When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Our mouths were filled with laughter then,
and our tongues with shouts of joy.
Then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord had done great things for us;
we were joyful.
Restore our fortunes, Lord,
like watercourses in the Negev.
Those who sow in tears
will reap with shouts of joy.
Though one goes along weeping,
carrying the bag of seed,
he will surely come back with shouts of joy,
carrying his sheaves.
Psalm 126, HCSB
When we decided on the theme for this year’s Advent devotional – “Our Journey” – and how it applied to how we’d found ourselves in church at all or in this particular church, I admit to having a hard time deciding what story to tell. I could tell the story of how I was young child, suffering under a tyrant mother. There’s the story of how I was condemned to hell by “friends” because I didn’t share their beliefs. Or there’s the story of how I, as a new mother, desperately wanted a community for my family to be a part of. There’s the story of when I first heard the call to children’s ministry. There’s also the story of how James heard the call to pastoral ministry and started the journey that literally brought us to Owingsville United Methodist Church. You see, just as many stories must be told for a reader to get the full the picture of God’s Story as told in Scripture, there are many small stories that make up my own story and how it intertwines into God’s Story.
I spent a lot of time reviewing these stories of my past. The truth is, many of you already know most of them. I’ve told them often. As the Israelites sang on the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, “The Lord had done great things for us; we were joyful.” The Lord has done great things for us, my family. We are filled with joy. So which joyous story do I tell?
I decided to tell a story of the present and of the future rather than one of the past. Since my story neither begins nor ends with this church, I thought it would give insight to the purpose my family and I serve here.
The first part of Psalm 126 shares the reminder of the wonderful things God has done for His people. I hope I have done well in previously sharing my own stories that left us filled with laughter and shouts of joy. But the second half of the psalm is what I really want to focus on. The writer, presumably David, is asking for yet another restoration of fortunes, meaning that although God had restored them before, times are hard yet again.
Isn’t that the truth, Beloved? Times are hard yet again and we cry out asking God to do it again. We remember when You were so good to us, Father, now do it again!
This year, for me and for my family, has not been easy. We have been met with adversity from many areas of life. I have tangled with illness and depression. My husband has dealt with rejection. We’ve faced financial insecurity. We look at our church and watch members pass from this life. We see our numbers dwindle and we worry. We sow in tears, asking God to restore our fortunes. In this instance, our fortunes needing restoration are not monetary. We need God to restore our church, to fill it with servant leaders, people whose hearts are on fire with a deep passion for God and His work in the world.
That’s not to say that our congregation isn’t one with a heart for God. Our sweet church deeply loves God and cares deeply for His people. That’s easy for anyone to see if they walk through our church doors. But visitors are getting fewer and farther between. Hopelessness creeps in instead. Or worse – contentedness with the situation allows us to sit comfortably as the pews slowly empty.
That is why God has led us to this tiny little town near the eastern edge of Kentucky and why God has called us to stay in this mission field of a state that is so different from our roots. We are here to sow in this field. We sow seeds of joy, hope, faith, and love. We water those seeds with tears – tears of happiness somedays and tears of sorrow on other days. We ask God to do it again, to show us a renewal of spirit, so that when we leave this place, we will be carrying the fruit of God along with us.
by Crystal Laiben