Restoration

Take a second and read Psalm 126. I think it is incredibly timely.

[1] When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. [2] 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.” [3] The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad. [4] Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negeb! [5] Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! [6] He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him. (ESV)

Isn’t that fantastic? It is just about perfect for our us – given the state of our community – the state of our world.

This Psalm can be broken down into two parts – and those two parts speak perfectly to our time as well as to the time that it was written. It reaches into their past – to a time when they had just come through an awful season and were restored – to a new season in which they are facing hardship but trust that God will restore their fortune/blessing.

Look at verse 1-3 again – that’s the first part of the Psalm.

We aren’t sure, well not exactly, when this Psalm was written but we can pick up on the fact that the Psalmist puts his mind back to a time when Israel was in trouble and God brought them out of it. Now – the trouble they were facing could have been exile – it could have been when they had been carried off by the Babylonians. It could have been a time when they were under siege. It could have been a drought – or a famine – or it could have been during a time of pestilence – a time of disease – much like we are facing.

In other words, Psalm 126 speaks to a time when God’s people had been impacted by elements beyond their control – and things were so bad that they felt disjointed and away from what they had once known. They may not even have realized just how good they had it before.

I think we can relate to that feeling.

But then God – all of a sudden – restored their fortune – God brought them out of the trouble. It was so amazing – the Psalmist says – that it was surreal. It was like it wasn’t even real – which is what he means when he says, “we were like those who dream.” It was as if they were in another world. They couldn’t believe how things had turned.

All of that leads them to laugh and be filled with joy. The tough time was in the rear view mirror – and they survived it and they saw the Lord’s hand in their lives and God restored them from that bad time – they came through it. But that was a long time again – but they remembered it like it was yesterday.

I’m a big fan of the book and even the movie Lord of the Rings. Not to overly simplify Tolkein’s great work – but the story revolves around a group of people fighting back against the darkness – against evil. They go through quite an ordeal. In the end, good triumphed but it was a hard-fought battle. They endured great loss. They suffered. They carried the marks on their bodies, minds, and souls.  But, when it was over – when it was all said and done – when their fortunes were returned – when the blessings of good days were back – when they reached the other side – the fellowship gathered together and they laughed and were filled with joy.

That’s what the Psalmist said the people of God experienced when God restored their fortune – when they came through that tough season years before. They suddenly found themselves laughing and singing – filled with joy – their ordeal was over – they still carried the marks – but they also recognized that God had done something great for them.

In fact, it was so clear that God had done something great for them that even outsiders noticed it – and they said, “The LORD has done great things for them.”

And God’s people said – you know what – you are right – [3] “The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.”

How about you? Can you recall a challenging time in your life or in the life of your family – a time when you went through the wringer and God saw you through it?

Please bear in mind that verses 1-3 of this Psalm are a memory that the Psalmist brings up. Whatever it was that they went through (pestilence/disease/drought/famine) it was such a part of their collective memory that he didn’t need to be specific. All he had to do was mention that God restored them and they were filled with joy and everyone remembered. They kept the memory of God’s actions in their lives at the forefront so that it informed the present. They wrote it down. They talked about it and they relied on it to give shape to present challenges.

And that’s a good thing because – as life would have it – they entered another season of challenge – which seems to be clear from Ps 126:4-6.

The Psalmist turns from remembering what God has done in the past and to consider his present and the future –in light of all of that. So, he prays first – that God will, “[4] Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negeb!”Negev-Desert-Israel.jpg.optimal

Just like He’d done in the past, the Psalmist prays that God will restore their fortune – their blessings the good times but that God would do it in a way that only God can do.

You see, the Negeb is a region in the southern part of Israel. It is incredibly arid – a desert. In other words, the Psalmist is describing a scene where there is no water – no life – dry – he is praying for God to pour out his spirit – his presence – and restore the fortune of God’s people who look barren, dry, parched, and barren.

Understand that the Psalmist isn’t being literal. He’s not talking about God opening up a river in the Negeb – although that would be pretty awesome; he is talking about God pouring out His Spirit on dried up people – people who have been impacted by whatever it is that is going on. And He’s asking God to do it in such a way that it is clear that it is from God. Only God can make a river through the desert. He’s asking God to bless them – to restore the blessing of knowing Him and being in relationship with God – so that they are like a river flowing through the dry land.

