Where’s the Harvest?
This week we’ve reached the seventh Song of Ascent and arrived at the middle of our series. In the past, we’ve seen that what pushes us to leave where we are, where everything is convenient, familiar, comfortable, and routine, to make the long hard journey has been an external factor. This week we move inside and look at an internal factor.
Christianity doesn’t remove the tensions of life; in fact, sometimes it increases them and so the emotional and psychological world of the believer is complex. Think about this… the Apostle Paul, the greatest church planter ever, when he was speaking about all that it cost him to be a Christian and to do Christian ministry said he was “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” … “[had] nothing, yet possessing everything” (2 Cor 6:10). That’s complexity.
But we can ramp that complexity up even more. Just consider God himself … consider the cross. At the very moment that the Father’s heart was fit to burst with loving-pride in the self-sacrificial work of Jesus, the Father was also disgusted at the sin that Jesus was atoning for. We get a glimpse of that when the Bible says: “God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Cor 5:21). For a time and at great pain to himself, the Father abandoned the Son as the Son took on the penalty for sin in our place.
And so there is complexity and tension: The Father loves the Son greatly, and it simultaneously disgusts by what the Son represents in that very moment that the wrath of God falls on him.
I’ve got a good friend, he’s like a father to me, and we talk a lot. Anyway, years ago he was the keynote speaker for a group of missionaries who had assembled on retreat in South Africa. For a week he taught them about grace and was very open about his own sin, failure, and desperation. At the final session, just before they shared the Lord’s Supper together, there was a time when the missionaries could stand up and give their “witness” about what God had done in their lives during the week. It had really be an incredible week, Jesus had been in their midst, and many missionaries stood up and talked about what had happened to them, often with tears.
About a half hour in to that session, a man stood up. He had an angry look on his face. “You are not going to like what I’m going to say,” he said, looking around the conference hall, “but somebody has to say it. I have been quite disturber this week. The speaker has dismissed the holiness of God, minimized the horror of sin, bragged about his own sin, and brought shame on the name of Christ.”
My friend got very quiet. He started thinking about what he said and started thinking about what he’d been teaching that week and why this man had so misunderstood. He wanted to go back and correct some of what he’d taught and even repent of some of it. That was when another missionary stood up. “I know what my brother is saying, but I think he missed the point. The reason for all the tears and the changed lives isn’t because the speaker lowered the standards. Just the opposite. I would remind my brother that it is one thing to lower the standards and it is quite another to confess that one doesn’t live up to them.” (Steve Brown, Hidden Agendas, 105–106.)
The Christian life isn’t about wearing masks. It’s not about thinking we’ve arrived or trying to make everyone around us think we’re perfect. Neither is it about painted on smiles or about pretending we don’t sin or pretending that it doesn’t hurt when we’re sinned against. And, ya know, sometimes we really struggle, caught in the tension between faith and doubt.
The Christian life can be emotionally and psychologically complex. If you’re trying to wear a mask, you’ll end up a basketcase. Moreover, pretending is a sure way to make sure that nothing that we here will ever touch you.
If you’re hearing this morning and thinking: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Or even, “I believe, but I’ve lost my joy. … I doubt because of the difficult desert I’m going through,” then I hope you’ll take this psalm seriously.
Psalm 126, ESV
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 they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us;
we are glad.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like streams in the Negeb!
Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.
Remembering Past Blessings
The psalm opens up with remembering: “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream” (Psa 126:1).
Have you ever experienced something so good that it was like a dream. “I must be dreaming, this can’t be reality … it’s so wonderful?” I felt that way about Brittany.
On our second date she really showed me who she was. She invited me to go see a movie with her on a Monday night. That was different, but I liked it a lot. Everyday is a weekend with Brittany.
Do you know what movie she picked? She talked to me about “Beauty and the Beast”; I kinda winced, but said okay. But I think she picked up on that and chose something else. She said: “I got a surprise for you,” and she didn’t let me see until after she had bought the Reese’s Pieces and we walked into the theater. She picked a X-man movie called “Logan.”
“Logan” was better than “Beauty and the Beast,” but it wasn’t my dream. The date was my dream. In fact, when I first got out of the car and walked over to her she pinched me and told me that she was real. She hasn’t stopped pinching me, but usually it’s because I’m snoring.
The point is that the psalmist is remembering something God did for them that they couldn’t do for themselves. A great remembrance that was so good, it was like a dream. “Would somebody pinch me!”
