Singer-songwriter and overall cool piano chick, Regina Spektor wrote, “No one laughs at God
- in a hospital
- in a war
- when the doctor calls after some routine tests
- when it’s gotten real late and their kid’s not back from the party yet
- when their airplane starts to uncontrollably shake
- when there’s a famine or fire or flood
- when they’re saying their goodbyes”
Psalm 137 would seem like a sad song sung by innocent captives. But there’s more to it.
3 For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” 4 How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land? —Psalm 137:3-4 ESV
Enraptured by the mournful beauty of this psalm, I’d forgotten the reason the Hebrews found themselves in Babylon. See, their homeland was razed and they were taken captive because of their own sin. These weren’t innocent people but the same ones who derided and even killed the prophets God sent to win them back. Their hearts were full of infidelity, and they laughed at God in their sin.
Israel/Judah had been a very powerful nation, ruling the region, under the reigns of David and his son Solomon. But the kingdom split with the North almost immediately turning to idol worship. The South would stay true to God for a time but eventually started building altars to idols as well. They’d forgotten that their power and influence were conditionally based on their trust in and devotion to God. If they would forsake God, then he would forsake them. No one laughs at God.
7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. —Galatians 6:7-8 NLT
Northern Israel and then southern Judah sowed to please their sinful nature, and at harvest were greeted with destruction. No one laughs at God.
When I think of Sunday morning at my church, in my preparation and in my prayer, I consider who will be there:
- those who believe in Jesus and are sowing to please the Spirit
- those who don’t believe in Jesus and are sowing to please their sinful nature
- those who believe in Jesus but are also sowing to please their sinful nature
The first are those who can sing “the songs of the Lord” while in a foreign land. I pray they are drawn to worship together the God they worship all week. The second are those who don’t know God and have heard things about him that may either attract or repulse them, what may be rumor or truth. For them I pray God reveals the truth of his love and his holiness. The last are those people who
“… say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” —Isaiah 29:13 NLT
These are the ones who show up for an hour on Sunday but laugh at God the other 167 hours of the week. My heart is burdened for them. I pray God will draw them away from their infidelity, that they’d acknowledge their propensity toward idol worship, to filling their lives with things that don’t matter, that their laughter would turn to mourning like the Hebrews in Babylon when they realize their captivity to sin (see Romans 6:6) but then turn to joy again (see Psalm 30:11 and Jeremiah 31:13).
I pray this for myself too, for I am “prone to wander, to leave the God I love.”
If you find yourself apathetic and numb, just not drawn to worship when you gather with other believers, consider that it might not be the music (the volume or style or quality), but it could be your heart.
Songs cannot be drawn forth from the soul on which the load of God’s displeasure, real or imagined, is lying, or which is still powerless to apprehend the grace and the life for sinners which is in Christ Jesus. —C. J. Vaughan
Ask God why you aren’t able to sing “the Lord’s song.” He may reveal sin in your life. Or maybe it’s guilt over things in the past God has long forgiven you for. Receive his grace, then join in this “Lord’s song”:
1 How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts! 2 My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. —Psalm 84:1-2 ESV