February 3, 2019 | “Psalms of Ascents: Joy” • Psalm 126

Scripture Reading • Psalm 126  (NIV)

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
    we were like those who dreamed.
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.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
    and we are filled with joy.

Restore our fortunes, Lord,
    like streams in the Negev.
Those who sow with tears
    will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
    carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
    carrying sheaves with them.

 

Joy seems to be one of those words that can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Joy is something we long for … we appreciate joy when we see it … joy can be something that can be hard to pin down … joy can be hard to define … especially when we are talking about Christian joy. 

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul writes, “… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…” So, according to Paul, joy is a sign that the Holy Spirit is moving and working and reshaping us to reveal Christ’s character in our lives.

The way dictionaries define joy – “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness” seems lacking to me. If we are talking about discipleship and following Jesus … if we are honest about what our lives are really like, if we really pay attention to the Christians we know who we would say are joyful … joy has to be something more than Webster’s definition.

I’m curious to hear your insights. 

    • Think of someone you would say is a joyful person …  
    • Take just a moment and write down ways you have noticed joy demonstrated in their lives.
    • Ok, so what would you all say are the characteristics of a joyful person.
    • Man, this is great … these sound like great people to spend time with … I want those traits in my life … I want these to be characteristics of our church.

One of the most joyful people I can think of, I haven’t met in person. When I hear his interviews … when I read the stuff he writes, he always surprises me. I don’t know that anyone would expect him to be joyful … he encounters so much pain everyday. Father Gregory Boyle runs one of the largest gang intervention programs in North America … he has officiated more than 200 funerals for young people who have died from some sort of connection to gang violence … he encounters poverty, hopelessness, and addiction on a regular basis … he has even experienced the pain of cancer. It would be understandable if he was angry or bitter … if he was somber and dead serious … yet, he has this winsomeness … it seems like he would be really fun to hang out with … he has this lightness … he can speak honestly about heavy and sad things … he has this hopefulness … he can laugh … he can cry … he seems so full of life … a deep sense of joy seems to permeate his life. 

When I think about Father Greg Boyle, I want that warmth … that deep faith … that sense of joy … I want it because it is something more than happiness … joy is something genuine and consistent in his life. 

Christian joy and pain don’t have to be exclusive of each other.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a man who has also encountered a lot of pain in his life, and who also embodies joy and hope, coauthored “The Book of Joy,” with the Dalai Lama. In that book Desmond Tutu writes, 

Discovering more joy does not, I’m sorry to say … save us from the inevitability of hardship and heartbreak. In fact, we may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily, too. Perhaps we are just more alive. Yet as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreak without being broken” (p. 12).

Christian joy isn’t about avoiding pain.

Christian joy has less to do with escaping pain and a lot more to do with navigating pain.

As strange as this may sound, I think that can be really good news for us.

Sometimes when we encounter difficult stuff we wonder where we went wrong … maybe we ask what we did to tick God off … or maybe that haunting question, “has God abandoned me?”

Sometimes we do mess up and that can cause pain.

Yet, if we are really set on following Jesus, sooner or later we will encounter pain … the pain of injustice (like Desmond Tutu) … the pain of caring for the forgotten and ignored … the pain of violence and hopelessness (like Greg Boyle). We need a definition of joy that can encounter all of this and not sound like an obnoxious and disconnected-from-real-life pollyanna.

I think Psalm 126 can help us develop that definition.

There is some interesting stuff happening with structure and grammar of this Psalm.

It has three parts – the first part, verses 1-3, remembers God’s action on behalf of his people – this is about something that has happened in the past.

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
    we were like those who dreamed.
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.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
    and we are filled with joy.

The second part, verse 4, asks God to act for his people – 

Restore our fortunes, Lord,
    like streams in the Negev.

The poetic image in this part is a dry and dusty desert … a barren wilderness with dried up gullies and stream-beds. When the rainy season comes and the stream beds fill with water the desert bursts to life … that restoration … that renewal … that change of situation is what the psalmist is longing for. This is about what the psalmist needs to have happen now.

The third part, verses 5-6, present a hopeful vision of what it will look like when God acts. This develops a picture of a change in situation … like the seed a farmer plants growing into an abundant harvest … tears and weeping turning to joyful songs … This is what the psalmist hopes will happen in the future when his situation is changed.

Those who sow with tears
    will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
    carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
    carrying sheaves with them.

The psalmist remembers God’s action that inspired songs of joy from the past … is honest about where he is now and offers it to God … and anticipates God’s action and looks forward singing songs of joy again. 

Often we find ourselves living in verse 4 … living in the middle remembering that God has acted in the past and longing for God to act again. I think that joy, Christian, Jesus shaped joy, has a lot to do with perspective and living in the middle … it has to do with remembering and trusting who God is, what God has done, and what God promises to do in the future.

I came across this really helpful definition of joy in one of my bible dictionaries,

“… Often … joy occurs in theological contexts (often we think of theology as dense and difficult, kind of lifeless writing, but the Psalms are packed full of theology and teach us that theology can be poetry and songs) that celebrate who God is and what God does. Those who have experienced deliverance … protection … steadfast love …forgiveness and restoration … righteous judgements … rejoice in God, not only in thanksgiving for past deliverance but also in anticipation of future salvation …” (NIDB, p. 417).

Joy has to do with perspective … it has to do with looking back and offering gratitude for God’s saving action in the past … it has to do with paying attention to where we are now … with being honest about our situation and offering it to God …  it has to do with hope, with looking forward to God’s action in the future. 

The joy that God is growing in us as we follow Jesus isn’t about avoiding or ignoring pain. Christian joy has to do with trusting who God is … remembering what God has done … and looking for God to act in the future.

02.03′.2019SPCCBulletin

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