Psalm 80:1-7 – Restore Us

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.

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 – Longing for the Lord

The Hand of God by Korean artist Yongsung Kim

Please listen, O Shepherd of Israel,
    you who lead Joseph’s descendants like a flock.
O God, enthroned above the cherubim,
    display your radiant glory
    to Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh.
Show us your mighty power.
    Come to rescue us!

Turn us again to yourself, O God.
    Make your face shine down upon us.
    Only then will we be saved.
O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies,
    how long will you be angry with our prayers?
You have fed us with sorrow
    and made us drink tears by the bucketful.
You have made us the scorn of neighboring nations.
    Our enemies treat us as a joke.

Turn us again to yourself, O God of Heaven’s Armies.
    Make your face shine down upon us.
    Only then will we be saved….

Strengthen the man you love,
    the son of your choice.
Then we will never abandon you again.
    Revive us so we can call on your name once more.

Turn us again to yourself, O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies.
    Make your face shine down upon us.
    Only then will we be saved. (NLT)

Let us continually keep in mind that the psalms are quite Jewish. Yes, I often refer to the psalms as the Church’s Prayer Book and unabashedly see them through Christian eyes. Yet, the psalter, at its core, are prayers and songs of the Jewish experience.

The deep longings and yearnings of the Jewish people within a constant stream of hardship, difficulty, and persecution give voice to all humanity. In other words, the bearing of the Jewish soul as the people of God is the crying out on behalf of us all.

The Jews know a thing or two about lament. Today’s psalm is a lament, a prayer, longing for God to come and restore Israel, to no longer look upon them with anger.  The people knew in their exposed vulnerability that they needed God.  It is the Lord who would come to save and bring a revitalized nation.

Amid awful circumstances and emotional pain, it can be hard to focus with concentrated prayer. The Jews also help us here because they crafted and arranged the psalms in such a way as to enable and foster recall and memory. So, where many of us Gentiles can be rather more like pagans babbling on in our distress, the Jewish psalms offer us the ability of short, succinct, and staccato prayers. Early Christians called them “breath prayers.” 

Throughout the day we can utter “Stir up your power, O God; come to save us.”  The intention of saying it repeatedly in a day is not to get God’s attention because we already have it. No, the purpose is to connect us with Divine resources for deliverance. The purpose is to be in constant touch and continual communion with the One who can ultimately restore, renew, revitalize, and reform the world with justice and righteousness.  It is to be longing for the flourishing of the earth and its inhabitants again, and to enjoy walking with God in the garden of fellowship, peace, and goodwill. It is to be restored.

Restoration is a beautiful thing. I rarely watch makeover shows on television, but if I am channel surfing and catch an old house which seems best suited for the wrecking ball getting restored to its original charm and beauty, I am hooked.  We as people seem to resonate deeply with things being repaired and rejuvenated to looking brand new again.

Again, the Jewish people go before us, through the psalms, with the vision to see the old become new. Whereas some may get lost in the drab discouragement of a gray and dreary environment, forgetting the original shine of how things once were, Asaph, the consummate Jewish song leader, guided the people in remembering how God’s people enjoyed the covenant and the promises of God.  But over time the relationship was not maintained and cared for; the people gradually slid into disrepair.  Centuries of neglect brought a situation where it seemed the only recourse was to do away with the people and begin again.

I certainly do not want to make God angry. I would much rather learn my lesson from the Jewish experience throughout the millennia and enjoy Divine favor. I would also like this old fallen world to be restored to her original beauty. So, we must come to God – not once – but again and again, over, and over. Like the hammer of perseverance, 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 Jewish people:  “Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved!”

Merciful God of all nations bring restoration to our lives, our families, our faith communities, our workplaces, our human institutions, our neighborhoods, and our shared world. Send your Holy Spirit so that we might enjoy seasons of blessing again.  Restore, renew, revive, and rejuvenate our disordered love.  May your face shine upon us once again through the mighty name of Jesus.  Amen.