That’s the place where our hearts are restored. That’s the place where our minds are at ease. That’s the place where we feel free. That’s the place of when we laughed. That’s the place in which our neighbors take notice: “The Lord has done great things for them” (Psa 126:2).
Do you know what I’m talking about? Have you experienced that place where stress and tension vanish, and it’s not because you did something!? That’s what the psalm is remembering with spiritual insight, saying: “That was the hand of our covenant-keeping God.”
I was a loner in high school. I was an honor student, and mediocre athlete, active on the swim team, the football team, and the tennis team. I was in the ski club. I was in the band. I went to church. I listened exclusively to prog-rock. I was odd. I didn’t fit in anywhere and it was lonely.
So, in my senior year of high school my mother sent me to a psychologist. We would talk. Sometimes we’d go for walks in the graveyard behind the counseling clinic—that was weird, cause I felt like I was dying inside. Anyway, it was a hard time in my life.
But that summer my fortunes changed. I picked a school far away from home so I could forget about life there. Did you know you can drive for 10 hours in Michigan and still not be out of the state? Anyway, that summer before college a neighbor invited me to a small group for college students. I went and met some folks who were students at the school I was head to.
They accepted me. When I arrived on campus in the Fall they were there. And before classes even begun I found myself out on the shores of Lake Superior around a big bonfire, singing songs. And boy did I sing. It was so good!
This wasn’t my doing, this was the Lord’s hand moving. He’d restored my fortunes, I was free of the loneliness, and so I sang.
That’s the kind of emotional and psychological freedom the psalm is talking about. Others see it and say, “Wow! ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’”
Now, I think this ties into the very purpose of Israel’s existence, and then for the existence of the church, which, by the way, is the new Israel of faith. God is bringing people to himself, he does it in part by making his people odd.
When people see us God wants them to be able to say, “My oh my, I want that. I want to know their God. Those are authentic people, they aren’t perfect, they aren’t free of troubles, but they’re finding the place of emotional the psychological health; they aren’t puffed up with pride. Oh my, and the way they love. I don’t have that.”
Isn’t this how Jesus said the kingdom would grow? “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35).
Do you see it? God is using us to accomplish his plan for creation. He’s bringing the nations back to himself through us.
Reconciling Present and Past
So the psalm looks back and remembers the blessing, the rescue, the restoration, the moment when God’s hand moved and revealed his loving-heart, which jump-started our hearts. And I can almost hear a tone of voice coming through the psalm: “Well, it was wonderful back then. God was for us then. It was a dream then. It impacted others then.” I think I’m picking up on a longing for it to happen again.
Look t verse 3: “The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad” (Psa 126:3).
The tense has changed: “We remember … and we ARE filled with joy.”
No matter what is over the next hill: sorrow, grief, tears, you name it, that will not be your only emotion. Why not? Because you can look back. And as you do, something of the past seeps into the present like the light that seeps through your window blinds in the early morning. There is a sun beyond the shadows.
Please hear me on this… Some of you are going through difficulties right now. Some of you are going to run into difficulties soon—simply because difficulties are inevitable. But hear me on this: the difficulties of the present do not rewrite history.
Difficulties don’t delete God. The God who was with us in the past, and is with us in the present, will also be with us in the future.
Retaining Hope for the Future
And… the future is what the last few verses of the psalm are concerned with. Notice v. 4: “Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negeb!” (Psa 126:4). I can almost hear a chorus being sung here: “Do it again, Lord. Do it again!”
Now, if you’re going to get this, then I’ve got to tell you about this “Negev bit.” The Negev is the large desert in southern Israel. It looks like South Dakota’s Badlands. There are no streams or rivers there—duh, it’s a desert. But when it rains water has to go somewhere, so if flows fast over the ground like water in a concrete culvert.
You wouldn’t want to be in the way of that violent flash flood, but this is what the psalmist is asking for… “Knock us down with your restoration, God. Get us wet with streams of living water. And we ‘who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!’ (Psa 126:3).”
Have you been in that desert? It’s a dry, arid place. Your mouth is dry; you’re out of sweat; salts are drying on your skin; your heart is parched; you can’t see refreshment anywhere. Maybe there’s a rumbling of a storm in the distance, but you aren’t experiencing the rain yet.
Maybe you’re mourning something. Maybe relationships are strained. Maybe life has been difficult for a long time. Maybe it’s been hard to make ends meet. Maybe you’re exhausted living with sickness and stress.
