This week we are distributing 1000 Christmas cards around our community, introducing our neighbours to the church and inviting them to our various Christmas services.
This is a huge investment of both time and resource for our little church and we are praying that the Lord will bless the outreach during the festivities. As we prepare to hit the streets Psalm 126 (see below) spoke directly to me.
Psalm 126 was sung by the post exilic Jews as they ascended back home up to Jerusalem from their captor Babylon.
As Christians we are much like these weary travelers, currently in exile, captive in an alien land. As we journey home (to Heaven) we thank God for all He has done in our lives and how our Salvation is secured in the death and resurrection of His Son, King Jesus!
Despite our many, many failures, we can come to Zion with “mouths filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy” because there is no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1).
God’s Grace surpasses anything that I have done or could do wrong. On the Cross Christ paid the debt for my sin in full! Whilst we were still sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). It is not our deeds that have saved us; it is faith in God’s own work in His Son Jesus Christ! This is why we Christians can sing with the Psalmist “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”
In verse four the Psalm turns us away from rejoicing in our own salvation to prayer.
The Psalmist asks the Lord to “restore our fortunes, like streams in the Negev”. The Psalmist is saying let the streams that were dry fill back up with water. It is a request to God to restore the fortunes of His church, to fill us afresh with the Holy Spirit, to wash us clean and let the Gospel flow out to the lost in our community.
Is this not what every Christian in Wales is praying for this Christmas?
These exiled Jews were singing praises to God as they walked home to Jerusalem, they were “filled with joy”, but God gave them a burden to look back and think of the lost, their families and friends whom decided not to follow them to Zion. Those who “the Lord has done great things for” look back and cry out for those who are far from Him.
The final two verses follow on from this picture.
“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.”
The Psalmist gives us an illustration of a farmer sowing seeds. To understand this illustration fully, we must remember the context it was written in.
Remember the timing of this Psalm, the exiles were not journeying to Solomon’s wealthy Jerusalem lined with gold. They were returning home post exile. Jerusalem had fallen; burned down by the Babylonians, it was in a mess, broken, dilapidated and derelict. It had been left to crumble and had little arable land, so food was very scarce.
These Exiles who walked to Jerusalem rejoicing were also poor and desolate. All they had was but a few seeds in hand to start a new life. So when they planted them it was with tears!
Because everything (and I mean everything), relied on their next yield! If the crop failed they would have nothing to eat, they would die and so would any hope for Jerusalem.
Is this not a picture of the church in the Welsh Valleys today?
As we walk up to our old churches as these exiles were ascending to Jerusalem. We see huge buildings that once thrived with life, but are now empty and aging and incurring greater costs to maintain.
Yet, like these exiles we still gather in a small but faithful group, an aging group with limited resources.
With just a handful of seeds between us we pray no differently to those who originally sang this Psalm.
Yes, God has blessed us, as he did these people who with joy walked to Jerusalem. But once they got there they were still in a serious situation!
As a small Valley church we thank God that the lights are still on, but where is the Christian witness in the Welsh Valley towns going to be in a decade, when the core members are with the Lord and there is nothing left to keep the doors open? Humanly speaking, the Christian witness in the Welsh Valleys will be extinguished!
We are at a point in our church history where everything (and I mean everything) is totally reliant on the next yield! Society is not pushing people in for us anymore and we can’t rely on the children of the faithful, for they have all grown up and moved away.
We are not living in Solomon’s Jerusalem, rich with harvest! The land that was once rich to farm has fallen, it has now grown over, filled with thorns and stones.
But all is not lost!
In Psalm 126 the returning exiles were not starting from nothing, they had legacy and belief, they had the rubble that once was Jerusalem and faith that it could return to former glory.
Many of the churches in the Welsh Valley’s gather in single digits, but we can rejoice that we still have some input in today’s society. We are still called upon to hatch, match and dispatch those in the community and at Christmas people do still come in! Praise God!
We might be farming in the rubble, but at least we are not left with nothing!
So, what are we going to do about it?
For the church to rebuild again it needs some exile attitude! Faith in God and some serious elbow grease to cultivate the land again!
We are in the rubble of a post-Christian society, and we are totally reliant on the next yield for survival!
We must work the land! We must sow the seed! (In our case 1000 Christmas cards!)
Yes! It is going to be a hard graft, especially with all the hills, steep roads and bad weather. Yes! We are going to face opposition and dogs attacking our fingers through letter boxes!
We are going out to sow in barren land, filled with rubble and thorns. But the Lord is good! He tells us that “Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them”
What a promise! It should drive us to service!
I urge you to pray for all the small Valley Churches as we seek to use the festivities to evangelise to the lost! Pray for every card, poster, flier and leaflet, and pray that they will be read and retained.
We must not sow seeds as if it was a marketing exercise, it is not a mere numbers game! We must “sow them with tears” because of a God given burden for the lost. We must “sow them with tears” understanding that the church in the Welsh Valleys is in such a desperate state, we must “sow them with tears” knowing that we are but one generation from extinction, we must “sow them with tears” leaning and trusting totally on God, the Lord of the Harvest.
Those that can’t climb the hills and sow the seed in great numbers, remember it is better to cultivate one seed that brings forth fruit than sow hundreds that do not. You maybe old and infirm, but you still have a duty to pray for the work and use the relationships you do have in the community to personally invite those the Lord has burdened you with into His church.
We are God’s means and we must do the possible why we still can so that He can do the impossible and revive His Church!
For those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.
A song of ascents.
1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dreamed,
2 Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
3 The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.
4 Restore our fortunes, Lord,
like streams in the Negev.
5 Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.