There are two seemingly “opposite” verses from the book of Psalms that keep popping into my mind:
Psalm 137: “By the waters of Babylon, we sat down and there we wept as we remembered Zion. Upon the willows in the midst of it we hung our harps. For our captors demanded of us songs, and our tormentors gladness saying ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.’ HOW CAN WE SING THE LORD’S SONG IN A STRANGE LAND?”
Psalm 37:3 “Trust in the Lord and do good. Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness”
We all have had our Babylon moments. We all have had our moments of doubt, confusion, and dread. Maybe you were in the prime of your life and you didn’t plan on getting sick and now you have Medicare to contend with. Maybe you were in the prime of your academic schooling and you didn’t anticipate failing that course and having to take longer to get your degree. Maybe you didn’t see that relational break-up, that depression, that addiction, or that emptiness coming. Maybe it caught you completely broad-sided.
There are many seasons in our lives that constitute a foreign land. How do we remain faithful when the very things that shaped our lives have been taken from underneath us? How do we remain hopeful when voices around us suggest that God is not in-control or on the throne?
There are no easy answers for this. Christian cliches seemingly mean nothing when in the deep and difficult stages of grief and loss. The only thing that remains in that flicker of light guiding us to all truth and wisdom. The recognition that in our sufferings, Christ suffers alongside us. The realization that Jesus Himself suffered at the hands of many who did not understand His kingdom plan.
Here’s another direction these verses currently take me in. When I came back from Scotland, I did a very short stint in Cape Breton. I did not have peace about the decision to move there, but I suppose my own desperation and listening to voices of others who suggested it might be “God’s will” and this wouldn’t have happened unless God wanted me there convinced me to do what deep down I knew wasn’t right. What I knew wasn’t the best for me. As soon as I got there, I knew I wasn’t meant to be there. I tried to make the best of the situation. I tried to believe that maybe God wanted to teach me something or mould me a certain way. Today, I believe the only reason I was there was to learn how to say no and to do what’s best for me rather than asking everyone for their opinion or believing it is God’s will for us to be in a situation that isn’t right for us. However, when I was going through this inner struggle, I sent a text message to one of my closest friends. I asked her a simple question “how can I sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”
It seems so weird now that I’m writing it here. A strange land? Hey wait a minute! I just got back from Edinburgh, Scotland. Shouldn’t Edinburgh have been the strange land? After all, I am from Canada! How come I was able to sing so well and so clearly in Edinburgh, but not here in Canada? (By the way, that’s completely metaphorically. Everyone knows I can’t sing!)
Once I left Cape Breton and moved back into civilization (extroverts were meant for socialization and always being busy…we don’t do well in supreme isolation) things started to get better. However, there is still an element of being in a “strange land” even now. Being in Edinburgh was almost like taking a step back in time. It’s amazing how many people are still so conservative in their outlook. The churches there are not afraid to preach the Word of God with boldness and conviction. They do not walk on eggshells just to suit the needs of others.
Then I came to Canada where I wrestled with ultimate liberalism. I’m not saying that’s entirely bad, but I really wasn’t prepared for it. I had no idea because when I lived here I was all part of it. But now I feel my viewpoints have changed in many ways.
I am trying to live in a familiar place as an unfamiliar person. I am trying to live my past life as a completely new experience. And to be honest, it doesn’t always work out the way I want. It’s this beautiful tension. This glorious tug-of-rope. This push-pull mentality that is driving me to reconsider everything I once held dear.
And yet, somehow, in the middle of it, I hear this gentle whisper telling me to remain. To dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. And I’m not sure what to do with it.
It’s this voice that’s suggesting Edinburgh was for a time in order to teach me how to be the most effective minister here in Canada. That Edinburgh was the training ground for my heart, the place that truly taught me how to seek out the Word, but now that the lessons have been learned it’s time to put it into practice. When you’re part of a vibrant and brilliant church community that feeds your soul it can be so easy to take-take-take, but ultimately our greatest desire must be to give. We receive that which the Lord has entrusted to us, in order to pass it on to others. In order to live out a life of full obedience to Christ and to walk in the life of His light.
So as I wrestle with this, I have these two questions in-front of me: how do I sing the Lord’s song in a strange land and how do I dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness? They are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are one in the same. They are both part of the whole. To be faithful in the here and now and the position and ministry God has currently guided me to, is to learn how to sing. It’s to learn to pick up the harp again and play it. It’s to put on a concert.
The goal is not to mope. The goal is not to think of “what-ifs” or “i’d rathers.” Our mission is to give those around us what they want – allowing them to be our audience.
In the first Psalm, the tormentors and captors demanded a song. I get this image of teasing and bullying. “Ha! Where’s your great God now?” I can hear their scoffing! “We heard you used to be a record artist. Now you’re refusing to play chop-sticks.”
Yet, even though the captors probably said what they did with ill-intentions, I believe there might still have been a deeper motive. Perhaps deep down they truly wanted to see God come forth. Perhaps they were not convinced that He was as great as the Israelites said He was. When they were in Israel and everything was good, He was there, but in captivity He’s nowhere to be found.
Let me urge you today – if you’re surrounded by people who are begging for a song, there might be a reason for it.
Today at church, my pastor said “The world is hopeless without us. It’s not an egotistical statement. It’s the truth. Christ is the hope of the world and we reflect that hope.”
Who are the audience you need to reach this week? Who are the people demanding songs of you? Who are the people who are begging to see Jesus and having a hard time believing He’s real? We can reach those people by standing firm despite our own trials. By having an unshakeable faith even when things don’t turn out the way we expected. By continuing to walk in victory rather than defeat. By opening our minds to all possibilities rather than dwelling on our limitations and shortcomings.
I hope this week that God will be with you, guiding and directing you as you choose to walk in faithfulness, and in hope, dwelling in the land that He’s assigned to you and being all that you can be there.