How do you pray when the joy has gone and your present experience is a place of tears?
How do you process it when all the good things in your life are in the past, and your present is just hard work and sorrow?
My Bible reading for today happened to be Psalm 126, which expresses that sense of relief when you have been in a season of hardship and tears, and then find yourself in a season of blessing and joy. It begins:
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
‘The Lord has done great things for them.’
The LORD has done great things for us
and we are filled with joy.(Ps 126:1-3)
The writer is recalling the return from the Exile and celebrating it.
During the exile, it was such a devastating experience for Israel to be cast out of the land, to be in captivity and among foreigners, for their God and nation to have seemingly been defeated.
It wasn’t just the shame of political defeat, it was the fact that the temple was destroyed; they were now unable to worship God, His presence had left them.
Sometimes your place of tears is also accompanied by a sense that God has left you.
Their joy upon returning to the land and sense of ‘this must be a dream’ is quite understandable. They had been in exile for so long they had lost hope that they would ever return. They wanted to believe, but they weren’t sure if it really would happen. From a worldly point of view it looked so unlikely that they would ever return.
Sometimes you feel like you have been in this place of sadness for so long that it can never change.
But then, unexpectedly, it happened, ‘We were like those who dreamed.’ God did it – he brought them back, and they were able to rebuild the temple and start again – “The LORD has done great things for us – and we are filled with joy.”
But the psalm doesn’t stop there. Why is the writer recalling that event now, particularly? It continues:
Restore our fortunes, LORD,
like streams in the Negev.
Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them. (Ps 126:4-6)
He’s praying because he needs God to act; they are in a place of poverty and need to be restored.
After recalling God’s action in the past, he applies it to the present and turns it into a prayer. In verse 1 he remembers what it felt like when God restored the fortunes of Zion. In verse 4 he asks for God to do it again, today, ‘Restore our fortunes, LORD.’.
He remembers the joy they felt at that time and he prays for joy again. He says to himself, though there are tears now, that doesn’t mean there will always be tears. We had tears in exile, and then in spite of everything, we had joy again.
Our knowledge of God’s faithfulness in the past gives us hope for his faithfulness in the future.
He prays in faith,
‘May these tears today not be the fruit, the last word, the end of the story.
May they be seeds of a better day, may they bring a better tomorrow.
May those who have sown in tears reap a harvest of joy.’
What do you do when you find yourself in a place of sorrow? You remember. You discipline yourself to remember.
In the midst of remembering your pain, ‘the bitterness and the gall’ you also – somehow – remember God’s goodness, his mercies and compassions that are new every morning (Lam 3:19-21).
I love that there is a pattern in the Bible of God bringing down but raising up again. I love that there were tears and blood when Jesus died but joy and life on the third day. I love that in His economy there need be no wasted tears. Whether in this life or the next, there will be a raising up, a harvest of joy.
What do you do when it looks like all is lost? You remember. You ask.
You remember His goodness and the blessing and the joy; you dare to ask for that again.
How do you pray when the joy is gone and this present experience is a place of tears? You pray Psalm 126, Lamentations 3:
“May these tears not be the end of the story. May these tears be the seed, not the fruit. May sadness give way to a harvest of joy.
May I know your compassions and mercies anew this morning.
Restore our fortunes, O LORD. ”
Today, this is my prayer.
Over to you:
- Can you think of times in your life when tears have been the seed for later joy?
- What helps you to pray in times of sadness?