Psalm of Ascent 121 – Trouble on the Journey
What is faith? If someone stopped you on the street and asked you that question for a a survey, how would you answer? Would you tell them it is positive thinking? A sense of hope? Or following a list of spiritual disciplines?
In its most basic form, faith is a gift to us by God. ”For my grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8 nrsv). This concept of a free gift makes me think of a scenario that we can slip into every so subtlely. It goes like this: Let’s say you receive a birthday gift from a friend. Instead of thanking your friend for the lovely gift, instead you say, “I love it, now how much was it so I can pay you back?” That kind of a response neither feels right nor is the appropriate response. However, that is what we are doing when we think we have to work for God’s gift of faith. The right response to my birthday example is to either send her a thank you note or tell her thanks in person. However, in our humanity we can get our wires crossed and find ourselves slipping into the mindset that we have to prove ourselves worthy of such a gift. God, in His grace, gave us the gift of faith and the only right response is to simply accept it in joy and gratitude.
It is in this state of joy and gratitude that motivates us to be of service to others. “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (Ephesians 2:10 nrsv). Not only did God save us for a purpose, but it is His intention that we would make doing good works a way of life. When we demonstrate our faith through outward actions, it reveals that our faith is active and God is at work within us. While it is true that a genuine faith produces good works, it is equally true that if our lives are not changed as a result of a believing faith in Jesus Christ we are not in agreement with what we claim to believe. “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works(James 2:14 nrsv)? When our faith is genuine two areas of our lives will be changed: our actions and our thoughts.
Faith and good works work in tandem, much like a horse and cart. The horse, for the sake of this example, represents faith, and the cart filled with good works follows behind. If the horse (faith) is absent, the cart (good works) is dead in the middle of the road. One produces the other. Faith is what leads a person to salvation, and good works is the by-product of that faith. Good works doesn’t justify us; it simply proves our faith.
The Bible says in Matthew 5:16 to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (nrsv, emphasis added). For the Christian bearing fruit, or good works, isn’t an opton. The Holy Spirit does the internal work of gradually changing us into Christlikeness, but it is up to us to be reflectors of Him. At the end of the day, faith lived out is what God is most concerned about, not what we say we believe, but in the way we live out what we confess to believe.
You, Lord, are good and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You.
Remember always….what God forgives, He forgives completely. What God heals, He brings to wholeness. What God restores, He does so without any limitations placed upon a person’s potential for sharing the gospel and being a witness of God’s love, mercy, and grace.
The Lord raises those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous.
God is aware of, concerned about, and involved in every area of need you have, great or small. Too often, however, we want to face and deal with only our external needs. We want God to provide a quick answer for us only in the tangible, material realm of life. To dig deeper into our neediness is something we perceive as painful, unnecessary, or too spiritual. God doesn’t agree with that approach….He is even more concerned about the needs that impact our very identity and our potential as human beings.
The Lord raises those who are bowed down; the
Lord loves the righteous
God is aware of, concerned about, and involved in every area of need you have, great or small. Too often, however, we want to face and deal with only our external needs. We want God to provide a quick answer for us only in the tangible, material realm of life. To dig deeper into our neediness is something we perceive as painful, unnecessary, or too spiritual. God doesn’t agree with that approach…He is even more concerned about the needs that impact our very identity and our potential as human beings.
Between the Times
Was this year especially difficult? Was it a deployment year or a year filled with numerous training missions with a demanding schedule? Or was it a year of financial worries, health issues or concerns over children? It’s no surprise that some years the trials come one after another with no peace in between. Early in my marriage and my husband’s military career, I experienced a very long season without peace. I struggled with infertility. With my husband, Ray underway at sea more than he was home, the years swiftly rolled by. When he was home we resumed infertility treatments, but to no avail. By the sixth year, I could barely muster a laugh. My spirits had hit rock bottom. In desperation, I cried out to God many times, asking, “How long, Lord? How long before a season of better times come again?” It seemed as if I was living between two realms – between a time filled with fond memories of good experiences, and another time waiting and hoping for good times to return again. A new kind of longing settled into my heart – a longing to laugh again.
Psalm 126 describes this concept of living between two realms. In the first three verses, the psalmist is rejoicing over something God did that was so wonderful it seemed like a dream.
Many scholars believe this psalm describes the Israelites when they were set free from their captivity from Babylon. They were so astonished in their new found freedom they sang songs of joy and laughed.
When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.
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.” The LORD has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.
James Limburg describes this time perfectly. “Psalm 126 comes from a people who are living between the times, between a good time remembered and another good time hoped for.” The Israelites reflected on a period in their history where God turned the tide of their circumstances. They had been captives, but King Cyrus freed them. In complete elation, they concluded that only something this good had to be from God. What about you? Can you think of an event that seemed too good to be true? For me, it was the day I learned I was finally pregnant. After six grueling years of on again – off again infertility treatments, the unbelievable happened. It seemed too good to be true! Even my husband, when he called home from the ship was hopeful, but skeptical. Later that year, our son, Lawrence was born. Nothing strengthens our faith more than when we recall former instances of how God ended our season of troubling circumstances and brought better times.
In the second half of Psalm 126 the Israelites find themselves again living “in between the two realms.”
Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the watercourses in the Negeb. May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.
The psalmist emphasizes God’s ability to show Himself mighty to usher in a fresh season of good times by using the Negev metaphor. If God can send floods down on the drought stricken beds of the region of Negev, He is fully able to fill our weary spirits with joy by doing something remarkable for us. Does this psalm describe the place you are in right now? Your heart has reflected on some wonderful things God has done for you in the past and now as we enter a new year you could really use something wonderful from God now.
It is in the difficult places, when we’re sowing our sorrow that we must not forget that our present misery will not last forever. In fact, it is just the opposite! It is the means to the end. “If there were no sowing in tears there would be no reaping in joy,” says British Pastor Charles Spurgeon. How can we appreciate a new season of laughter if we’ve never tasted the sting of difficult times? Our tears are the seeds that in God’s time will produce a harvest of joy. Have you ever noticed that a harvest takes time? God doesn’t move any faster just because we live in a world that resists the training ground of difficult seasons. However, when the harvest does come, we’ll find ourselves in “that good time hoped for.”
God is so incredible. He doesn’t do great things for us out of obligation, but because we are His delight! All we have to do is tell God that we trust that He will do something wonderful in our lives again because “…He is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine” (Eph. 3:20).
Those who fear God stand in awe of God. They have at least a glimmer of
understanding that God is omniscient (all-wise), omnipotent (all-powerful),
omnipresent (present in every moment and throughout all eternigy), and all-loving,
out, and blesses the individual human being. To fear God is not to fear God’s
judgement; it is to stand in awe that God has all authority to judge and to forgive,
to show mercy, and to grant His grace in overflowing abundance.