TEXT: Psalm 126 and John 16:33
There is an old popular saying that goes, “When the going gets tough, it is the tough that get going.” However, according to the two passages we have read we see that, when the going gets tough, it is those who trust in the Lord that get going.
Psalm 126 which we have read is called the Song of Ascents. There are different explanations about the meaning of this but the one that most Bible Scholars agree is that all the psalms that are called song of ascents which are Psalms 120 to 134 were sung by pilgrims traveling to the mountain of God (Zion) to worship.
Psalm 126 was most likely composed for those who had returned from Babylonian captivity. It begins with rejoicing because the covenant people who were in captivity have been brought back to their covenant land by their covenant Lord. Then the restored people pray for complete restoration. Restoration from captivity meant more than a physical return to the land. God’s covenantal presence was also needed.
Then the restored people reflect on their past and say that Babylonian captivity was like sowing with tears but now they are reaping with songs of joy. The Lord has overruled evil with good.
In John 16, Jesus is speaking to his disciples. His days on the earth are almost over and he tells them that in this world they will face tribulations, but they should not worry because Jesus has overcome the world.
I would like us to reflect on this Psalm together with the words of Jesus Christ in John 16:33. Both passages talk about the suffering or difficulties that God’s children encounter and what God does in such situations.
As God’s children dearly and beloved, we experience difficulties in various ways. Sometimes we face difficult times because we have sinned against God and he is disciplining us as was the case with the covenant people of Israel. God sent them to captivity as a result of their sin. In the book of Hebrews, God tells us that as his covenant people like the Israelites, he disciplines us when we sin. God does this out of love so that we may share in his holiness as Hebrews 12:10 tells us.
Other times, we experience difficulties in form of trials. Again, God in the book of James 1: 2-4 tells us that God allows trials to come our way so that they should strengthen us in our faith.
Still other times we experience difficulties because of the warfare between the God’s kingdom and Satan’s kingdom. Apostle Paul in Ephesians 6:12 tells us that we are at war with Satan and his fallen angels. Of course, it is not a physical war but spiritual and still its impact can sometimes be felt physically.
So, Christians will always experience suffering and difficulties in this world in one form or the other. This is why Christ says in John 16:33 that “In this world you will have trouble…” He does not say that we might have trouble but he affirms that we will have trouble.
However, when we look at these two passages, we can sigh a sigh of relief because in these passages, God gives us three assurances when we face difficult times.
First is God’s assurance of restoration (vv.1, 2, 3)
After God disciplined his Covenant people, the Israelites, through Babylonian captivity, he restored them. God did not discipline his children forever. He restored them by bringing them back to Jerusalem. Similarly, with us, God does not discipline us forever. After disciplining us and putting us on the right track, he restores the joy of our salvation and fellowship with him.
When he allows us to pass through trials, a time comes when he restores us to a better life. Job after going through trials, God restored him and blessed him even more.
We also know that the warfare that is going on between the kingdom of light and darkness will not continue forever. One day, God will restore peace in the world. Satan together with his angels will be thrown to hell and there shall no longer be warfare between the kingdom of light and darkness.
God is speaking to us in our various situations today. Whatever the situation we are in, God will restore us. In 1 Peter 5:10, he tells us: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”
For sure, in this world, we experience various challenges. However, God is assuring us that after passing through all these, he will restore us. The greatest restoration that all covenant people should look forward to is the restoration we will have when we go to our eternal home, heaven. There will be no tears, sorrow, sickness nor death. As John Newton composed in the famous hymn, Amazing Grace, “When we have been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun.”
God’s assurance of restoration should comfort us when we face hard times in our walk with Christ. The Israelites after suffering in exile in Babylon, they were later restored and they shouted with songs of joy. God will always restore his covenant people.
From these two passages, we don’t not only have God’s assurance of restoration but also God’s assurance of joy and peace.
God’s assurance of joy and peace (vv. 2, 5, 6, 33)
When you look at Psalm 126 you find the word ‘joy’ appearing three times in verses 2, 5, and 6. In John 16:33 Christ also assures of peace. “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.”
The Israelites expressed joy when God restored them. But Christians do not only experience joy when things are going well. We experience joy even when things are not going on well. We are supposed to rejoice all the time. This is why Apostle Paul could say in Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say rejoice.” Joy is ever present in the life of a Christian because Christ who is the true source of joy is always with him.
Animals are grouped into two: warm blooded and cold blooded. The body temperature of cold blooded animals keeps changing according to the weather. If the weather around them is hot, their body temperature rises. If the weather around them is cold, their body temperature goes down as well.
However, warm blooded animals are different. They maintain their body temperature despite the change of the weather around them. Whether it is cold or hot, their body temperature remains the same.
