We are going through some tough times now as a church. We can’t celebrate as we would like to. It’s hard to keep spirits up and to keep that sense of community when, for the sake of one another, we must remain at a distance from one another. This is one of those times when we long for the way things used to be. The way things should be.
There’s nothing wrong with remembering the past. In fact, I want to encourage you to do that today. But we can’t leave it at nostalgia. Just feeling a sense of longing won’t do. It won’t help. What we need to do is look back and be thankful. Remember and give thanks.
That’s what’s going on in the first three verses of Psalm 126:
Psalm 126:1–3 (NIV (Anglicised, 2011))
1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.
2 Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
‘The Lord has done great things for them.’
3 The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.
This is a psalm of lament. It’s written for a community going through a tough time. It shows us what to do with these feelings that we have, this sense of longing for the way things were. Don’t just remember. Remember and give thanks.
I’m not just talking about church either. Look back on your life. Just take a while today, tomorrow, this week. Just sit and remember. Remember what God has done for you. Remember the trials you’ve overcome. The times you didn’t think you could make it. The times when things seemed impossible. The times when God saw you through. Look back. Remember. Give thanks.
People long for a great religious experience, a vision, they want to see God move. Well here’s your vision. It’s this wonderful gift from God: the ability to remember and reflect. See how God has already moved in your life and give thanks.
Let yesterday’s trials be today’s testimony. Those opening verses talk about a time when God restored the fortunes of Zion (Jerusalem). A time when things were bad before and then God rescued the people. They rejoiced and sang, and the nations could see that God had done this great thing for them.
Look at verse 3: “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” That’s remembering the past, and not just leaving it at longing or nostalgia, but being thankful right now in the present. “We are filled with joy,” is what it says. Joy felt now, even amid hardship, because of what God has already done in the past. We can look back and see what God has done and what God is able to do.
What this Psalm also reminds us is the truth that, with God, we are never truly far from joy. Even at the worst of times we are between victories. We live between glory and glory. We may endure hardship, but we’re never defeated.
This psalm is a prayer of faith and hope in God, it looks back at times of joy and knows that there is more joy to come. There will be restoration. We can say this with confidence because it’s not about us. The victory is God’s victory and it’s already been won.
Christians get a clearer glimpse of how this works out than God’s people had back when this psalm was composed. We can look back and see the cross and the resurrection of Jesus and we know that this is a sign of what is to come.
Saint Paul wrote:
1 Corinthians 15:20 (NIV (Anglicised, 2011))
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
Jesus is alive. His resurrection is like the firstfruits of a harvest, pointing us to the glory that awaits those who have put their faith in him and his sacrifice to atone for our sins.
We will have highs and lows in this world, but we know how this ends. For us it ends in glory. It ends in joy.
What God has done in the past shows us God’s power and his faithfulness to his people. The cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the greatest example of that. But you can just look at your own life too. Look at what God has done for you in the past. Can’t he do it again? Hasn’t he shown himself faithful?
Encouraged by the past and putting their hope in God the psalmist writes a prayer for the future in verses 4-6:
Psalm 126:4–6 (NIV (Anglicised, 2011))
4 Restore our fortunes, Lord,
like streams in the Negev.
5 Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.
I have a video on my phone of Timothy taking his first steps. I don’t really show it to people, and if I do show it, I keep the sound muted. The reason being that if you were to listen to the sound of that video all you’d really hear as Timothy took his first steps towards me would be me laughing my head off like a madman. I am looking forward to teaching another child to walk and laughing like a madman again. When babies learn to walk, they must be motivated to walk to something. They can’t just let go of what was supporting them. They let go and move forward knowing that they will be caught. They must have that period where nobody is holding their hands and there’s nothing to lean on. They must have that challenge to grow. Or they could just sit on the floor and put off learning to walk.
We can’t just stay in the past. Neither can we just sit and wallow now. We must take those little baby steps of faith and move forward. The psalmist talks about “those who sow with tears” (v. 5) and “Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow” (v.6).
The weeping, the tears, or the nostalgia and regret, these are natural normal reactions to difficult circumstances. The sowing of seeds is an act of faith. It’s a refusal to give up. We must keep sowing seeds. Those who do so, “will reap with songs of joy”.
Paul wrote to the Galatians:
Galatians 6:9 (NIV (Anglicised, 2011))
9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Keep doing good. Keep making those acts of faith. Keep looking forward to the day of harvest. Today’s trials will be tomorrows testimony. God is able. God is faithful.
Look back, remember, and reflect on all that God has done for you. Give thanks. And as you look at the present difficulties lift your voice to God. Pray and ask him to restore us once again. Keep taking those steps of faith. Keep sowing those seeds. Do good. Take care of one another. Be kind.
The restrictions we must put up with now are there to protect each other. They are there out of love. So, let’s be careful for each other’s sake.
We will return with songs of joy!
Father we thank you for your faithfulness to your people. We thank you for all the ways you have rescued us and sustained us in the past. We thank you most of all for that great rescue that we have in Jesus Christ our Saviour. Help us to remember and be thankful. Help us to put our trust in you to face our current difficulties with hope and grace.
As cases of COVID-19 in Ireland continue to rise please protect us. We pray for healing for those who are sick, we especially remember those in our own community in the Bailieborough Group. We pray for your protection for those working on the front lines. We pray for the development of effective treatments and vaccines. We pray for the death of this virus.
We pray for a spirit of cooperation and kindness to prevail, even as we cannot socialise like we used to.
We pray that this time of year might remind us and all people that you are faithful, that you provide and are ready to bless those who seek you.
We pray in Jesus’ name,