I would love to say that preparing for church is a time my family spends in reverent reflection about the privilege of worshiping the living God. Alas, such is often not the case. Many of us have probably experienced times where there was no other conclusion to make than something demonic is attacking our family.
As a father, it does bring some consolation to my soul that Joseph and Mary left the 12-year-old Lord Jesus at the temple. The Son of God grew up in a family that didn’t have it all together.
Despite our shortcomings, preparing for worship is important. Many ancient Jews would sing the psalms “of ascents” in the section that follows Psalm 119 as they “ascended” to Jerusalem.
Although Psalm 126 is brief, this song of ascents captures the tension between what God has already done and what the hearts of His people long for Him to do. Each half of the psalm reflects an opposite side of this tension.
For instance, few passages of Scripture can match the exuberance of the first three verses. Although we don’t know the exact situation that prompted the psalmist to write these words, the gist of these verses is that God acted in such a life-altering and miraculous way for His people that even the Gentiles were exclaiming praises to the Lord. Whatever event occurred did not even seem real. It was like a dream.
The psalmist then pivots. God has been inexpressibly good, and yet … His people are somehow not home. The Lord restored the fortunes of His people, but the darkness returned. The psalmist then prays for a change as instantaneous as a storm in the arid, Judean wilderness turning dry ditches into fast-flowing streams. Although situations can be bleak, discouraging, and fruitless, faithfulness in the midst of such situations is like sowing seed. When the harvest comes, tears and weeping will turn to laughter and celebration.
We, like those ancient Jews, live in between past and future miracles. The resurrection of Jesus was, for our spiritual ancestors, far beyond what any could have dreamed. The King was crucified, yet He is alive forever. Along the same lines, we long — and pine — for His return when He will restore our fortunes.
How do we become the type of people who expect the dry ditches to become rushing torrents? How do we become people who sow with tears while expecting a harvest beyond what we can dream?
We first fight the distractions and sing songs of gratitude as we ascend (spiritually) to the hill of the Lord to worship Him.
Second, we must remember that this tension between the past and future is why communion is so important. The Apostle Paul says, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26, ESV). Notice the past and future elements: We celebrate what He has done until He comes.
Third, we must not despair the drudgery of the present. We who are saved by grace must continue to do good. In a fallen world where we often see “vanity of vanities” (Ecclesiastes 1:2), we must remember that all will not be futile forever. We must not, in other words, “grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:9b-10).