Good Grief: Story (Psalm 126)

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Next weekend I get to officiate a wedding of a young woman who used to attend a youth ministry I served over a decade ago. It certainly is the season as I’ve seen some of our church member’s children celebrate engagements and coming wedding ceremonies. May the Lord bless these future marriages and your budgets 🙂

Weddings cause me to think about diamonds. Diamonds are formed deep under earth’s dirt – over one hundred miles below the surface.

  • 100 miles is about Severna Park to Winchester, VA / Ocean City, MD

That portion of Earth has with overlying rock bearing down combined with high temperature, (~2,000 degrees Fahrenheit) and high pressure is necessary to grow diamond crystals. Synthetic diamonds are produced with pressure and even more heat – 8,000 degrees Fahrenheit; as hot as the outer layer of the sun. In all, there is a lot of digging beneath the surface and mining the depths to bring about costly treasure.

The same is necessary for life. Our hearts and souls are like deep mines that must be excavated to reveal its content. I pray the last month you have been allowing the Holy Spirit and God’s word to reach deep within to bring out value and significance.

A series on Good Grief isn’t always welcomed. Some snub it, thinking it’s not relatable. Others stuff it, not wanting to deal with the past or present. But there are some who are receiving the content, either because God is speaking clearly to them, or because they are soaking in the material to help and serve others. In all, this series is meant to help you get through whatever it is that you are going through. I pray for God to give me His words and all of us ears to hear.

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EXAMINE           Psalm 126

  • Intro: This psalm has an inscription: “Songs of Ascent.” Psalms 120-134 are all known as songs of ascent. There are a few views about this inscription:
    • Musical note about singing higher and higher.
    • 15 psalms correspond to the 15 steps up to the temple complex in Jerusalem. Each psalm was sung as Jews ascended to the house of the Lord.
    • 15 psalms were sung ascending the geography upward to Jerusalem.
    • In all, what was true of them geographically should true of us spiritually, that we always have room for elevating God in our life and worship.
      • As an old hymn says[1],

I’m pressing on the upward way,
New heights I’m gaining every day;
Still praying as I’m onward bound,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

Lord, lift me up and let me stand,
By faith, on Heaven’s tableland,
A higher plane than I have found;
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.

  • Context: This psalm has the likely context of Israel post-exile based on its references to the Lord’s restoration and returning home. The relevance for us today is grief feels like exile – like God has cast us aside and forgotten us.
    • We can let our circumstances destroy us with anger, bitterness, and conflict.
    • We can let our circumstances define us with anxiety, despair, and hopelessness.
    • We can let our circumstances develop us, viewing many chapters unfolding in God writing our story for good with a promised reconciling and glorious ending.

The history before this psalm is with the Persian King Cyrus, who decreed the Israelites could return home. The King Cyrus was prophesied astoundingly over two hundred years before he was born. The prophet Isaiah spoke the name Cyrus by the word of the Lord, where God would use Cyrus to conquer Babylon and discover treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel who call you by your name” (Isa 45:3). Indeed, God blessed Cyrus with a great empire stretching from modern day Russia to East Africa. God has the power to direct kings and nations – even non-believing ones – to accomplish His greater purposes (Prov 21:1). In all, God used Cyrus to return Israel back to their homeland.

Uniquely, the phrase “treasures of darkness” stands out for this series about Good Grief, and entering
Psalm 126. Only God can transform darkness into treasure. Psalm 126 provides an outline of God’s actions and human response for experiencing darkness transformed into treasure.

PSALM 126

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.

In this Psalm we will examine 4 movements.

#1 God restores (126:1-2)

During the Israelite exile, there was a time when God’s people lacked celebration. Their failures had caused them to doubt there was a future. Their griefs had caused them what they presumed was unending despair. Israel faced the unpleasant nature of waking up each day in an unfamiliar land, with an unwanted king, and a fading faith. Where was God? Hope appeared as a hallucination or dream.

Some hopes and dreams are like the mirage seen by a thirsty traveler as he stumbles across desert sand. Our reality is often far from an oasis vacation but is instead a raging sea. Hardship is typical and grief is more often expected.

