a great deal of resources when starting out. It’s a struggle to keep things afloat. But with each subsequent year, as the church grows, the help comes and the resources multiply, it becomes a little easier when the systems is established and running.
For the Israelites, that first year out of captivity, takes faith to survive. It takes a deep trust in the God who brought them out of exile, to continue to do the work in this currently barren place. God would have to be their provision and their protection. He would have to be the one to provide for all their needs. This is why the second section of this psalm starts out with:
Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negeb!
Just as the rains would restore riverbeds and bring life to the barren land, the psalmist is asking God to do the same for them now. As grateful as they are for what God has done, the second part is a cry to God to continue the work. There is faith in the words of the psalmist. He knows going forward, there will be struggle and hardship as they rebuild. There will be sacrifice and other difficulties as they continue to trust God to complete the work of their rescue and salvation. We see it in the remaining verses of this Psalm:
Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.
Are you a parent? Then, you’ll probably recognize yourself in these words. How many real-life extra-biblical prodigal stories exist out there? Weeping parents praying for long gone wayward children, only to finally see past the gallons of tears that have moistened the once hard-hearted soil of a child, who now returns. Spouse? We know the seeds of tears planted in difficulties, have reaped many a couples’ wonderful harvest.
These are only two examples, but so many more stories are out there. Stories of God’s kind provision moving from one prayer to the next. Prolonged struggles, yet faith remains insistent on God’s plan.
There is a bigger picture here though, the one that matters most. Because sometimes our struggle is an entire lifetime, we have to remember that sometimes the next prayer is asking God to keep us to the end, after the rescue.
Think about the psalmist and his words, and then think about that for us and our situations now. Just as God was their rescue from Babylon, from captivity and exile. Jesus has been our rescue from the Babylon of our own hearts. We were set free from the captivity and exile of our sinful natures. After Babylon, Israel still needed to lean heavily on God for provision and protection. They would still come to him and plead for his hand in their lives. After our own rescue, we still lean heavily on God for his provision and protection. We still plead with him for help, not just for the external struggles, but the internal ones. We also never stop praying for God’s hand in our lives.
We both have a hope realized in an immediate rescue, and a hope deferred but not lost, for the continued provision. For us, that provision is not just the day to day things. It’s for that final transfer from this life to the next. A life that is finally rid of the stain and shame of sin that wars within us.
Does anyone else look forward to that day?
Every year I get older, is another year I look forward to it more.
I hope that for all of you.