I want to tell you: I believe God doesn’t forget or ignore his people. I say this because I’m reminded of a few passages:
To Moses God said: “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings” (Exod 3:7 ).
And Jesus once said: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matt 6:26).
Patience seems stupid and it feels like death. Yet scripture calls it a virtue, a fruit of the Spirit. “You’ve got to be kidding me…” No, I’m not. It does say that. But why? It says it because patience requires your heart to hold on to the Lord by faith, when you can’t see the rains coming.
God has it sorted… He’s moving things to reach you at the right time. The atmosphere is swirling, bringing in moist air from the Mediterranean. He’s caused things to work just so, so that when the warm, moist air rises and hits the mountains, it cools and falls and races through the valley to reach you in your desert.
Sometimes circumstances do change; sometimes you change in the circumstances.
When you awaken to the fact that it wasn’t your digging in the dirt or your chasing a mirage that sustained you and refreshed you. When you awaken to see that Lord’s hand reached you in his perfect time, you “shall come home with shouts of joy” (Psa 126:6).
And the result of this will be something wonderful: You’re learning to trust the Lord; you’re experiencing the welling-up of patience .
When days come in which it feels like you’re a million miles from the “Am I dreaming? Pinch me.” When you’re a million miles away singing with joy. Trust will lead you into patience.
I’m reminded of a time when I was in Xiamen, China. I spent a year there living on the floor in my flat without any furniture. The living conditions were safe, but difficult. Money was getting very very tight. My daughter was very young, just 7. We bought her a small fish tank and the fish kept dying. And that was kinda characteristic of what I was feeling.
I was looking for work. I’d have conversations churches, but nothing would come of them. I was parched. It was barren desert.
But one day I took a long bus ride across the city. The ride must have lasted an hour. And throughout the ride I couldn’t stop praying. There was lump in my throat, I was nearly in tears, and I was pleading, “How long, Oh Lord. Will you forget about me forever?” And there, on that bus, in silence, a word from Psalm 46 rushed at me like raging water: “‘Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!’ (Psa 46:10).
That was my staining grace for the day. It quieted by soul. It filled me with patience to wait in faith. I didn’t stop what I was doing; I kept applying for jobs. But I couldn’t control what would come of those applications. But in the Lord’s perfect timing I arrived here in Northern Kentucky, a place I’d never been before.
I was just like the psalm. What does it say? “He who goes out weeping” (Psa 126:5), in other words, “We will wait in tears.” That’s what it’s saying.
There’s times when you come into corporate worship and the songs we’re singing are too joyful for you. It doesn’t match what you’re experiencing. Well, I get it; and so does the psalmist. “We will wait in tears.” I have waited in ways I’d rather forget.
“We will wait in tears.” “We will wait for a harvest.” “We will wait on the Lord.”
But we don’t just wait… in our patience we, as the psalmist writes, go out “bearing the seed for sowing” (Psa 126:6). It’s saying: “Yup, we aren’t experiencing the joy of harvest, but we’re not going to give up and sit in ashes.” If you can’t feel the future joy, keep doing “whatever your hand finds to do,” and “do it with your might” (Ecc 9:10).
Keep on applying. Keep on reaching out. Keep on studying. Keep on training. Keep on saving. Keep on praying. Keep on with the loved-one who has turned their back on you. Keep on bearing gentle witness to Jesus to that spouse who doesn’t want anything to do with God, but isn’t standing in your way.
God hears and sees tears. In the book of Isaiah there’s a verse that says what Psalm 126 is saying. It goes: “They who wait for the LORD [some translations say: “trust in the Lord”] shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isa 40:31).
So, the authentic Christian life is a complex journey, and we don’t want wear masks. Sometimes things are difficult and we have an internal struggle: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). I want you to know that the man who said that in the Bible was a father tho has a son who was having seizures and failing into fires. But Jesus Jesus met him in his internal struggle, he met his honesty with grace. Jesus brought the harvest and sent him “home with shouts of joy” (Psa 126:6).
Those shouts of joy, ya know … like I said last week, they’re a foretastes of the Father’s house we’re being called upwards towards.
Sometimes we don’t yet have a song, yet we can remember. Don’t let that pass on by without taking notice: that remembering is a sustaining grace brought to you by the Spirit of God. He’s growing your patience, strengthening your faith, refreshing your spirit, giving you hope for the future. The harvest is coming.