When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
3 The Lord has done great things for us;
we are glad.
4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like streams in the Negeb!
5 Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
6 He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.
My first call was to a tenuously small parish in Utah. It was in a suburb which was dominated by an LDS population which exceeded 90% of the people in that town. As you can imagine evangelism was difficult and the local culture could at times be alien and even hostile to the ministry of a Lutheran pastor and congregation. We had a parsonage because when the congregation was founded, no one would sell a home to a Christian pastor in town. Our finances were never secure, our membership was always fluid as people moved in and out of town. But it was a lot of fun. It may be because I was young and did not really understand what I was up against, but the near decade-long ministry I conducted in that community was a great joy.
As a professor I was given to preach and interact with many parishes. Often, I found a small and glum group of folks diligently but joylessly conducting the business of a congregation. What made the difference? My Utah parish was small too. The headwinds blowing against us were strong. This is a complex question which has many factors contributing to it, but I believe one of them is in verse 3 of this psalm. The Psalmist recounts the joy of the returning exiles, but he seems to be writing in the difficult years which came later. You can read about them in Nehemiah or in the prophet Malachi.
At the root of the joy of the people of God was the vision to see that God has done great things for us; we are glad! Most of the time that takes faith to see. It is not apparent to our mortal eyes. All they can see is the death and destruction which sin has wrought in the world. The eyes of faith, however, see what the resurrected Christ is doing even now. I am glad to be serving now in a community which sees those great works of God on our behalf and has a different, perhaps more mature, joy. I pray that you too can see today the great things God has done for you and be glad.