The Psalms never cease to surprise. You think the poem is giving it to you straight, and then it takes a turn, a twist in the road. Don’t go to the Psalms for Hallmark sentiment. We sometimes like to quote bits and pieces of the Psalms to suggest a kind of fantasy perfection. But that’s not the world of the Psalms. It’s not our world either.

The Psalms stay faithful to God, never wavering, but always, it’s like talking to a friend. It’s always honest. It’s like talking to the Lord of the universe, our friend. It’s got to be honest. Otherwise it’s not a friendship. Otherwise it’s not real. Otherwise it’s not God.

Here’s the first part of the amazing Psalm 126:

1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like people renewed in health.
2 Our mouths were full of laughter
and our tongues sang aloud for joy.
Then among the nations it was said,
‘The Lord has done great things for them.’
3 Great things indeed the Lord did for us,
and we rejoiced.

The setting is Babylonian exile, but you are not quite sure whether God’s people are restored to Zion already, or whether this poem is promise. Either way, isn’t this marvelous?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be “like people renewed in health”? I think this often about our own country, our own times, this turbulent, hurting world in which we live. I think about this too during personal circumstances from which I pray for release. The Psalms work that way. They are many-layered, at once a plea for our hurting world, but as well a personal plea. What if God renewed us in health?

Wouldn’t it be so beautiful, once again, for “our mouths” to be “full of laughter / and our toungues” singing aloud for joy? I don’t think we’re there yet. I don’t think we are even close. But isn’t it comforting to think the Lord could do great things for us too? Is it a promise? Can this be our expectation? Might we live differently if we truly trusted this promise?

The Psalm then takes a slight shift for the second half of the poem.

4 Restore our fortunes, Lord,
as streams return in the Negeb.
5 Those who sow in tears
will reap with songs of joy.
6 He who goes out weeping,
carrying his bag of seed,
will come back with songs of joy,
carrying home his sheaves.

This is extraordinary writing, befitting an extraordinary friendship. It’s almost as if there is a last line: “Won’t we, Lord?” Won’t we come home, after sowing our seeds, singing songs of joy? There is almost a plea here to our friend. May this be so, Lord.

It seems to suggest that our fortunes are not yet restored. But still, Lord, make it happen. Make it true that we who go out sowing in tears will “reap with songs of joy.” We’ve had our fill of going out weeping with our “bag of seed.” We’ve tried hard to sow. Let us come home now, “carrying home [the] sheaves.” Let us “come back” singing “songs of joy.”

There is yearning here. And this is true to our lives. We live with yearning. We’re never quite there. But the Psalms never leave us mired in sorrow. We are not just stuck in misery. The Psalms are always full of promise.

For that we are grateful. Our fortunes have not yet been fully restored, but we are given a vision for what might happen, this healing, this restoration, this coming home singing songs of joy. The promise is out there. Because our friend is in charge. We’ve got to talk to him honestly, but then we lean in the direction of promise. It almost seems we are there.

I hope so. I’m so grateful I’ve got this poem to help me lean in the direction of promise. Times can get hard. I’m so glad the Lord will someday renew our health. For now, we yearn for it to be so. We’ve got a friend, though. That’s a big difference. Maybe we can just sing for joy a bit. Even now.