Theme: Praying for Joy’s Restoration
This week’s lessons show us that although things happen that take away our joy, still we can turn to God for healing and joy’s restoration.
Scripture: Psalm 126:1-6
Yesterday, we looked at how we can lose the joy of our salvation, and also the loss of joy from some great spiritual victory. We now continue with two other losses.
3. The joy of Christian fellowship. What about the joy of Christian fellowship? This is a wonderful thing, probably the closest thing we can know in this life of the joys of heaven. But it can be lost in a variety of ways. The person we are closest to may die. Sin on the part of one or the other party may destroy the relationship. Whole churches may be destroyed by the sins of some. Or again, the fellowship we value may be lost by such a simple but unavoidable thing as the physical relocation of our friend because of a change of schools, a job or retirement. True, there is a communion of saints that transcends physical barriers on earth, even death. But who would deny that some great loss is felt when people who are close to us and have meant much to us in our Christian walk are removed?
4. The joy of a new work for God. And here is one more category of joy sometimes quickly lost, the joy of taking on a new and challenging work for God. If you are at all like I am, you know the joy of taking on a new challenge or launching a new project. I have had the privilege of doing that a number of times in my Christian ministry. But I also know that the excitement of a new beginning soon settles down to the tiring mechanics of hard work, and it is difficult to be as excited about slugging along in the trenches as it is planning the campaign.
What are we to do when the slugging times come? Are we to give up and settle down to merely humdrum Christian living?
Here is the point at which Psalm 126 has something very important to tell us. For the psalmist, as for us, memory of the past could have become mere nostalgia. “Those were the days!” we say. “Wonderful, but gone forever.” But that is not what we find here. Instead of nostalgia, most of it probably unrealistic, the memory of those singing, laughter-filled days of the past becomes the ground of a strong hope for even better days to come. This is not just wishful thinking, pie-in-the-sky Christianity. It is a strong realistic Christianity, because it is based on the character of God. God is good. He is unchanging in his goodness. He has granted us wonderful joys in the past. Therefore, he can be counted on to give us wonderful days again. That is the psalm’s message and thought sequence.
So what does the psalmist do after he has remembered those earlier days in which “our mouths were filled with laughter” and “our tongues with songs of joy”? He does two things, both very significant.
1. He asks God for the good times again. Instead of simply settling down to the dreary tasks of the present, without any thought of better times, except as a memory, the psalmist asks God to restore the good times again. In other words, he prays. In his prayer he asks for what is good, desirable and glorifying to God. “Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negev” (v. 4).
The Negev is a desert, like he felt his life to be at the time he wrote this psalm. It has gullies that are the remains of former streams. But they are dry, parched, barren, hot and comfortless. Except at those rare times when rain descends on the highlands to the north, the rivulets of water come together in streams descending from the hills and then rush down to fill the barren wadis with abundant sparkling and refreshing water.
The essence of this image is the suddenness with which these gullies fill up, and the reason it is so appropriate here is that this is the way the people’s deliverance came when they were freed from Babylon. One moment they were in exile. The next they were on their way home. This was entirely of God, for only God could bring about the sudden return of a formerly exiled people. No nation carried into exile has ever returned to reconstitute itself again, as Israel has done. This was so evidently of God that even the Gentiles knew it (v. 2). But if God did it once, he could do it again. He could restore the former fortunes and joys. So the psalmist prays: “Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negev.”
How did the psalmist respond to difficult times?
What hope of the psalmist keeps him from falling into mere nostalgia?
Why is the image of the Negev powerful?
Reflection: Describe how the joys of Christian fellowship and new work for God have had an impact in your life.
Prayer: Pray as the psalmist did to give us what is good, desirable, and glorifying.