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Sunday, May 14, 2017

[Matt's Messages] "Songs of Joy"

“Songs of Joy”
Mother's Day
May 14, 2017
Psalm 126

Psalm 126 is one of my favorites. It’s one of the Psalms of Ascent, the songs that the Israelite pilgrims would sing as they made their way up to Jerusalem for the high holy days of Jewish worship in Old Testament times.

It’s really beautiful, and it instills hope in anyone who reads it with a heart of faith.

One of my Old Testament professors from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School says, “If we dwell thoughtfully in the atmosphere of Psalm 126 for long, we cannot remain disheartened. We will find in it a tonic for our tired arms, legs, and souls, for that is why God put this psalm in his Bible” (Ray Ortlund, When God Comes to Church, pg. 125).

Doesn’t that sound good?  Not as good as this psalm sounds!

The language of Psalm 126 is just so stunningly beautiful and spiritually refreshing.

One of the things I love the most about this psalm is that it looks both backwards and forwards. It looks back on what God has done and it looks forward to what God will do.

And I think that followers of Jesus Christ need to have that kind of a perspective, both always looking backward and always looking forward. Because God has always been faithful in the past and always will be in the future, forever.

And that’s one of the reasons why I picked this psalm for this Mother’s Day.

Because Christian mothers need to have that same perspective, too.

I know that whenever I talk with my Heather about what I should say to Moms on Mother’s Day, her answer is always some variation of, “Keep on going! You can do it, Mom. Don’t quit. Don’t slow down. Keep going. God is faithful. There’s a harvest coming.”

And that’s the message of Psalm 126.

The phrase that psalmist repeats again and again is “songs of joy,” “songs of joy,” “songs of joy.”

The English Standard Version has an even stronger translation. It says, “Shouts of joy!” “Shouts of joy!” “Shouts of joy!”

The idea is unbridled exclamations of gladness.

Kind of like some of you when your team does something tremendous on the field or on the court or on the track.

Woohoo! 

It’s an awesome feeling that must be made verbal.

Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!

Hallelujah!
Hallelujah!
Hallelujah!

Oh!

Songs of joy.  I know that doesn’t even capture it.

I remember the feelings Heather and I had when she gave birth to each of our children here today. Those were “songs of joy” days.

And I see the joyful looks on the faces of these two couples today. Briana and Jeremy, Mary Beth and Jim. Big ear-to-ear grins.

And songs of joy.

Life can be like that as God blesses.

But life is not always like that. Is it?

Life is not always a bed of pink roses.

Life is not always continuous songs of joy on constant repeat.

Not if we are being honest.

And the Bible is always honest with us.

Sometimes life is really hard. And painful. And difficult and uncomfortable. And it’s sad. And it hurts.

That’s true for everybody, and it’s definitely true for mothers.

Mothers live with heartache. It’s just part of the job.

And it’s true for all of us. Life can be really tough.

And Psalm 126 gives us a pattern for our prayers during those hard times.

It falls neatly into two parts, verses 1 through 3 which I think look backwards and verses 4 through 6 which look forward.

And both parts talk about “songs of joy.”

#1. THANK GOD FOR SONGS OF JOY IN THE PAST.

Look again at verse 1.

“When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed.”

Isn’t that beautiful?

Now, we don’t know what situation the psalmist is referring to in verse 1, but we do know that it was a really good thing.

The old NIV translates it, “when the LORD brought back the captives to Zion.” So it could be describing a return from exile. Maybe even the return from the Babylonian exile.

But the new NIV (2011), translates the words in verse 1 the same way both of them translate the words in verse 4, “when the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion.” And that’s how the ESV translates it as well.

The point is that there was this massive reversal of the situation for good.

It doesn’t mean fortune as in luck. It means the situation, the state of affairs, the position.

When God brought the amazing turnaround, “we were like men who dreamed.”

I love that. It seemed to good to be true. We were deliriously happy (cf. Derek Kidner).

We just woke up and our dreams had come true!

That’s how good it was.

When this turnaround happened to these Israelites, they thought they must have been dreaming. And it made them so incredibly happy. V.2

“Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.”

It doesn’t just say, “They laughed.” Or “They sang.”

“Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.”

Shouts of joy.

We were so incredibly happy we had to make some noise about it.

Have you ever been so happy, you just had to make noise?

I’ll bet you have.

And they were so joyful the world had to take notice. V.2 again.

“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.’”

Others, outsiders, the world, had to admit that God had been good to them.

It was undeniable.

And the psalmist says. V.3

Yes! “The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”

We are so glad because we are so blessed.

You see how the psalmist looks backwards?

We’re going to see in just the next verse that this is not how things are right now.

Things are not happy for the nation of Israel when the psalmist writes this.

But he remembers!

He remembers how good God has been to them, and he gives thanks.

I love how we don’t know exactly what this psalm was about in history because it makes it easy to translate it right into our lives today.

What great things has God done for you that you can remember and thank Him for?

For some of you, it was the awesome mother that God gave to you. And the upbringing and nurture that she provided.

For some of you, it was the children that God gave to you. And the minutes and hours and days and years that you have shared with them.

For the Christians in this room, the greatest thing is our salvation.

Don’t just think about physical blessings and material turnarounds.

Think about the reversal of fortune, the change in your circumstances that God effected when He rescued you from the dominion of darkness and brought you into the kingdom of the Son he loves (Col 1:12)!

Think about how you felt when you got saved. And the songs of joy.

Victory in Jesus my Savior forever!

And so many other ways that God has blessed you and me.

Think about them.
Remember them.
And thank God for them!

