Title: From where does prayer come?
Text: Psalm 126
Introduction: I sat on the edge of my bed and cried. I was 34 years old and had worked toward this moment for 13 years. And, I felt like such a failure.
Why had God called me and not blessed? What was I doing wrong? Why didn’t God let me pursue a different vocation that interested me so many years ago? There were many! Lisa can tell you I changed my mind about what I wanted to do and be a dozen times.
But that wasn’t the case. I was pastoring a church, as had been my dream, and felt I was wasting everyone’s time. So I just sat there and cried.
I don’t know if my kids know about that moment. I know Lisa knows, not because she was there. She wasn’t. She was busy in the kitchen getting lunch ready. But I know she knows I was down. Those moments over the past 35 years have never escaped her notice.
So, I sat alone in the bedroom, on the end of the bed and just cried.
Have you ever been there? Have you ever felt despair or struggle and just laid your soul bare before the Lord with tears and petitions?
Transition: That is where the Psalmist describes these people, but with one added flare: God delivered them. The context appears to be agricultural in nature. So, I think we can assume the Psalm itself is about a drought or famine in the past and God blessed them and restored their fortunes with abundant harvests and crops. So keep that in mind as we make our way through Psalm 126.
The Psalm has one natural division between verse 3 and 4. You might note that your text in whatever version you’re using. I think there is a good argument to say that there is even a third section by dividing up the 2nd section, between verses 4&5. Here’s how I see it (One long sentence into three parts):
- Remembering God’s Faithfulness in the past (1-3)
- Leads us to Powerful Petitions through Prayer (4)
- And makes us laborers who water our work with tears of passion and expectation (5-6).
Let’s look first at God’s faithfulness.
I. Remembering God’s Faithfulness in the past (1-3)
exp.: if you notice in these first three verses, the writer calls for the hearers to remember when God acted ‘before’ and what joy it brought them. Furthermore, the nations saw what God had done and God was glorified in all of that. Rd v 1; a memory of God’s faithfulness; there was a time in the past when Israel had lost its ‘fortunes’ and then God ‘restored’ them; the truth is we don’t know what he’s talking about. It could have been a reference to the exile, but if you go back to Judges, when they first settled the land and read all the way through up to this point, you’ll see that happen repeatedly. Maybe that’s the point. Then, he uses this simile: we were like those who dream. Sometimes, God moves in such miraculous ways, that life just seems to be dreamlike – like it just can’t be real.
ill.: Consider Peter chained between two guards, with two sets of chains. Peter was fast asleep when an angel of the Lord ‘struck’ him on the side. That is to say, he nudged Peter awake. Now, Peter was not quite sure that what was happening to him was real. He thought he was having a vision. That is until the angel left him and he stood alone in the street. That is when he came to himself. I love that phrase. We see it also of the prodigal son who was suffering and finally came to himself. That means he came to his senses – the predicament he found himself in was real.
exp.: you’ll note the writer uses a simile in both verse one and verse four: like those who dream, like streams in the Negeb… The Negeb is a desert area in the southern part of Israel. Man, oh, Man, to the streams flow when it rains.
Now, there are more similarities in these two verses (1-4): Yahweh is used in both, restore is used in both and fortunes is used in both. And, as I already mentioned, you see the word like. When that happens it should cause you to ask yourself if there is some sort of repetition here. It is fitting to see if there is a chiastic structure going on. It looks like there just might be: there is repetition in v 2 in the tongue and the mouth. And there is another repetition at the end of 2 and v3 in The Lord has done great things. If that is the case, then the phrase then they said among the nations is being magnified or is the emphasis of this section. Let that sink in for a moment. The whole focus then would be that God is glorified through us in those moments.
app.: it makes me wonder about what that looks like. I wonder if sometimes we glory in the blessings of God and don’t point others to Him during those times. Just wondering…
Let’s stick with the simile for now and move away from form and structure. It is used for effect. Remember when the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, it was like…
A dreamlike anticipation is what Leslie Allen suggests in his commentary. Now, dreamers get this. You stable, realistic, “in-the-moment” people probably don’t get this imagery. Dreamers – we get it.
Ill.: One of my favorite illustrations about dreaming is in the book The Disney Way. Walt Disney was a dreamer. After Disney World was completed there was a special ceremony to cut the ribbon. Many who had worked on the project gathered for that special celebration near the front. As they were getting ready to cut the ribbon, one lady commented that it saddened her to think that Walt Disney wasn’t there to see this grand opening. A man standing near her said: He did see it. That’s why its here! That’s vision and that’s dreaming.
app.: Allen is suggesting that there was a ‘time’ before God’s blessings. Israel had experienced God’s blessings before, but now, for whatever reason, that wasn’t the experience. It could have been famine or drought. Who knows, but God? It doesn’t matter so much of what or when it was for us, but that it did happen at some time.
There was a time when the leadership saw people in the fields gathering more fruit and vegetables than they could possibly eat. The leadership saw the rivers flowing at their banks capacity, markets full, people laughing and enjoying the bounty of God’s blessing. And in that moment the leadership remembered when there had been drought or famine or pestilence or something horrible and they remember petitioning God for his blessings. They had been in a tough situation and wha-la! Now, what they had prayed about and asked God for – God’s answer was happening before their eyes. One day, after toil, struggle, prayer, and patience, God restored their fortune. He blessed them in the very manner their leadership had envisioned while praying.
And what did that cause them to do? rd v 2a: 2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; Isn’t that what happens when God answers prayer? Aren’t you just amazed and filled with worship that has to spill out?
