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Joy in the Valleys

Written by College Park Church on

Read Part 1: “Finding True Joy

Restore our fortunes, Lord,
like streams in the Negeb.
Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.

Psalm 126:4-6

Psalm 126 is not only a Psalm of Ascent, it’s also a lament. It’s a prayer in pain that leads to trust. It’s a psalm that chooses joy as it acknowledges the pain of life while looking to God for help. That’s what Advent is all about, isn’t it? We celebrate the arrival of Jesus (incarnation) as we wait for his return (consummation). Celebration serves to help us when life is hard and we are waiting.

This is why your source of joy is so important. It’s crucial to remember the who behind the deliverance. If your heart isn’t trained in that way, you won’t know how to lament well. You’ll only be interested in a change of circumstances. And that’s not going to last or work.

Joy in the valleys requires knowing who is with us and anticipating his presence and help in the future.

Like Streams in the Negeb

In Psalm 126:4, there’s a painful appeal: “Restore our fortunes, O Lord!” This is an appeal for life to be restored, not just for financial gain or prosperity. It’s an appeal for flourishing. This is the prayer of a people struggling but turning to the Lord for help and hope.

Notice the vivid description in the second half of verse 4: “like streams in the Negeb.” The Negeb was an arid area in southern Israel that had dried-up streams. When the infrequent rains appeared, these empty pathways filled with flowing water. The result was sudden growth of plants and flowers. Just search for “Negev in bloom,” and you’ll see it for yourself. It’s unbelievable!

And what a picture it is of what God’s people are asking him to do. There are times when life feels like a desert with no life—dry and harsh. But just under the soil are plants waiting to spring up once the water comes. Our lives are like that, aren’t they? There are long stretches ofbarrenness then God suddenly invades our lives with his surprising grace. This is what the psalmist is praying for.

The greatest example of this is the invasion of grace that came to us through the cross and the empty tomb. From a spiritual standpoint, we were dead. Look at Ephesians 2 and think of a stream in the desert:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:1-10

Perseverance in the Christian life comes as we celebrate this deliverance and grace and apply it practically when life is hard. Anticipation means that you can look at the painful moments of your life differently. What do you see? A dry stream bed or a potential river filled with flowers just waiting for it to rain? Your perspective matters, Christian!

Sow in Tears & Reap in Joy

The psalmist shifts in verses 5-6 from a desert metaphor to farming, “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy.” This is not only something that’s true, it’s also a statement of faith. Based upon God’s track record, the psalmist views the pains of life as seeds being planted that will one day reap a harvest of joy. It connects weeping with sowing and reaping with joy. Notice that the Christian life involves both tears and joy! Faithful discipleship involves lament and laughter!

These are two very different emotions. But they have a common thread: God’s grace. Underneath our celebration and tear-filled anticipation is the understanding that it was the Lord who did great things for us. “This wouldn’t have happened without the Lord.”

We live on God’s grace in the past, and we live on God’s grace in the future. We celebrate his help, and we anticipate his help. How can we do this? Regularly celebrate God’s grace to you through the gospel and then apply that to every area of your life. Recognize that the Christian life involves both tears and laughter. Learn to fully embrace both of them in faith. As you live by faith through your tears, know that they are not wasted. In fact, in the hands of God they are seeds being planted for a harvest of joy.

Eugene Peterson said it well: “The joy that develops in the Christian way of discipleship is an overflow of spirits that comes from feeling good not about yourself but about God.”1

Based on the sermon, Like Those Who Dream from the 2022 Advent sermon series by Mark Vroegop.

[1] Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society, Commemorative Edition (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books: An Imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2019), 94–95.

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