Psalm 126 - A song of ascents.
1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.
2 Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The Lordhas done great things for them.”
3 The Lordhas done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.
4 Restore our fortunes, Lord,
like streams in the Negev.
5 Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.
Devotional from John Mark Mullan
This is a Psalm born out of a story. The people of God were in captivity in Babylon. They were in exile, far from home. They sat and wept by the rivers of Babylon. They hung their harps on the trees and said “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”
And then, quite suddenly, their circumstances changed. A new king changed the policy of the empire. The captives were set free. The exiles returned home. The unexpected surprise of it felt like a dream. It made them laugh out loud and sing for joy.
I wonder have you ever been surprised by joy like that?
Real joy is something we can’t fake. We can’t make it happen by just smiling and whistling and trying to be positive. It comes as a gift and a surprise and a blessing from beyond ourselves. It comes from God.
Right now in our culture we have the biggest entertainment industry the world has ever known. The choice of things we have to amuse us is overwhelming - iPhones and Playstations, Netflix and Spotify, Snapchat and Instagram…
And yet. I think our culture is starving for lack of real joy and gladness. We are amusing ourselves to death.
We often claim that something made us “laugh out loud” and even “roll on the floor laughing.” If we’re being honest, it probably made us briefly smile. Maybe smirk is a better word. We are momentarily amused, not filled with joy.
Think of all those sitting in front of a screen right now in your street, your town. How many are filled with genuine laughter and songs of joy?
“We try to get it through entertainment. We pay someone to make jokes, tell stories, perform dramatic actions, sing songs. We buy the vitality of another’s imagination to divert and enliven our own poor lives. The enormous entertainment industry in our land is a sign of the depletion of joy in our culture. Society is a bored, gluttonous king employing a court jester to divert it after an overindulgent meal.” (Eugene Peterson)
I don’t know what your life is like right now. Maybe it feels like captivity, or exile. Maybe it feels like a desert. Maybe there are lots of tears.
You have a choice. You can run away from all those feelings, just distract yourself with entertainment and amusement, busyness and noise. Numb your feelings with your narcotic of choice (food or drink or porn or shopping).
Or you can bring all those feelings to the God who loves you beyond your capacity to comprehend. Pour out your tears in his presence.
And then watch and wait to see what he will do. Wait for the turning of the tide. Watch for the sunrise. This is what God does. It’s what he has always done for his people. Captives get set free. Exiles come home. Streams of water flow in the desert. Tears are followed by songs of joy.
And you find yourself shaking your head in amazement, wondering if you are dreaming. “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”
John Mark Mullan is married to Deborah and dad to Caleb, Elijah and Junia. He is part of the staff team at Mountsandel Christian Fellowship in Coleraine, focusing on Bible teaching and discipleship. His passion is helping people discover how to read the Bible for spiritual transformation, and not just information.