Yet, the Psalmist recognizes God’s powerful transformation of our trials. God acted in a way no one expected and used a non-Israelite king to conquer Babylon and decree the Israelites to return home and rebuild. God’s discipline was not permanent, and He is faithful to His promises. God restored the fortunes of Zion. Their mouths were filled with laughter and shouts of joy (126:1-2).

Illus: How many people are familiar with those “Magic Eye”[2] images? These images require you to start looking at them with your face right on the image. After staring for several seconds, you slowly move your face back with eyes continuing to look straight ahead. In a moment your eyes begin to view a 3-D image that you’re amazed at what you’re seeing. The key is to keep staring…

Likewise, we must keep staring at the character of God. For every glance at our circumstance we must take a dozen gazes at Christ. Too often we are like Peter, who takes our eyes of Jesus and looks at the wind and waves, which causes us to sink (Mt 14:28-33).

  • Let us never lose hope but trust the character of God. Last week’s message discussed listing truths from a Bible passage – a present tense statement about the character of God. This practice is invaluable for helping us to not lose hope and gaze at Christ.
    • What is something that you’re tempted to stop praying and lose hope?
    • What is a key verse/passage that God would have you meditate and memorize?
      Look back over past psalms and identify where the Spirit wants you to focus.
  • Remember today, the Lord rescues and restores.

#2 God reveals (126:3).

The psalmist displays not only how God restores His people but how God reveals Himself to others. A phrase that is repeated in this psalm is “The Lord has done great things.” Interesting is that the nations are making this proclamation. Unbelievers have become aware of God’s work in the lives of the faithful and God is getting the glory. Can you not enjoy the way God works/delivers someone and the world is amazed – “how did that happen; that must be God!?!” God reveals Himself in multiple ways, but more often than not its in ways that surprise and puzzle the world.

  • Consider the disciples: fishermen, some zealots and some tax collectors.
  • Consider Paul, a Pharisee and persecutor of Christians
  • Consider your own life…

Illus: How many people have a drawer in their kitchen / a jar in the garage or can in the shed that has an eclectic collection of items? Many times, these special places have some mystery keys – of course mixed with tiny screws, tie wraps, paper clips, batteries, and a molar from one of your kids (!?!). What’s funny is we never throw away the keys; we may not have a clue what the keys open, but just in case… keep the keys!
Likewise, we have a collection of keys in our life that are our past experiences – both good and bad – that have the power to unlock chains and open doors for God to use in powerful ways. When we evaluate our life based on faith, we can look back and say, “Life is hard, but God is good” – “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are glad” (126:3).

  • When you evaluate your story – especially of grief and hardship – how can you envision God begin to climax your life chapters into a meaningful purpose?
    • Consider young shepherd-boy David. Facing bears and lions attacking his sheep, he never thought, “I’m so happy for these fun life experiences!” Yet, later in life standing with his brothers watching Goliath and Philistines mock Israel’s army, David discerned God’s past arrangements for present action (cf 1Sam 17:37). What might your past have prepared you that you couldn’t do otherwise?
    • Create a list of both painful and positive experiences in your life that God may want to use to help others. For me…
      • passing of grandparents at early age created awareness of life and death.
      • growing up in a small church meant I was known by people of all ages; me with a men’s group, ministry opportunities accelerated at young age (taught youth in 95’ and gospel min 97’ / 23 years / wasn’t discipled as well as I should have been, but matured with ojt).
      • college loneliness had big impact, but it’s when I deepened faith in God’s word.
      • wife miscarriage was challenging but we clung to one another and the Lord.
      • Pastoral ministry with transitions – moving friends, passing members, challenges… all have grown me in compassion for others and faith in God.
    • Read Chazown – by Craig Groeschel / Grief Journey with Brad Hambrick[3]

 

#3 We pray (126:4).

As a result of God’s salvation and working, the people pray for restoration. Israel had reached rock bottom and were profoundly broken. But God restored the Israelites with a return to Jerusalem. And now, the psalmist is asking God again for restoration – “Do it again, Lord. You’ve done it once, please do it again.”

