When I was growing up, we almost always began any road-trip with a prayer. It was a simple prayer asking for God’s protection on our way. This morning, God gives us a “traveling prayer” as we make our way into the summit of God’s presence. On this journey, this prayer invites us to remember God’s powerful work in the world, to ask for His work to continue today, and to rejoice in the confident expectation that He will continue to move with power in this world through the lives of His people.[i]
The psalmist provides us with a prayer for our daily lives as God’s people who are striving to be who He has called us to be. It is a prayer for our journey as we take one more step into the glorious and ultimate satisfaction of His embrace.
“When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion, We were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, And our tongue with singing. Then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, And we are glad.” (Psalm 126:1–3, NKJV)
1. In prayer we remember what God has done
The psalmist begins with a call to remember what the Lord God has done for His people in the past.[ii] We must remember what God has done in our lives and in our church. It is an essential quality of prayer throughout the Scripture. To rehearse openly and regularly the mighty acts of grace and goodness that our Savior has poured out upon His people.
And what has He done? He brought us out of captivity. The Lord restored the fortune of Zion.[iii] The psalmist remembered, and we can see, that God has continually taken the faithful from captivity to blessing: from Egypt to the Promised Land, from Babylon to Jerusalem, from the hands of the Philistines to the blessings of David’s Kingdom. The reversal wrought by God’s powerful, rescuing love was so deep and profound that it could only have been accomplished by God’s hand.[iv]
From our vantage point, we can see what God has done for us. He has redeemed those who were held captive by sin and brought them life through Christ Jesus. He has taken those who have wandered from Christ’s embrace of love and led them (sometimes with a stick of discipline) to the place of blessing once again.
And what has He done? He has given us joy. God brought joy to His people. Listen to this paraphrase: “It was like a dream! How we laughed, how we sang for joy . . . how happy we were.” The joy is like what happens when God brings revival to His people. The joy of Christ’s people in the grip of God’s work.[v] Literally, the psalmist remembers that the Lord God filled their mouths with laughter and their hearts with a song of joy.[vi] When God moves on behalf of His people, we cannot help but rejoice.
And what has He done? He made us to shine His glory. When the other nations of the world saw the reversal of fortune for the people of God, they declared, “The Lord has done great things for them.” When God moves to bless His people, the world takes notice.[vii] And so should we!
In prayer, we remember what God has done in our lives. He has brought us up out of the pit of sin and shattered the chains of guilt through Jesus Christ. He has taken away the rags of mourning and given robed us in the garments of praise. He has caused us to shine His glorious majesty in a world of darkness.
Thank You, Lord, for the great things You have done!
2. In prayer we ask for God’s blessing
Our prayer moves from praise and remembrance to a request. As the Lord has helped us in the past, we ask Him to bless us in the present and future. This is the prayer of the faithful. It is a prayer for the streams of the South to return to our lives.
The streams of in the South were essential for life in the Middle East. During the summer months, the river beds were dry until the winter rains filled them. These springs and wells of the Negeb were essential for life to occur.[viii]
The transformation that we must request from God is that He pour out His blessings upon a dry land.[ix] To fill up the arid wilderness of our lives with the shower of His Love and Life through the pouring out of His Spirit. Although many may be happy to feed off the nostalgia of the past work of the Lord in their lives, we must be a people who are asking God to bless us today.[x] To bless His church.
Lord God, would You once again make Your name and fame great through Your gracious activity in my life and in the work of our church?
3. In prayer we reap the joy of faith
The remembrance of God’s work in the past leads the psalmist to request God’s blessing in the present and to expect God’s work in the future. Through this prayer, the psalmist conjoins his ministry with that of a prophet – declaring with confidence the fulfillment of God’s promises in the future.[xi]
God honors the prayer of the faithful. He transforms weeping into shouts of joy as He reverses the fortunes of His people.[xii] We must be a people of optimism. It is an optimism not built upon what we have done or the title we carry. It is an optimism built upon the certainty of God’s power and desire to bless His people. God is at work to honor His name among all the nations of the earth. We are the instruments that He will use to honor His name.