Christians are like warm blooded animals. Their joy does not depend on the circumstances surrounding them. Whether they are passing through challenges or not, they always have joy because Jesus who is the source of true joy is ever-present in their lives. This is why God is assuring us of joy even in times of hardship and suffering because Christ the true source of joy is always with us.
The same applies to the peace of God. The peace from God is always available whether we are passing through hard times or not.
God assures us of his joy and peace when experiencing harsh times. When passing through challenges and we are tempted to feel sorry for ourselves and fall in the dungeon of self-pity, let’s remember the joy and peace of the Lord. As Nehemiah told the children of Israel, the joy of the Lord is our strength. It is this joy that Christ gives us that will keep us going when the going gets tough.
When I talk of a joy in times of difficulties, I am reminded of my friend and classmate in Bible college. Most of the times he had a song on his mouth. When coming from the hostels to the classes, he was sing. Even at night when we were out guarding, you could hear him singing even from a distance.
Being a friend and prayer partner we shared experiences we were passing through and sometimes he left me amazed at what the joy of the Lord can do in somebody’s life. Here was a man who was facing great challenges and very trying times, but challenges could not take away the smile and songs of joy from his mouth.
This joy of the Lord is our strength. This is why God assures us of joy and peace in our hard times. So, “Though Satan should buffet; though trials should come let this blest assurance control that Christ has regarded your helpless estate and has shed his own blood for your soul. It is well, it well with my soul” (Hymn by Horatio Spafford). So, when the going gets tough, let’s remember God’s assurance of joy and peace. This should be our strength.
And From the two passages we do not only find God’s assurance of restoration and joy and peace but also God’s assurance of victory.
God’s assurance of victory (vv. 6 and 33).
Bringing sheaves is a sign of success. It is a sign that after laboring in the field, they are now enjoying a great harvest. In verse 33 of John 16, Christ assures us that he has overcome the world.
Though we will experience trouble, we should take heart for Jesus has overcome the world. No matter how the Evil one seems to prevail, Christ has overcome him. Many discouraging and heart-breaking events are taking place in our world and sometimes we find ourselves asking, what is happening? The Devil seems to be winning. However, in these two passages, God is assuring us of victory. Christ is the victor not the victim.
When we are passing through hard times and the devil seems to be winning we should remember that it is like we are watching replay of a game which we already know how it ended. If you know that your team won the game, even though the other team seems to be winning, you don’t panic because you know that eventually it is your team that will carry the day.
We are in the winning team of Jesus, so don’t be discouraged saints. Please march on in the confidence of our Lord Jesus Christ in whom we are more than conquerors. As a matter of fact, Jesus is our conqueror.
When the going gets tough and you feel like quitting, remember the assurance of victory. Remember that the one who has begun a good work in you will bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6).
The Pilgrim’s Progress is a classic Christian Novel. In the book, John Bunyan tells a story of a man named Christians who sets on a journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. As he is traveling, Christian meets another man named Hopeful who is also going to the Celestial City.
As the two travel together, they take a wrong path that leads them to a place of a cruel and merciless man called Giant Despair. Upon meeting them, Giant Despair takes the two as prisoners and put them in a very dark and stinking dungeon. Giant Despair keeps them without food for four days.
After the four days, Giant Despair picks up a crab and mercilessly beats Christian and Hopeful. He leaves them almost dead. The two are so helpless that they cannot do anything but just weep and weep.
The following morning, Giant Despair goes to the dungeon again and he is surprised to find the two alive. He mocks them and says: “You will not come out of this dungeon. You will just keep on suffering. Why don’t you just kill yourself with a knife or poison because there is no any hope for you. “
But Christian and Hopeful refuse to take Giant Despair’s ill advice. They encourage each other that this is not the end of every thing. If God wills, he can save them.
Their refusal angers Giant Despair very much and he tells them that they will regret their action because he is going to do something they have never seen or heard in their life. These words scare Christian and Hopeful so much that Christian faints with fear.
But later in evening, Christian comes to himself. Together with his friend, Hopeful they spend the whole night praying for God’s help. Upon the break of the day Christian remembers something. He joyfully shouts to his friend, Hopeful and say:
“What a fool I am! I have spent so many days in this stinking dungeon yet I have a key in my bosom called Promise which I believe can open the doors of this prison. How could I forget that?
Hopeful is very excited and encourages his friend: “That’s good news, take it out and try.”
Christians takes the key out of his bosom, tries it on the door of their prison, and click, the door opens to their excitement and joy. In no time, the two are on their way to freedom.
When hard and trying times come our way, let’s remember that God has given us the key of promise in Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ God has promised to restore and to give us joy, peace and victory.