A river flowing through a dry land is a blessing and it brings forth abundance and beauty. It doesn’t just bless God’s people – it blesses all who are near the river.

Can you imagine the sudden flow of water in the desert – in dried-up river beds?

Have you seen those videos of arid regions after a sudden storm? I saw a video a few years back of Atacama – which is the driest desert on earth. However, every five to eight years, it rains and life explodes, and very soon the desert is covered in flowers of all colors. It doesn’t last long – but it is astoundingly beautiful.

That’s what the psalmist is praying for. He’s holding the memory of how God restored His people in the past in order to inform the way He prays for the present. He’s praying that God will restore the blessings of His people and it will restore their souls like a stream in the desert. And the thing is – we can and should pray the same thing even as we go through challenging times. We keep focused on what God has done in the past and we pray for God to do something now.

However, there is one additional touch to this Psalm and it is very important.

The Psalmist also puts a reminder to God’s people that rely on the image of working for a harvest. He reminds God’s people that “[5] Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!” and “[6] the person who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.”

I love to garden and that love came from my time as a college student. I worked on a farm in order to earn extra money (I actually wrote a poem about that time – you can read River of Salvation by clicking here). I loved working on the farm. I learned a lot and even now I enjoy growing the food we eat. But, even as I sit here right now – my lower back aches from the work we’ve been doing in our garden and there is more work to be The Bountydone. But eventually, all that hard work will pay off and we will reap a harvest. But, I’ve got to go through the hard work – the challenging times in order to reap that harvest.

Now the thing is, I have an option – just like you. I could forgo all that hard work and just go to the farmer’s market. But in the Psalmist’s day – it wasn’t like that.

The Psalmist uses language that in his day would have sparked – clicked. They were an agrarian society. Their very lives depended upon what they could grow or catch. It is an easy and safe bet to say that nearly everyone grew some of their food – or caught it – or raised it. They were dependent upon the weather for food in ways that we can’t totally relate to. If they didn’t plant, they didn’t eat. If they didn’t get rain – the crops would suffer and thus the people would suffer. If there was a blite – they didn’t eat.

When they planted – they planted by hand – with rudimentary tools – tools that they had to keep sharp by hand. They had to work with animals and work with the soil and work with the sun and the weather and the rain in order to eat. It was tough and challenging but they couldn’t get around it they had to go through it in order to reap the harvest.

But when the harvest came, even though they still carried the marks on their bodies, souls, and hearts – they were filled with joy and laughter. But they go through it in order to reap the harvest.

The Psalmist is using that picture – the picture of working through the tough things in order to speak to God’s people about enduring difficult seasons. He reflects on the past – on how God restored their blessings their fortune in the past – in order to inform the present times – and reminds them that they have to work through the challenging seasons in order to reap the harvest – in order to see God restore their blessings their fortune – like streams in a desert.

And so the Psalmist is teaching us to pray for such a time as this. We are all going through a season of challenge. The Psalmist is reminding us to look back over our lives – to remember the challenging days – to recall how God restored our lives then so that as we go through this challenging time now we can be assured that as we work through it, God will again restore us.

Now, I’d like to ask you to do so something with me. I’d like to ask you to do what the Psalmist has done and remember a challenging time. I’d like to ask you if you can reflect on how God redeemed that time – how He restored you. That may be tough because you may be going through it right now or you may have a hard time seeing how God restored you. If you can’t speak to that, ask the Lord to help you. Ask Him to help you see how He restored you or how He will?

But I might suggest taking a look at something that happened a long time ago in order to always see just how God has restored the fortunes of His people. It happened in and around the first century. In fact, whenever you are struggling through a challenging time, there is always a way for us to remember how God has and will restore the fortunes of His people. Just remember what we celebrate on Easter Sunday. The empty tomb – the risen Lord Jesus is God’s way of restoring our fortune now and forever.

At the end of the challenging time, including our current conditions, we will have worked through it. We will be able to say, the Lord has done great things for us because we can see what He has done through Jesus. At the end of the challenges that are currently before us, we will be able to laugh and be filled with joy because of all that God has done and will do in our lives and the life of His church through Jesus. We are blessed because we can be people who have hope. That’s the fortune the blessing that we can have through Christ.

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