He has made me glad.
He has made me glad.
I will rejoice for He has made glad!

“The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”

Except so often we aren’t.

So often we look around and we see the things that are bad and feel the things that hurt. And we long for things to change.

Maybe you have lost your Mom.

Or maybe you never had a good relationship with her.

Maybe you wanted to have kids, but the Lord never gave them to you.

Maybe your children are wayward or estranged from you.

Or whatever difficult situation you face right now.

Whatever difficult situation you face right now!

We don’t know exactly what the problem was for Israel when the psalmist wrote Psalm 126, but we know that he longed for things to be the way they used to be. V.4

“Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negev.”

He’s saying, “Do it again.”

Have you thrown a little child into the air and caught them?

It’s so much fun. Jeremy and Jim, you are in for a treat.

Because they just get this big eyed look on their face and giggle.

And then your arms get tired, and you put them down, and what happens?

They raise up their arms, and said, “Again, Daddy! Do it again!”

That’s what the psalmist is saying to the LORD in verse 4.

“Do it again!”

“You did it before. I know you can do it once more.”

“Do it again!”

“Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negev.”

The Negev is a arid wilderness in the Southern part of Israel. It’s a very dry and desert like.  But maybe once a year, maybe at Springtime, it will get a hard rain and spring to life.

Just out of nowhere.

“Do it again!”

“Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negev.”

Turn this “parched life” (cf. Leslie Allen) into a garden.

Bring your life-giving grace into our situation.

You can do it. Suddenly rush in with your rain and restore us to blessing.

Please!

#2. TRUST GOD FOR SONGS OF JOY IN THE FUTURE.

And that begins with asking.

“Lord, do it again. Bring the great turnaround.”

And that could be something physical or more importantly something spiritual.

“Bring me personal revival, Lord.
Revive us again.”

It’s because the psalmist is thankful for the songs of joy in the past that he can ask and expect songs of joy in the future.

And he does expect it.  Look at how confident he is. V.5.

“Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will [most certainly] return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.”

He doesn’t just ask, he expects God to act.

He doesn’t just assume that all of God’s blessings are back there in the past.

He knows with a heart of faith that the best is yet to come.

He’s certain, he’s trusting, because that’s how his God is and that’s how his God works.

The metaphor in verses 5 and 6 is an agrarian metaphor, a figure of speech from the world of agriculture and farming.

First you sow, then later you reap.

What’s interesting here is that the psalmist is sure that the reaping will come.

In the world of agriculture, that’s not always guaranteed.

But the psalmist trusts God and expects God to provide for the Israelites songs of joy.

Just as sure as God brings the seasons, springtime and harvest.

There will be a reaping of songs of joy.

But there will also be tears.

Did you see that in verses 5 and 6?

The sorrow?

“Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.”

This is not some slappy-dappy Polyanna happy, happy, happy here.

There will be tears.

But do it anyway.

The point of verses 5 and 6 is that because you expect God to work, to answer your prayers, you keep on going. You keep on sowing.

My Hebrew professor puts it this way, “The idea built into the Hebrew [of verse 6] is difficult to translate neatly into English, but the idea is something like this: ‘The one who faithfully, persistently, diligently, goes forth into the field weeping, carrying his bag of seed, shall with infallible necessity come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him. The continual going out with tears is matched by the certainty of an abundant harvest coming back in” (Ray Ortlund, When God Comes to Church, pg. 141).

Don’t stop. Keep going. Even through the tears.

My wife has told me that a good number of our family dinners have been seasoned by her tears. They drop off of her face into the soup.

She doesn’t feel like making dinner. She’s sad about whatever.

But she keeps on going. She keeps putting one foot in front of the other.

She keeps on sowing.

And she expects a big harvest.

“Songs of joy.”

Little tiny seeds turn into great big sheaves.

Big honking bundles of blessings.

Trust God for those future songs of joy and keep on sowing until they come.

My friend Blair Murray always saw evangelism in verses 5 and 6.

Because we sow the word, right?

In Jesus’ parable, the seed is the Word of God, and we’re supposed to sow it, sow it, sow it.

And therefore we expect to come home with converts, with new disciples.

I think that’s a legitimate application of these verses.

That’s one thing that we can be faithfully sowing into the fields of the world.

But it’s just one of the ways that we sow spiritually.

This is talking about everyday faithfulness.

Everyday, ordinary, obedience.

Doing the next thing.

It applies to mothers.

Motherhood is hard and often sad.

Sow anyway. Sow in tears!

Do the next thing. Cook, clean, feed, train, wipe, teach, forgive, dress, undress, spank, coach, coax, lift, push, pull, and carry. And then REPEAT!

Keep sowing. Sow in tears if you have to. Prayers, parent-teacher conferences, little league games, soccer tournaments, doctors appointments, bills, bills, bills.

Do the next thing. Keep going.

Carry your seed out there and sow it.

Even through your tears.

And expect God to work.

Expect there to be songs of joy to come.

Sheaves!

But this is not just for mothers. It’s for all of us.

In few weeks, we’ll see it again in Galatians 6:9 which says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

It might feel a little bit like death.

When our Lord Jesus did it, He sowed himself. He Himself was the seed going into the ground, but He came back up with a new glorious body, and we are His sheaves!

It’s worth it, friends.

Trust God for the songs of joy in your future.

Keep going, even through the tears.

Don’t get me wrong.

I’m not saying that every prayer of our hearts will be answered in the way we want it.

Not every wayward child, for example, will come home.

God has not promised that.

But He has promised good for His children.

He has promised a bountiful harvest for those who trust Him and keep on sowing their seeds of faith and obedience.

“He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.”

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