Many of us find ourselves dragging our feet to get to church because life has been hard. The circumstances we find ourselves in can often overwhelm us, where we sense a cloud over our hearts in ways that leave us helpless, broken, and discouraged. Whether you're experiencing real, physical oppression and pain or invaded by an indescribable, untraceable malaise, nobody wants to walk into a church and have to turn a switch on and pretend to be joyful. It's hard to say hi to familiar faces, much less new ones. Your motivation to sing out loud or stand and clap or even focus all get sucked into a hole of sadness and sorrow.
You're not alone. Not only because I've felt this many times, even as a pastor preaching on a Sunday. But because the Bible shows us this picture as well. Psalm 137 is traditionally categorized as a psalm of lament. It clearly describes a particular time and place in history; the Israelite exile in Babylon. Here, the people are captives of a foreign nation, removed from their Promised Land, cast down to the lowest rung of the social order, with no sign of change to come. This psalm is one of many that address this dark time of this people's soul as they cried out to God in their pain and suffering.
Yet this lamentation of a psalm gives hope in a way that should give the struggling Christian hope to sing on a Sunday. Psalm 137:1-4 finds the psalmist wondering aloud how one could possibly sing at all when they're in captivity. Yet this all sets the scene for v.5-6 where the psalmist exclaims aloud, "If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!" In essence, the psalmist says, "Hope in hope that God remains true to His promise." God's promise was that the people would always live in the Promised Land. Having been taken out, it seemed to the Israelites during their Babylonian bondage that they would never have a shot at reclaiming it again. Yet hope in the hope of God. If the psalmist were to lose that hope, he prays that he would never sing again and his heart lose the ability to play any instruments.
Hope in the hope of God. In your darkness and weakness, God calls upon you to hope in something with more assurance than the psalmist had. We are guaranteed the same Promised Land as the psalmist yet made proof positive and fully secured by the blood of Jesus Christ, confirmed by the Spirit. In Jesus, there is always a song to sing, even when you have no strength left to sing. There is always a place to praise, even when your circumstances leave you downtrodden. This is only because our ultimate happiness lies not in the solutions to our situations or experiencing only the best this world has to offer but our identity in and union with Christ. It is knowing that we are loved by the Father regardless of how much we hate what has happened to our lives. The truth is we sing not because we're happy to sing. But in our brokenness, we sing because we have to sing. We have no choice but to sing, to be led back to the Father, and allow our memory to minister God's grace in Christ to our own hearts.
Now as for the rest of Psalm 137 with its proclamation of doom, destruction, and the dashing of foreign babies on rocks? We'll save that for another devotional. ;)