One of the most intriguing passages in the Psalms is Psalm 126:6-7, which says:
Those who sowed 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.
I always scratched my head whenever I read that. What does that mean? I figured it must be important, though, as it is included in the Psalm of Ascents (Psalms 120-134), which was basically the “Official Jewish Songbook” as pilgrims trekked to Jerusalem for the major feasts. As well, I understood it to be a reflection and remembrance of their return from Babylonian captivity – ending one of the darkest chapters of their history.
But “sowing with tears,” “carrying seed” as they are “weeping”? What’s up with that? Is this about farming and using tears as some sort of Miracle Gro?
In my recent, brief season with suffering (though it didn’t seem brief at all when I was going through it!) I began to see a little more of what the Psalmist was saying through this passage:
Suffering causes the “soil” of our lives to be fertile for fruitfulness. Suffering breaks up the hardness, callousness, pridefulness and insensitivity of our hearts and lives. Things like illnesses, hardships, setbacks, injustice, humiliation, loss and persecution (cf. Matt 5:3-11, the Beatitudes) serve to break up the soil of our lives like a hoe or an aerator; leaving us open to humbly receive what we really need: truth, mercy, grace, righteousness, healing, transformation and love.
That’s what my season of suffering did to me. Until I started experiencing some suffering through the disappointment of waiting three more months for a kidney transplant, of experiencing pain, discomfort, nausea, and disorientation of end-stage renal failure, of having to endure hours and hours of dialysis cycles, of sleepless nights, of having to take a leave from ministry mid-year, of wrestling with low self-esteem and discouragement – I did not realize how hardthe soil of my heart had become. It was only as my heart and life was broken down by all this “terrible” suffering that I realized that I had ugly, and even-more-terrible things imbedded in my heart: bitterness, cynicism, pride, religious arrogance, unforgiveness, fear of man, anxiety, judgmentalism, etc.
So Jesus used my suffering as a spiritual “back-hoe” to break up the hard soil of my heart. Little by little, the Lord broke up the soil of my life. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
There’s one more key ingredient to producing fruitfulness in the season of suffering: the “seed.” A fertile soil won’t grow anything by itself. It needs the seed. But the seed also needs the fertile soil. Jesus, in his parable of the Sower, explains that a hard, rocky or thorny soil produces no fruit, no matter how much seed is planted. But without the seed, there is no fruit either. So what is the “seed”?
Jesus defines seed as the “Word” (Mark 4:14). A lot of people naturally think, “Oh, Jesus is talking about “reading the Bible.” The more we read the Bible, the more seed is being planted in our lives.” Now, I agree that reading the Bible is good and profitable. I would even agree that reading the Bible is part of what Jesus meant by the Word. But I believe what Jesus meant by “the Word” is not just the Bible, but Himself. Jesus is the Word of God (John 1:1). Jesus is the Word of Life (1 John 1:1). Jesus is the Word who became flesh and made his dwelling among us (John 1:14).
In short, Jesus is the Seed.
So fruitfulness comes through suffering when we “plant” Jesus into our suffering moments. You see, we have a choice when we suffer: we can turn to ourselves, which leads to either taking matters into our own hands or blame others for our misfortune or wallow in our plight (complain the pain).Orwe can plant Jesus in our suffering. (My friend, Sam Williams, uses the phrase “pressing into Jesus” to describe planting the seed of Jesus into our lives. I love that!) Whenever we plant Jesus seeds into our pain, our suffering, our trials, our injustice, our discomfort, our illnesses, our discouragement, or even persecution, the Lord begins the process of bearing fruit (described in the Psalm as “sheaves”).
So how do we sow the seed of Jesus into our suffering? There are many ways (note: Matt 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount, are basically ways that Jesus taught on how to sow Him into our lives):
– Whenever we cry out to Jesus (even at 3am), we are sowing Jesus seed
– Whenever we turn to seek Him in reading Scripture in our pain, we are sowing Jesus seed
– Whenever we ask others to pray for us (especially when we pray together), we are sowing Jesus seed
– Whenever we lament (“sowing tears”) to the Lord, we are sowing Jesus seed
– Whenever we choose to live faithfully to Him through obedience, we are sowing Jesus seed
– Whenever we repent of sin, unforgiveness, or anything else the Spirit reveals to us in this season, we are sowing Jesus seed
– Whenever we stop to quiet our souls and listen to for His voice, we are sowing Jesus seed
– Whenever we bless others, stand up against injustice, give generously, meet a need or any other loving act that Jesus leads us to do – in spite of our suffering – we are sowing Jesus seed
These are all things that the Lord led me to do during my time of suffering. There were times when I fell short, where instead of sowing Jesus seed, I wallowed in self-pity or chose to live the smaller life of whining and complaining. But I am thankful that the Lord gave me grace many times to press into Him and sow His seed in my suffering and pain.
And now I am experiencing the first fruits: I have entered into a new life! Not only do I have a new, functioning kidney, not only am I feeling the best I have in years, but I feel that God is transforming me in so many ways: emotionally, spiritually, as well as physically. And I have returned, singing “songs of joy”!
Are you in a season of suffering? How are you responding to it? I encourage you to sow the seed of Jesus into it; press into Jesus. This is a whole life worship opportunity before you. Don’t take the worldly approach of whine, blame or complain. Let Jesus do something with it.
So take my heart and form it. Take my mind and transform it. Take my life, conform it to Yours, to Yours, Oh Lord.“Holiness” by Scott Underwood