1When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.
2Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.”
3The LORD has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.
4Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the watercourses in the Negeb.
5May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.
6Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.
Reflection: When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.
Has something you have longingly dreamed about ever come true? Imagine being separated from your homeland, your ability to worship, and your loved ones. You would constantly dream of being home, living within the joy of the life you know and love. When we understand how deeply this psalm reaches into the communal suffering of the people of God, only then can we truly appreciate the sense of joy that is being expressed.
This is part of a group of psalms known as the Psalms of Ascent. They were to be sung by the people as they gathered together and walked up the mountain of God to the temple in Jerusalem. Oftentimes this was done on high holy days. This particular psalm would remind the people how faithful God had been to them, even in the middle of their unfaithfulness and suffering. It would connect them with the struggle of their people. As a result, singing this psalm would produce true joy – joy that cannot be taken from us.
Many of us have had “mountaintop experiences” in our faith journeys. We have felt as if we are on top of the world and the distance between heaven and earth is miniscule. But much of the time, we are climbing. We are walking the difficult trek up from the low points of life. As we climb, our heart is inspired to sing praises to the God who brought us out of the valley (after first walking it with us).
I hope you are experiencing a time of ascent. Even if you are not, recall the times that God has lifted you up from the rocky, hard places. Meditate on the line from the psalm, “The LORD has done great things for us” and remember. If you are in the low country, trust that God is walking beside you to give you strength in your spiritual legs. You will reach the temple of the Holy One, so sing with all the confidence of God’s faithfulness and grace.
Journaling Focus: Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”
This psalm is most likely a post-exilic psalm, written after the Jewish people returned to Jerusalem from their captivity in Babylon. It is likely from the era following Ezra and Nehemiah. It stands in stark contrast to a psalm, Psalm 137, written while the Jewish people were in exile. Our Scripture for this week is a psalm of joy. But before this psalm could be written, the Jewish people endured the events that inspired the psalm of despair in Psalm 137. Read both psalms and notice especially how Psalm 137:4-6 contrasts with Psalm 126:2-3. What do you see in these contrasting responses? When have you felt devastating loss and when were you able to feel joy again. Reflect on these contrasting psalms as their connection to your own life as you journal this week.
This practice allows you to listen to the Scripture for the week (in larger context) and to open yourself up to God’s voice in that Scripture.
Click on the audio link above and listen to the Scripture. As you listen this first time, ask God to point out to you a word or phrase from the Scripture.
- Click on the audio link above again and listen to the Scripture a second time. As you listen this second time, ask God to reveal to you the holy intentions for this word or phrase that is being spoken into your life.
- Click on the audio link above again and listen to the Scripture a third time. As you listen this third time, ask God how you might respond to this word or phrase being spoken into your life today.
These questions are designed to help make sense of the message of Scripture. They are not designed to overwhelm, but to enlighten. Do not feel as if you need to answer all – or even most – of these questions every week. Perhaps pick one or two that will help you explore the Scripture and its message more deeply.
Reading Scripture to Know:
- What is happening/being said? (Observation)
- Why is this happening/being said? (Interpretation)
- What does the rest of Scripture say about it? (Evaluation)
- What does it mean? (Understanding)
- What does it mean for us? (Application)
Reading Scripture to Grow:
- What words or phrases stand out to you? Why?
- Where do you hear the voice of God in this Scripture?
- How do you see the character of God reflected in this Scripture?
- How does this Scripture reveal God?
- How does this Scripture expose humanity and its need for God?
- How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in your life?
- How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in our world?
- What might God want to communicate to you (us) this week through this Scripture?
Scripture Reads Me:
- This passage makes me feel…
- This passage makes me think about…
- This passage reminds me of…
- This passage teaches me that God is…
- This passage teaches me that I am…
- This passage challenges me to…
Listen to the song, Bringing in the Sheaves. As you listen to this song, think of the promise Jesus gives us, as recorded in John 16:33: “In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” Is there any disappointment in life that can undo the promises of joy in Christ? No! What is God communicating to you through this song? What might you communicate to God through this song?
Prayer Focus: May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.
Pray for the downcast and brokenhearted. As the world around us starts to bloom, many people find it hard to awaken from the dull harshness of winter. Ask God to give them strength to receive his comfort. Trust in God’s light – not in a way that merely covers over darkness, ignoring the depth of its pain – but trust in the light of God that dispels darkness.
Meditation Focus: Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.
What a beautiful image of harvest among drought, of joy in the midst of pain. Spend some time in silent meditation, remembering the tears of your past. Let them fall again, but this time allow them to fall into the ground in big drops. Ask God to redeem your sorrows. Watch the drops of water give way to a new, green growth around you. What has God allowed to grow in the field of sorrow? Let the strong sprouts of blessing grow tall around you. When they are fully grown, pick them – smell their fragrance, eat their produce. How is God filling you?
Take some time to reflect upon your day or your week. Follow the process below and open yourself up to the presence and work of God in your life this week. Every week the structure is the same, but some specifics are changed to reflect the Scripture of the week.
- Find a place and posture that will prepare you for prayer.
- Begin by breathing in deeply through your nose and breathing deeply out of your mouth.
- Invite God to lead you through the previous day or week. For instance, if it is Tuesday night, reflect back on Tuesday morning, afternoon, and evening. If it is Saturday or Sunday, reflect back on Monday through Friday.
- Ask God to guide you through these questions:
- How have you experienced sorrow?
- How have you experienced joy?
- In what ways have you experienced God’s redeeming work?
- What song is in your heart?
- Thank God for this journey of reflection on your day or week. Ask God to continue to reveal Godself to you tomorrow.
Comfort someone who is mourning. Maybe a friend has been in a low place for a while. Perhaps someone you know is struggling with the death of a loved one. Or, you may know someone who just struggles with a gloomy outlook. Do not try to “cheer them up” or gloss over their suffering. Do not try to have the “right words” for them. Simply love them – without condition. Sometimes the best comfort is the silent, loving presence of a friend.
Breath Prayer: LORD God, fill us with joy.