So, today, and every day, we can live in the supreme confidence that God will use us to make Himself shine brightly. He will pour His power in our lives to show His power in the world. He will pour His love into our hearts to show His love in the world. He will blaze a pathway through every mountain in our way to demonstrate His faithfulness in the world. God can. God will. And when we pray, we pray with confidence and trust in a loving, holy, righteous God who works in our world to display His glory through us.
O Father, I praise You this morning, knowing that You are moving and working right now. Even though I sow the seeds of sorrow over circumstances too weighty for me to conquer, I confidently await the harvest of joy that You bring as I live for Your glory and fame right now.
[i]Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 60-150, trans. H. C. Oswald (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 449. He notes that this lament is structured similarly to Ps 85. He offers this structure of the psalm:
Historical retrospect of God’s faithfulness (1-3)
Petition and lament of God’s people in the present (4)
Comforting promise for God’s people in the future (5-6)
[ii]My approach is to take this passage of the psalm as Kraus did: a reflection on what God has done in the past. For an opposing view point, see, H. Gunkel, Die Psalmen, HKAT 2.2, 4. Ausgabe (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1926), 551. Gunkel takes the verbs of 1b and 3 as “prophetic” perfects in a divine oracle. B. Duhm, Die Psalmen, Kurzer HKAT, 2. Ausgabe (Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1922), 274. Duhm also renders the passage to the future as a contemplation upon what God will do.
[iii]The phrase in verse 1 literally reads, When Jehovah returned the fortunes of Zion. For this translation of the phrase, see Leslie Allen, Psalms 101-150, WBC (Waco: Word, 1983), 170.
[iv]For the various interpretations of µymil]joK] [kechōlemîm] see J. Strugnell, “A Note on Ps. 126:1,” Journal of Theological Studies 7 (1956): 239-43; S. Speier, “Sieben Stellen des Psalmentargums in Handschriften und Druckausgaben,” Biblica 48 (1967): 507; W. Beyerlin, “Wir sind wie Trumende.” Studien zur 126. Psalm, SBS 89 (Stuttgart: Verlag Kotholisches Bibelwerk, 1978), 19-31.
[v]Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, TOTC (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1975), 439.
[vi]The Hebrew in verse 2 reads, Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with a ringing cry.
[vii]Kidner, Psalms 73-150, 439. He writes: “Whether Zion’s [reversal] was from famine or seige, captivity or plague, it had been obviously miraculous and widely talked about. It remained a vivid national memory.”
[viii]Y. Aharoni, The Land of the Bible, trans. A. F. Rainey (London: Burns and Oates, 1967), 24. Aharoni writes: “Most of these floods swept into the Mediterranean and were useless in antiquity; however, along these river beds are located most of the springs and wells of the Negeb which were essential for permanent habitation.” See also, N. Glueck, Rivers in the Desert (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1959), 92-94.
[ix]Kidner, Psalms 73-150, 439-40. He writes: “Sudden bounty has its perfect illustration here, since few places are more arid that [sic] the Negeb, and few transformations more dramatic than that of a dry gully into a torrent. Such can be the effect of a downpour, which can also turn the surrounding desert into a place of grass and flowers overnight.”
[x]See Leslie Allen, Psalms 101-150, 174. He writes: “The self-reminder of earlier divine intervention has served as an encouragement to believe that Yahweh would again intervene so signally. He has the power to bless [H]is people in their land. The retrospect has functioned as a virtual inducement to their God, in whose presence they have met, to come once more to their aid. The psalm moves to an explicit appeal in v 4. The cycle of misfortune and deliverance celebrated in v 1 has half come round again. The community bring their prayer for restoration with the hope that Yahweh will repeat [H]is saving activity.”
[xi]J. W. Rogerson and J. W. McKay, Psalms 101-150, CBC (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 124.
[xii]James L. Crenshaw, The Psalms: An Introduction (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 21. “Weeping transformed into shouts of joy over bountiful crops signals restored fortunes in Psalm 126:5-6.”