Look at the rest of v2; then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” And indeed, they testify in v 3: 3 The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad.
t.s.: So, now the writer moves to prayer – a prayer born out of remembrance. And that’s our 2nd point this morning… Remembering God’s faithfulness in the past…
II. Leads us to Powerful Petitions through Prayer (4)
exp.: rd v 4; 4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negeb! ; A simple prayer, really; this is a prayer grounded in the faithfulness of God.
ill.: Can I just stop and be straight-forward with you right now? I’m there. I look at Calvary and recognize that she is a shadow of her former self. Lisa found a brochure of Calvary from the year 1999. There is a picture on the front of 20 people (really 21, but you can make out who it is). Of those 20 people whose pictures grace the cover of that brochure, only one person is still at Calvary 20 years later.
app.: God has blessed Calvary in the past. If I could show you pictures of her in her former glory (to use a worldly term), then that would be a great picture of v1 for us. To those who are older, I could say, Remember when the Lord restored the fortunes of Calvary? We were like those who dream. Can you use your imagination and see these hallways filled with people? Can you see us moving back into the south wing and needing one room per age group: one room for the 1st graders and one room for the 2nd graders and…. Can you see the worship center filled to capacity? Can you see this Fellowship Hall filled with every table and every chair? If you’re someone who has been here for at least the last 20 years, you can imagine it. And if you’ve been here since the 1940’s you can remember the former days when Calvary had 100’s and 100’s and 100’s of people – maybe 1,000 or more.
t.s.: that’s where those prayers are born… in memories of God’s faithfulness in the past. But the Psalmist is clear now. He tells just how those prayers flow –
III. And makes us laborers who water our work with tears of passion and expectation (5-6)
exp.: rd v 5; 5 Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! Then there is this repeat of v 5 and a doubling up with emphasis: 6 He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.
ill.: What a picture! It isn’t the rain that comes which waters the seed that has been sown. It’s the tears of the laborers! Notice that these people don’t just get on their knees to pray. These people go to work.
app.: I think there will be times when a person will stop in and say they stopped in because they saw the church and they heard a voice that said: you should visit there. But really, that isn’t the Great Commission. Is it?
ill.: Matthew 28.18 – All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. That’s a lot of authority Y’all. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, pray. … no… that isn’t what he said. He said… ? Go! Make disciples. Baptizing. Teaching.
Just curious, when you think of times when Jesus taught about prayer, what did he say? Does this sound familiar: 2 And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Listen, sometimes, all you can do is pray. But, often times, there is work to be done.
Conclusion: Do you remember my story from the beginning of this message of me sitting down on the end of my bed and just weeping before God.
Well, God answered my prayer. Some months later an evangelist came to town. I church joined in the effort and it was a nice week. Afterward, I got cards representing some six different families. As I recall, all six of those families began coming to Calvary. I baptized at least one person from each of those families. Our church began reaching lost people and our church grew. God heard my prayers, he saw my tears, he restored our fortune…
Application: So what does this mean for us today? Well, a couple of thoughts:
- Repentance: Most Psalms that deal with this topic of prayer for restoring Israel’s fortunes have something about repentance, too. When taken as a whole, we must remember that God will not bless us in our sin. Where sin abounds, repentance must come first.
- When the church is blessed, God is glorified. I wonder if too many churches touch that glory and forget that the blessings of God are for the glory of God.
- Don’t confuse your idea of blessings and restoring of fortunes with God’s idea of the same.
- The younger generation doesn’t know what we know. My morning Scripture reading is in Deuteronomy and just this week Moses told the adults in 11.1: 2 And consider today (since I am not speaking to your children who have not known or seen it), consider the discipline of the Lord your God, his greatness, his mighty hand and his outstretched arm, and he continues on… I was reminded that those who are younger don’t understand what it means. They don’t remember the former glory, the times of fortune. Do you remember in Ezra where the young people wept for joy at the Temple and the older people wept with sorrow because they remembered the former glory of the Temple? The younger generation doesn’t know what we know. Keep that in mind. Maybe the younger generation can comprehend, but only on a small scale. But, for those of us who’ve endured, we must communicate with this younger generation: We’ve been through worse and God has always been faithful to His Church.
- Let me ask you: Do you recognize our need? Have you been moved to tears over Calvary? Have you been moved to labor? Do you realize that our church will not simply grow because we are here or even that we pray? Do you realize that we must get out of our seats and go beyond these walls to the ones who are lost and hurting? There is a man who has his 8th 1st-day chip from AA in two years. There is the wife who is hurting because her husband is addicted to porn. There is the mom who doesn’t know how to reach her hurting teenager. There is the daughter who has to make the hard decision to move her momma into a nursing home where she can get the around-the-clock attention she needs. There is the young couple who has been trying to have a baby for 5 long years. There are people all around us who are suffering in silence and you and I have been given the Great Commission to go to them.
Let’s start now. Let’s take our prayers and our tears to God and plead with him to save us, to deliver us, to send us to the hurting and the lost and the ones in need. Lord, send us out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing. And bring us back home with shouts of joy, bringing in the sheaves!
In a moment we’re going to call for a moment of silence. I’d like for you to reflect, honestly, on your heart for our church and our community. If you’ve never asked Christ to forgive you of your sin, I want to talk with you about that. If you have a decision or a commitment you’d like to talk with me about… (like you’re interested in joining our church or believe God might be calling you into the ministry or on to the mission field) please, come and talk with me about it. I’d love to visit with you about whatever is on your mind.