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Sunday, November 15, 2020

“With Songs Of Joy” [Matt's Messages]

“With Songs Of Joy”
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
November 15, 2020 :: Psalm 126

Has this year gotten you down?

For most of us, probably all of us, 2020 has been a hard year in so many ways. We probably all have stories of great blessings that have come to us in the last eleven and a half months for which we are grateful, but I know that we also all have stories of loss of things taken from us in the last eleven and a half months that we have all felt most deeply.

As your pastor, I am very grateful for the good gifts the Lord has poured out on us, especially during crazy period of pandemic. I count my blessings every day! But I also look around, and I see that things are not as they used to be, and it feels like we have to do three times the work for the one third of the results. And there is kind of a “desert” feeling to life and ministry right now.

Has this year gotten you down?

Well, if so, I have a psalm for you. 

It’s Psalm 126, one of the psalms of ascent, those beautiful worship songs that the Israelite pilgrims sang together as they marched upward to Zion to worship at the holy feasts days of Israel.

And it’s a song that looks in two directions at once.

It’s a song that looks back in thanksgiving (which is perfect for November of 2020), and it’s a song that looks forward in hope (which is much needed in November of 2020).

And it’s a song that emphasizes JOY which we really need to emphasize in November of 2020. 


Isn’t this psalm wonderful?!

Did you hear the title of this message as I read it?

In this short psalm, the psalmist uses this one phrase again and again, “With Songs of Joy.”

“With Songs of Joy.”

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

Like if a Penn State defender picked off an interception in the endzone and then runs it all the way back for a surprise touchdown. What would you do if you saw that?

Woohoo! 

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

Shouts of Joy!

Yes! Yes!

Hallelujah!
Hallelujah!

“With songs of joy.” I know that doesn’t even capture it.

It’s a feeling so good it must be verbalized.

But we don’t always feel that way, do we?

No, often we do not, and the psalms are perfectly placed by God in our Bibles to give us language for the times when we feel that way and the times when we want to feel that way again.

That’s what Psalm 126 does.

Psalm 126 is actually a song about songs of joy for when you do not feel like singing songs of joy but want to feel like singing songs of joy again.

Let me show you what I mean.

Psalm 126 falls neatly into two parts, verses 1 through 3 which I think look backwards in thanksgiving and verses 4 through 6 which look forward in hope.

And both parts talk about “with songs of joy” so I have a point of application for each part.

#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 particular situation the psalmist is referring to in verse 1, but we do know that it was a really good thing.

The old 1984 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 updated 2011 NIV, 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 and CSB translate it as well. The Hebrew is something more literally like “when the LORD turned with the turning of Zion.”

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

It doesn’t mean “fortunes” 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. 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 these people were so joyful the world had to take notice. Look at 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 story this psalm was about in Israel’s 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?

November is a great month to count your many blessings.

And we all have millions and billions of them. Many of which we don’t even know.

We don’t know a fraction of the good gifts the Lord is giving us, even this very second.

For the followers of Christ, the greatest thing we have been given 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. 
Count them.
Remember them.
And thank God for them!

And sing about them with songs of joy: “To God be the glory great things He has done.”  

Verse 3 again: “The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”

Except, so often we are not.

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 back to how they were before.

That’s the story for many of us of 2020.

And it was the story for this psalmist.

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 ever thrown a little child into the air and caught them?

It’s so much fun. Because they just get this big eyed look on their face and they 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! Turn things around again.”

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

The Negev is an arid wilderness in the Southern part of Israel. It’s very dry and hard 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.” Or as a church, “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.”

Big bundles of harvested grain.

The psalmist 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 100% sure that the reaping will come.

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

But the song-writer 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.”

Tears first, songs of joy later.

This is not just 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, and you hold on for the harvest.

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. 

Heather 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 making the soup. She keeps on sowing. And she expects a big harvest.

That’s what I try to do as a pastor. I try to keep on sowing. Going back out there with seed and planting it, seed and planting it. Even with tears.

With some people, I have been trying to sow seeds with them for a long time, and the good results have not come yet.

But still I weep and I sow.

I weep and I sow.

And I trust God for the song of joy to come.

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.

I was talking to Wally last week about how we need to be faithful in our evangelism as a church. He was saying, and I agree, that we need to boldly keep telling people about Jesus Christ and what He did for us on the Cross and at the Empty Tomb.

We have the greatest news in all the world. And they may not want to hear it at first.

We may cry over people as we take the seed of the gospel and sow it in the field of the world.

Sinking that investment in what often feels like a losing proposition.

But we know that God did it before [Here we are!] and we know that He can do it again.

So we ask Him. “Restore us again!”

And it’s not just evangelism; this sowing in tears is being obedient in whatever the Lord is calling us to do.

To go out there, obeying, investing, giving, sowing even through tears, and believe that the best is yet to come.

It might feel a little bit like death.

When our Lord Jesus went out sowing with his tears, He sowed Himself. Jesus 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 in 2020 and beyond.

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. God has not promised that. He has not promised that every seed will yield the harvest that we hope for.

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.

This is true:

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

***

[Astute readers may remember several parts of this message first appeared in the Mother’s Day message from 2017.]


***

Fortifying Truth - Fall 2020

01. Majestic and Mindful - Psalm 8
02. All Our Days - Psalm 90
03. "The LORD on High Is Mighty!" - Psalm 93
04. "The LORD Is My Shepherd" - Psalm 23
05. "Praise the LORD, O My Soul!" - Psalm 103
06. "The Blessing of Aaron's Oily Beard" - Psalm 133
07. "A Dying Thirst for the Living God" - Psalm 42
08. "Our Fortress" - Psalm 46
09. Unrestless - Psalm 131
10.  "Sun and Shield" - Psalm 84

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