Psalm 137 is a description of the attitude of the Jewish exiles in Babylonian captivity. Listen to their discouragement: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” (Ps 131:1-4). God’s people in exile had lost their focus. They wanted to go home, and that is all they could think about. They had lost their joy.
A 2003 article in The New Yorker magazine describes a man jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. The man was about 30 years old and lived alone. A suicide note was found in his apartment: “I’m going to walk to the bridge; if a person smiles at me on the way, I will not jump.” It makes you wonder how many people we meet each day that just need a smile. They need some joy.
How many of you are living in the land of disappointment? You have been taken captive by forces that have brought you to a place out of your control. Have sadness and despair marked your life? Have you often wished for the joy of earlier years? Have you hung up your harp on the poplars? Have you lost your joy and your song? When allowed to share with a lost or hurting person, you have no joy to share. Your vessel is empty. Your life is even characterized by growing resentment. You spend your life longing and dreaming about something you don’t have.
The prophet Jeremiah spoke these words to them to encourage them: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer 29:10-11). They didn’t like God’s plans because they were different from their own plans.
God wanted to prosper the Israelites while they are in the middle of their lonely trials, not by taking them out, but by teaching them how to live. This truth speaks to all of us who are in the middle of affliction. We may want to escape our circumstances in life. God, on the other hand, wants to encourage us with the plans he as for us right where we are.
Jeremiah wrote a letter to the captives, and it read like this: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jer 29:4-7). God had no plans to take them out of Babylon. He wanted them to change their attitude toward their situation.
God did make an incredible promise to these people, and I think it holds for us today too: He said to them that when you accept you’re here and now, “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord” (Jer 29:12-13).
We are so sure that if we could change our situation, our circumstances, our friends, we could find happiness. If we could just get rid of the bad memories, the painful experiences, then we would be happy. God says that is a false dream! What will change everything is you finding me and I will let you find me when you seek me with all your heart. God must be the object of our life. Anything else will be fools’ gold.