Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might,
and come to save us!
Restore us, O God;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.
O Lord God of hosts,
how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
You have fed them with the bread of tears,
and given them tears to drink in full measure.
You make us the scorn of our neighbors;
our enemies laugh among themselves.
Restore us, O God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved. (New Revised Standard Version)
Restoration is a beautiful thing. I don’t often watch makeover shows on television. But if I’m channel surfing and see an old house, appearing ready for the wrecking ball, getting restored to its original charm and beauty, I’m hooked. We resonate deeply with things being repaired and rejuvenated, as if it is brand new.
For that to occur, someone needs to have a vision to see the old become new. If not, then the drab discouragement of a gray and dreary environment can easily take over. We then forget the original shine of how things once were to the point where we cannot even imagine that it’s worth salvaging.
In the context of today’s psalm, God’s people once enjoyed the covenant and the promises of God. But over time, the relationship was not maintained and cared for. So, the people gradually slid into disrepair. Centuries of sheer neglect brought a situation where it seemed the only recourse was to raze everything and begin again.
The psalms have been the prayer book of God’s people for over three millennia. Suffering and hard circumstances provide the backdrop for many of them. Sometimes the difficulty is external – another nation oppressing the people. Yet other times, like in today’s psalm, the problem is internal – sheer neglect of God’s commands over time. It went on to the point that God’s longsuffering ran out.
I would much rather enjoy God’s favor than God’s disappointing anger. To begin addressing any sort of spiritual neglect, the work of prayer becomes the tool we need. Restoring broken lives and broken communities to their original beauty starts with prayer and praise, offered daily and often.
Seven times a day I praise you
for your righteous laws. (Psalm 119:164, NIV)
What’s more, our tears, which seem, at times, to be our daily bread, are a kind of baptismal offering to God – prayers coming through groans which words cannot express. Even with our prayers, the Lord is gracious to help us with the requests themselves and not just the answers.
And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. (Romans 8:26, NLT)
God is waiting for us to approach the throne of grace with confidence. And we must keep coming to the Lord, again and again.
Jesus understands every weakness of ours because he was tempted in every way that we are. But he did not sin! So whenever we are in need, we should come bravely before the throne of our merciful God. There we will be treated with undeserved kindness, and we will find help. (Hebrews 4:15-16, CEV)
Like the continual routine of using the hammer, pounding nail after nail, so we must offer our prayers morning, noon, and night, day after day, crying out to God with the great cry of the church: Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved!
May the hope of Advent, the love of God in Christ, and the encouragement of the Holy Spirit restore your soul and enliven your spirit, now and forever. Amen.
O loving and gracious God, bring restoration to my life, to my church, to my family, to my workplace, and to my community. Things are not as they once were. Send your Holy Spirit so that we might enjoy seasons of blessing again. Restore, renew, revive and rejuvenate our disordered churches. May your face shine upon us once again through the mighty name of Jesus. Amen.