Summary: Psalm 126 captures the Israelites' thanksgiving for God's miraculous provision in the past, their need for God now, and their faith that God will come through for them in the future. It is our song as well: God has done great things for us!
Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude
What’s the worst thing that ever happened to you? Think for a moment about that. Some of you will undoubtedly think about losing a spouse or losing a child or grandchild, and the void left in your heart. Some will think about going to war. Some might consider leaving the military as the worst thing that happened to you. Or a marriage or other relationship break-up. Now think back on that time, and consider how God may have been at work to carry you through that time. Can you see it? Can you see how he brought you through the worst, and out to the other side? Often we only appreciate that after the fact.
That deliverance is the setting for today’s scripture. The Israelites had been POWs for 70 years. That’s a long time! When the Babylonians came in to conquer the Southern Kingdom, they destroyed the capital city Jerusalem, along with its world-renowned Temple. They killed thousands of Jews, and carried off the rest to captivity in a foreign land. Then, 70 years later, the Persians conquered the Babylonians. And the Persian King Cyrus said, “God told me to let the Jews go home and rebuild!” The story is recorded in the biblical book of Ezra. It’s an amazing account of God’s providence through the worst of times. And now the people come home.
Psalm 126 is a song of God being there for his people, in the past, in the present, and in the future. It’s the song of the Israelites, and maybe our song, too. Let’s see if we find our story there. The first section deals with:
1. Praise: Look what you did, God! (vv. 1-3)
This is bragging on God time. Somehow, the unimaginable had happened: God had softened the heart of the Persian King, and people were headed home. At first, they were understandably in shock. The Bible describes it as a dream-like state. Have you ever had that happen to you? News that is so good that you’re walking around in a trance?
Next the people were overjoyed! A whole generation had grown up under foreign rule, and now they all would be heading home. It was an amazing moment, so much so, that it caught the attention of all the non-Jewish nations surrounding Israel. They commented, “The Lord has done great things for them” (v. 2). To which the Jews agreed, in verse 3, “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”
Can you think of a time when God did something so amazing in your life, that people around you noticed it, too? That is truly a God-moment! In one of my previous churches in Washington state, God led us to pay off our land debt and build our first building that ended up becoming one of the largest buildings in the community. Volunteer teams came from Tennessee, and yes, even Texas, all the way to Washington to give their vacation time and help us build. Church members gave money, time, energy, and food sacrificially. What an exciting time it was! And even the community was amazed at how a building could go up so quickly and so magnificently with so little debt. After I left, the church continued to pay off the debt ahead of schedule, becoming debt-free in just a few years.
“The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” What a perfect Thanksgiving verse! Bradley Malkovsky, a professor at the University of Notre Dame, notes that giving thanks is “spiritually good for us ... a training in connectivity, of getting beyond the ego.” He writes, “If we look closely at our lives, we see so much of what we have achieved is a gift. Gratitude is the recognition that we are not the center of the universe.” Wow! It makes me think of 1 Thessalonians 5:18, which says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” God knows giving thanks is good for us. As we acknowledge that “the Lord has done great things for us,” it keeps us humble. We remember that we are not the center of the universe.
That’s the praise. Now look at the...
2. Prayer: I need you now, God! (v. 4)
Even though King Cyrus allowed the Jews to go back home in 537 BC, many didn’t make it home until much later. So verse 4 reads, “Restore our fortunes, Lord” or “Bring back the captives.” Even though God had already brought about a great restoration, they needed him to do even more. The job wasn’t done yet. They needed the rest of the captives to come home “like streams in the Negev.”
The Negev was a barren dessert, except when flash floods came. We can relate to this image in South Texas. When I first moved here, I was amazed driving over a bridge and looking down, thinking, “Why did they waste money building a bridge here? There’s nothing down there but a dried up old creek bed!” And then comes rain like you’ve never seen before. And suddenly, in a few seconds, that dry creek bed is full to the brim with a surging stream. That’s the way it was with the Negev. There was parched earth, and suddenly a flash flood of water flowing down it! That’s how they pictured God’s relief coming.