Filled with Joy

Reading: Psalm 126
A few years ago, camping at Girraween National Park, our family climbed Mount Norman, the highest feature in the Park. One of our regular hikes, it has challenges for every level of difficulty. The main party did the tricky climb to the top while others explored the "verandah" with its caves.

After we had returned and had refreshments together, two of our lads and a friend set off to do some further exploring. Soon we heard a call and looked to see them on a ledge higher up. They had jumped from a higher rock to get where they were and were looking for a way down. One of the rules of rock-climbing is that you never jump unless you are sure there is a way ahead - you mightnít be able to get back.

The story had a happy ending - without the aid of emergency crews! They hadnít in fact look very distressed when they called out.

Are there times when we have felt trapped, with no way out and no help available? It mightnít have been a physical impasse, but emotional, relational... It might have led to feelings of hopelessness, despair and depression. It might have frozen us into inaction and blinded us to action and help that were available.

Or we know others facing a bad diagnosis and a prognosis which offers no hope. Even where there is hope, slow progress over an extended time leaves people wondering if it will ever end.

I suspect the Jewish captives in Babylon must have faced that kind of hopelessness, despair and depression. Their time in exile seemed unending. In fact it was some fifty years. Perhaps the Lord had forgotten all about them. Would his promise ever be fulfilled?

That all changed when King Cyrus of Persia gave orders for the return and for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple. The Psalmist says, "we were like men who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy" (Ps. 126.1b,2a).

"The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy" (v. 3).

"Restore our fortunes [or Bring back our captives], O Lord, like streams in the Negev" (v. 4). The Psalmist wants the Lord to complete his blessing, perhaps, in terms of the alternate translation from the footnote, with the return of the rest of the captives. The Negev is the southern part of the land. It is arid desert for nine or ten months of the year. But during the winter good rains fall - perhaps as much as 200 mm - and the streams overflow. That is the kind of blessing the Psalmist envisages.

The tears and weeping they experienced were very real. But the key is to "sow in tears", to go out weeping "carrying seed to sow" (vv. 5-6).

In times of despair, we donít know and canít understand. We donít "feel" the love of God. Has God forsaken us? Has God forgotten us? No, he hasnít, but the feeling is real. Why not tell him how we feel? Thatís sowing a small seed of faith. In time, we will return "with songs of joy, carrying our sheaves with us".

"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who ...for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame..." (Heb.12.2). The pain and shame were very real. On the cross he cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mt. 27.46) - words quoted from Psalm 22.1, a Psalm which reflects so many points of his crucifixion experience.

"For the joy set before him..." - but it wasnít joyful at the time! It went on and on. It had to be "endured".

"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus..." His cross doesnít confer on us immunity from suffering. But it does bring the reminder that "the Lord has done great things for us", and, as a result, we can, even now, begin to be "filled with joy".

Prayer: Loving Lord, in the hard difficult discouraging times, we sometimes think you have forgotten all about us. Then we remember the cry of Jesus on the cross and recall that you have done great things for us - finished, complete in him. Help us to fix our eyes on Jesus in times both glad and sad. Enable us to help others to find faith in times of hopelessness, courage in despair and to fix their eyes on Jesus in the midst of depression. In Jesusí name, Amen.

In God's Service

Strong and sure
the grace that saves us,
life of Christ
for sinners given,
paid in full -
no debt remaining -
sealed on earth
the gift of heaven.

Strong and clear
the call that bids us
share the gospel
of forgiving -
Christ believing,
life receiving,
wholesome living.

Strong and deep
the love that binds us
first to Christ
then one another,
daily growing
in our knowing,
sharing fellowship

Strong the Spirit
who empowers us,
guides and leads us
ever near,
takes the work of Christ
and applying It
to all who hear.

To the Father God be glory!
Glory be to God the Son!
Glory to the Spirit given!
Triune God so true and strong!

© Peter J. Blackburn, Burdekin BlueCare Devotions, 9 March 2004.
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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