Hope for those in a desert
Psalm 126 is a psalm that is written for those who are going through tough times. It is written for those who know what it is like to wander in the desert (literal or figurative), tired and thirsty, with your energy depleted, longing for water, praying for rain, and waiting and waiting and waiting.
It was written for a people who endured hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt, who faced hundreds of years of harassment from surrounding nations, who went through internal schism that ripped their nation apart, and who were dragged away as captives to live in exile for decades in the land of the nation that conquered them.
It is written for people who deal with personal hardships, with chronic pain, with disappointments in life, with tragedies, with prayers that remain unanswered day after day or month after month.
The psalm begins with rejoicing over the return of exiles to Jerusalem. It declares, with joy, that God “has done great things for us!” But the hope this psalm presents is actually the kind of hope that is like streams in the desert (verse 4), and it is the kind of hope that involves sowing our tears (verses 5-6).
On most days, “streams in the desert” are dry ruts—rocky and sandy creases in the barren land. But on those occasional times when rainclouds build up overhead and release their contents, the otherwise dry riverbeds fill with life-giving water. The water brings plants to life and provides life-giving sustenance to desert creatures.
Psalm 126 is the hope of those who live in a desert, who recognize that life will not be a perennial outpouring of blessings upon them, but who continue to pray throughout those long, dry stretches that God will send the refreshment they need before it is too late. Psalm 126 reminds us that we must become the kind of people who learn how to live not with the expectation of perennial blessings but by retaining and preserving every precious gift of refreshment God sends our way.
Many people live under the false impression that a crop of joy grows out of a commitment to face all of life’s troubles happily. They would expect this psalm to advise us to put on a happy face no matter what problems might confront us. They would suggest that if we sow our masks of happiness, we will eventually reap the happiness we were pretending was there. However, if we sow a pretend smile, all we will get back is more pretension. If we sow hypocrisy, hypocrisy is what we will reap.
If, on the other hand, we want to reap a joy that is real, we need to plant that which is real. If our tears are what is real to us as we go through those desert times in our lives, then what we need to do is to plant our tears in the good soil of God’s love. It is that soil of God’s rich love that will bring forth the fruit of joy in our souls. As the apostle Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 15, the seed that is sown dies and comes up from the ground in a gloriously new form. The tears we deposit in the soil of God’s love will come to new life in the fruit of joy—a confidence and well-being at the core of our soul that knows that God is with us, that He loves us, and that He will walk through it all with us until He brings us to the home He has prepared for us in heaven.