Posted: 3/24/17 at 7:30am. Column by Ed Jordan.
How do you feel when things didn’t turn out like you planned? Disturbed? Disappointed? Discouraged, depressed, or perhaps even despairing? This is not a topic we talk about much, and yet it is something that almost all of us experience more than we want to admit.
Life rarely aligns with our dreams, and we frequently encounter unpleasant things beyond our control. Listen to the emotions expressed in these verses from Psalm 137:1–4 (NIV): “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept, when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the LORD while (living) in a foreign land?”
The people described in this Psalm were people of Judah, who had been taken captive into Babylon (near modern-day Baghdad, Iraq). Babylon was one of the major powers of the Fertile Crescent (Middle East) area at the time. While the people lived as unwilling inhabitants of a foreign land, they weren’t literally in prisons. They just lived as outsiders in a land whose customs and lifestyle ran counter to that of Judaism. They couldn’t just pack up and go back to back to Jerusalem (Zion).
Look at the feelings and emotions mentioned in the above verses. The people were in grief, and wept whenever they thought of home. They wept when they remembered the good old days. They were mocked because they had been defeated and taken captive. They were jeered and taunted to sing to the Babylonians songs about their God whose temple was in Jerusalem, about the life and culture they used to have.
They weren’t sure if they would ever again experience their city, relatives, traditions, food, music, or dances.
They were so discouraged that they wanted to hang up their harps. It was the day the music stopped. The joy and song had departed from their lives. They were mockingly taunted to sing some of the songs about how God always won the victories for them.
It was a way of saying: So, if your God is so great, why are you living in our land under our domination? They didn’t have an answer. They were experiencing cultural upheaval, and their ideas about God and their identity as His people were under siege.
All of us encounter things that challenge our identity, security, comfort zone, and traditional ways of doing things. Most of us encounter losses, sometimes monumental ones like the death of a loved one, the loss of a job or career, or the loss of health. Sometimes losses are more subtle like losing our hair, thoughts, hearing, or vision.
Through relocations we often lose our support systems and friends. As we get older, some lose their ability to drive or to live independently.
In the midst of these, people are often tempted to lose their faith, or lose their joy in life. The song seems gone. They are ready to hang up their harps and just sit around bemoaning the loss of the good old days. But the good old often look a hundred times better than they actually were at the time.
So how do we not lose hope and overcome difficulties? We need to adjust to life by learning to live where we are now instead of trying to live where or how we lived once upon a time. We need to focus on God, who is always with us and is eternal, rather than focusing on things which are temporal, or have already past.
We need to focus on what we have gained instead of what we have lost; on what we have now, instead of what we had then; and on what awaits us just around the next bend.
We need to pick up our harps and raise our voices to sing to God! Sing of God’s beauty, his love, his faithfulness, his salvation, and of Jesus. We need to live, really live, where God has us right now! These days are the good old days that we will long for 10 years from now.