Best of Daily Reflections: From Bitter Tears to Shouts of Joy
Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy.
Psalm 126 begins with a joyful remembrance of a time when God "brought back his exiles to Jerusalem" (126:1). It was a time of laughter and joy as the people of God celebrated: "Yes, the LORD has done amazing things for us! What joy!" (126:3).
Yet, Psalm 126 was written in a different time and different mood. Verse 4 begins, "Restore our fortunes, LORD." Though we don't know the exact context for this prayer, which was meant for Jewish pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem, we can read between the lines. The psalmist and his community are planting in tears, with weeping. They yearn for a time when they will harvest with "shouts of joy" and glad singing (126:5-6).
Most people I know can relate to this psalm, at least to some extent. We have all experienced times of sadness and times of joy. In many cases, our sorrow actually leads to and enhances our gladness. God's grace reverses our losses and turns them into delightful gains.
I think, for example, of the happiest man I have ever known. I am not exaggerating when I say this. I am thinking of a man who, in my experience of him, was exuberant almost all the time. He lived with gusto and served God with vigor. This is still true, even though he is now 95 and struggles with some of the inevitable pains that come with old age.
The man I'm thinking of is Louis Zamperini. He is now quite famous as the subject of Laura Hillenbrand's gripping biography, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. This book tells in unflinching detail the story of Louis' experiences in World War II, including 47 days in a life raft after being shot down over the Pacific and two years of deprivation and torture in Japanese POW camps. I don't personally know any person who suffered more physical and psychological pain than Louis Zamperini. Yet, after the war, when he was being haunted with post-traumatic stress, nightmares, and alcohol abuse, Louis met Jesus Christ and his life was never the same.
I first got to know Louis when I was growing up in the Sunday School at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. He'd come to our classes and tell stories. As we sat on the edges of our seats, Louis would invite us to live in relationship with Jesus Christ. Later, when I served on the staff of Hollywood Pres, I got to know Louis as a colleague who oversaw a program for senior adults. Louis was always rejoicing about something, always laughing, and often riding his skateboard like a madman all over the church campus, something he did into his late 80s.
No doubt that Louis planted in tears. Yet, by God's grace, he harvested with shouts of joy...literally. If God can do this in the life of Louis Zamperini, he can do it in your life and mine.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you experienced anything like what is described in Psalm 126? Have your tears ever turned into shouts of gladness? Has God ever redeemed some negative experience in your life, using it for his purposes and your joy?
PRAYER: Gracious God, how I praise you for being a redeeming, transforming, renewing God. Thank you for being with me in my times of sorrow. Thank you for using my suffering and even my failures for your purposes. Thank you for taking that which was planted in tears and allowing it to be harvested with shouts of joy. Thank you for all the ways and times you have done this in my life.
I pray today for those who are in the planting with tears season of life. Give them hope. Give them the reassurance of your presence. Give them confidence that you will work all things together for good. O Lord, may their season of sad planting end. May their time of joyful harvesting come soon. Amen.