Psalm 126:4-6 “Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negev. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.”
Not nearly all the tears that we shed as Christians are tears of joy. If you skip ahead in the book of Psalms to Psalm 137, you find these same people, so full of joy in Psalm 126, so full of grief on the way into captivity that they could sing no songs. “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept,” they lamented.
Our own tears come from many sources. But I don’t have to tell you this. You know it already. The tears are more familiar to us than the joy the psalm celebrates. There are the tears of repentance when the consequences of our sins and failures are so obvious that even we can’t pretend that they don’t exist anymore. We cry tears of grief over the inevitable losses we suffer– those we love, things for which we labored and lost. The hard work and frustration of being a faithful Christian employee, student, parent, citizen, or church member can bring us to the point of tears. “In this world, you will have much trouble,” Jesus warned. We may be saved already. We may be heaven bound. But we are not a finished product yet. As God continues to work with us and shape our Christian lives for his service, we often “sow in tears.”
Does this contradict all the promises of unbridled joy and laughter in Psalm 126? Not at all! It simply sets us up to better appreciate them. St. Augustine once observed, “Everywhere a greater joy is preceded by a greater suffering.” He illustrated this by describing sailors fighting for their lives in a storm on the verge of wrecking their ship. At one moment they all grow pale at the fear of their coming death. But then the sea calms. As great as their fear was during the storm, their joy is even greater now that they are safe–a joy they would not have even known if it weren’t for the danger.
The deeper our sorrow for the damage caused by our sins, the greater our fear for their danger, the heavier we feel the cross of following and serving Jesus in this life–the greater our joy when God delivers us with his promises of forgiveness and love. The greater our joy when we see the great things God has done for us in a manger, and on a cross, and at an empty tomb.
“He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.”