Have you ever felt as if you had no song left in you? You followed the path you thought was God, but somehow you ended up in a foreign land with no reason left to sing? Let me encourage you today that you still have a song in you.
“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung up our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’
How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:1-4, NIV 84).
I’ll admit, things looked pretty dark for the Israelites. They had been overtaken by the Babylonians and forced into captivity. The Jews were literally in a foreign land. Remember their worship centered around the temple, which had been destroyed.
When their tormentors asked them for “songs of joy,” perhaps they were just taunting them. So the response of God’s people was “If we can’t worship God in the temple, and we can’t be free in our own land, then we have no reason to sing the songs of Zion.”
Don’t Hang Up Your Harp!
Wait. Hold the phone. Then what did their worship center on? God–or their city, their temple, their way of life? Don’t get me wrong. I understand the allegiance they felt to their native land and to the way of worship God had instituted through the temple. But their hearts were focused on what they had lost rather than on the God who gave them all they had.
I love the Psalms because they show us the whole range of human emotions: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Some of the Psalms are prescriptive, in that they prescribe how we are to act; but some of them are descriptive, meaning that they simply describe human behavior that is raw and real.
Look at the end of this Psalm:
“O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us–he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks” (Psalm 137:8-9).
I can remember the first time I read that verse. I was horrified! But after a little research, I began to understand. You see, the Babylonians were cruel and ruthless. When capturing the Israelites, they often gutted pregnant women or literally killed infants by dashing them against rocks. So, I guess we can see how the Israelites could feel such anger and desire for revenge.
But God. That’s just not His way. When evil is done toward us, He calls us to look to Him. He is more than able to settle our accounts, to bring justice, to make things right. But if we allow pain and opposition to cause us to hang up our harps, we will lose our joy. We will become bitter, angry, and vengeful, just as the Israelites did.
Worship through Discouragement
I love how God gives us examples of what not to do and examples we should follow. The very next Psalm brings us the words of David.
“I will praise you, O LORD, with all my heart; before the ‘gods’ I will sing your praise” (Psalm 138:1).
Even in the face of opposition and pagan gods, David was determined to worship and sing. David knew something that we don’t always get: worship will lead us into the presence of God, where there is freedom, joy, and peace. He didn’t have it easy. He faced opposition from Saul and even his own sons, who were trying to kill him and usurp his power and authority. He spent a majority of his life on the run. Yet, he knew the secret of real joy and freedom: worship.
“I will bow down toward your holy temple and will praise your name for your love and faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word. When I called, you answered me; you made me bold and stouthearted” (Psalm 138:2-3).
I absolutely love those words!
I’m sure after all the Israelites had been through–facing the slaughter of their family and friends, being taken captive, dwelling in a foreign land with no access to their place of worship–hanging up their harps sounded like a good idea.
In fact, every time I type the word harp, I accidentally type the word heart. After the third time, I realized maybe the Lord was telling me something. When we give up our worship out of fear, discouragement, disappointment, or despair, we are actually revealing what is in our hearts. We’ve given up hope in our God. We’ve looked at our circumstances and forgotten that God is almighty, omniscient, all-powerful, sovereign, and supernatural!
God Is Able!
Just as He was able to lead the Israelites out of captivity and return them to their homeland, He can turn around our circumstances and use them for great good and for His glory in our lives. We don’t have to come back home with hard hearts and plans for revenge as they did.
No, we can be like David and confess that our God is more than able to deliver us, empower us, and sustain us.
“May all the kings of the earth praise you, O LORD, when they hear the words of your mouth. May they sing of the ways of the LORD, for the glory of the LORD is great…Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes, with your right hand you save me” (Psalm 138:4-5, 7).
And yes, our worship can be an awesome witness to those around us when they see that our hearts are on our mighty God. May even those who don’t believe be drawn to “sing the ways of the LORD.”
Are you in a “foreign land” today? Do you feel as if the enemy has stolen your song? Don’t hang up your harp!
Your God is more than able to bring you through with a heart of joy and praise and not a spirit of despair. Don’t look at your circumstances. Look at the One Who is above your circumstances, and sing with all your heart. Here’s the end of David’s Psalm:
“The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your love, O LORD, endures forever–do not abandon the works of your hands” (Psalm 138:8).
Praise God, He will not abandon us, but He will fulfill His purpose for us, no matter what life looks like today.
So go ahead, Sister. Play that harp.