In 2020, many of us may feel like we are on a long journey. A close friend and I joked over text message last night to encourage each other:
So what does all of that have to do with today’s verse?
Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!
Psalm 126:5 ESV
Psalm 126 is 7th in a series of 15 Psalms that were for pilgrims coming to Jerusalem. There are several instances where Jerusalem (Zion) was restored from captivity, so tying this to a specific event like after the return from exile under Ezra and Nehemiah or after David’s brief exile from Jerusalem in Absalom’s coup is probably speculation rather than hard proof. However, the point of knowing “exactly when” isn’t nearly as valuable as recognizing the pattern. These pilgrims had been away from Jerusalem themselves — either from real captivity — or from things they might consider a season of symbolic captivity from their beloved Zion.
We are reminded by this verse that great joy is often preceded by a season of tears. Some joy may come suddenly like in verse 4 (like the dried up desert streams when the rains come like a pure gift from heaven) — while other comes slow like in verses 5 and 6 (where our laboring proves complimentary with God’s promised renewal). By nature, most of us want to reap the joy without sowing the tears — but would prove a fat, lazy, and ineffective faith that bears little fruit.
For me, this term “sowing in tears” can most often be tied to my prayer life — that place of “spiritual labouring”. I find that there have been seasons where my prayer life has “felt” like a sort of captivity, a time where my heart hasn’t been fully into my prayers and they aren’t “tearful” for the burdens and cares and pains of those around me, but they are a bit more repetitive, distanced, isolated, and cold.
And when I find myself clearly in this place because I realize that I don’t really know the details or circumstances of someone else’s hurt, pain, struggle that I would consider a close friend or family — not because I didn’t have the opportunity to ask, but because I did not care enough to share in their burdens because I was too worried with my own — I realize my own need to make that pilgrimage back to Zion with my people. I realize my own need to put in the work of sowing in tears.
F.B. Meyer noted that some farmers soak (steep) their seeds before sowing them, and then applied the idea: “It is well when Christian workers steep their lessons and addresses with their prayers and tears. It is not enough to sow; we may do that lavishly and constantly, but we must add passion, emotion, tender pity, strong cryings and tears.”
And Spurgeon has this to say: “He drops a seed and a tear, a seed and a tear, and so goes on his way. In his basket he has seed which is precious to him, for he has little of it, and it is his hope for the next year. Each grain leaves his hand with anxious prayer that it may not be lost: he thinks little of himself, but much of his seed, and he eagerly asks, ‘Will it prosper? shall I receive a reward for my labour?’ Yes…doubtless you will gather sheaves from your sowing.”
And VanGemeren: “The people were not to sit by idly, waiting for God to come through. They had to go out and sow, praying that the Lord would be true. The phrase ‘seed to sow’ (v. 6) is reminiscent of Haggai’s encouragement to the people to sow whatever little they had left, because the Lord will bless them.”
Lord, I fear how often I have let a word spoken, a lesson written, a prayer lifted go out as seed cast idly wherever it may fall — with not so much care and love as you clearly demonstrated towards each individual circumstance you encountered during your travel through this land as a pilgrim returning to Zion. But in my repeated and obvious weaknesses, your strength and power and glory is made all the more evident to me. Forgive me for my wanderings away into captivity, and my expecting the rains to “just come again” like they always do, and my forgetting that I have a blessed opportunity to participate. Forgive me for fearing the vulnerability that true intimacy with others and their challenges and faults will reveal so many of my own challenges and faults. Help me to instead long for renewal, fellowship, and relationship — both with my brothers and sisters — and most importantly, with you. Amen.