In this case, the psalmist is praying beyond a return to a revival. Revival is pictured as a dry and arid land in need of streams of water. The Negev is desert wilderness around Sinai. The summers are hot, dry, and little signs of greenery or life. But when the seasonal rains come, the landscape changes almost overnight with grass and flowers and people. Here, the psalmist is praying for God to pour out His Holy Spirit and saturate the land with the refreshing and cleansing water of God’s word. Where we work for months and many years, God can change the landscape in a moment.

  • Shouldn’t this be our present prayer? Are we too busy promoting our physical comforts and conveniences that we neglect to cry out to the Lord for spiritual revival? Dare I ask, are we too focused on earthly patriotism that we not give greater ascent and allegiance as a citizen of God’s kingdom?
  • What is God doing in USA and around the world?
    • Jesus’s return. When He comes, there are no second chances. Are you ready?
    • God’s wrath. God disciplines those He loves. He prunes branches so our roots go deeper in Him.
    • Spirit revival. Revival starts with a crisis leading to cries of repentance. Where do you need repentance?
      • “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)
      • Praying over sanctuary seats / praying thru church directory

 

#4 We sow (126:5-6).

The psalmist moves from praying for revival to participating with God in the fruit of revival. The implication is that if we pray for streams then we should get in the boat; if we pray for rain then we should wear rain boots. The fruit of revival is sowing seed, and those who sow will reap.

Here the psalmist likely reflects Israel returning to a barren land and “sowing in tears.” They had little, but they sowed. Their grief was real. Their problems were plentiful. And their work was overflowing. The winter season wouldn’t hold off while we finish our grief and solve our struggles. If we are going to eat next season, then we must labor in the fields and sow the seed.

This psalm teaches the tough truth that sowing is simply the work that must be done, even when we don’t feel like it or we’re emotionally exhausted. Sometimes our tears will tempt us to give up. Our tears turn into fears and we quit. Grieve but don’t give up, even if you cannot walk you can still crawl forward knowing Jesus is with you.

  • You can say to your tears, “I feel you. I want to sit and sulk. But there’s a chores to be completed / children to feed / spouse to care for / job tasks to accomplish / church to serve / etc. So, while it may take me longer than usual and I may stop more than necessary, I will sow my field.”

God’s children sow trusting God to do something underground, unnoticed by many, and unimaginable unless God alone were at work. When we sow in tears, we shall reap shouts of joy (126:5), not because crying creates a crop, but because the sheer act of sowing results in reaping.

What brings tears to your/God’s eyes? These are the things that give us focus in what and where we sow.

  • SPBC should sow toward the fragile. Jesus noted He came for the sick not the healthy. Who are the weak and vulnerable around us? Who doesn’t have it all together and needs help?
  • SPBC should sow toward the fallen. Jesus noted He came for sinners not the righteous. Who are the arrogant and not admitting need for dialogue or empathy? Don’t waste your time with these people… but who are the accessible and open for learning from one another? Jesus wants us to sow to sinners who are hungry for hope and hurting for healing.
  • SPBC should sow toward the future. In 2020, we are twice as close to 2050 than 1960. We should have great respect for our past and traditions. We stand on the shoulders of men and women who had audacious faith, abundant generosity, and authentic compassion. Yet, we cannot live on the fumes of past faith, but need a focus for where He is moving today and tomorrow. Our feet cannot stay stuck because we have marching orders to sow and grow godly generations. We must mobilize and move together in this next season of ministry – whatever God has for us.
  • You can take 3 action steps
    1) Station with a group. Groups are where we open our Bibles to learn and open life to be loved and love.
    2) Serve/Sow on a ministry team. Sowing helps you get out what God is putting in you.
    3) Share the gospel. We’re able to tell the story of God’s transforming grace. #WhosYour1

 

APPLY/THINK

“My sorrow now feels less an oppressive weight, more a treasured possession. I can take it out and ponder it, then put it safely and carefully away (p. 79).” Testimony of an anonymous woman in Experiencing Grief by H. Norman Wright.

[1] https://library.timelesstruths.org/music/Higher_Ground/

[2]  https://www.magiceye.com/

[3] http://bradhambrick.com/grief/

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