A time capsule of light and joy

As I sat among the mourners at a relative’s funeral service, feeling empathy with his widow, a verse from ‘somewhere in the Psalms’ popped into my mind. Finding it surprisingly swiftly, I was able to read it during a time of ‘open mic.’, relating its obvious meaning to her and her many family members and friends:

‘Light is sown for the righteous,

            and joy for the upright in heart’ (Psalm 97:12).

That day, in a chapel packed with genuine believers, the immediate family felt enveloped in the warmth of God’s love as it flowed among us. But all too soon we were scattered again, exposing them to raw grief. In the next weeks and months, one or another could experience moments, even whole nights of empty darkness. But they could still comfort their hearts with the assurance that seeds of enlightenment and gladness had been embedded by God within them. Those seeds would eventually break forth, if they maintained their moral integrity in ‘righteous’ behaviour springing from an ‘upright…heart’.

            How the psalmist framed this truth

Revisiting the psalm recently, and recalling that occasion after quarter of a century, I was intrigued to discover how the song writer had framed this consoling truth. The psalm begins with the real inspiration for hope: The Lord reigns; he is in complete control, whatever our history. And, although ‘clouds and thick darkness surround him, maybe even threatening to smother the last glimmer of ‘light’ and ‘joy’ in a grieving soul, still ‘let the earth rejoice, let the many coastlands be glad’, because ‘righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne(Psalm 97:1-2).

And it ends with wholesome encouragement: Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name!’ (Psalm 97:12). While we cannot always ‘be happy in our present situation’ or ‘get excited in the current state of affairs’, yet we can regularly ‘rejoice in the Lord’.

            This truth sustained many biblical saints

[] Joseph(see Psalm 105:16-22) ‘was sold as a slave.’ And ‘until what he had said’ about his teenage dreams of governing his many older brothers ‘came to pass, the word of the Lord tested him.’ That word was deeply sown seed of light and joy. When sexually tempted by his boss’s wife, he fled out the door, being ‘upright in heart’ (Genesis 39:6-12).

[] Job(see James 5:7-11) is ‘an [extreme] example of suffering and patience… You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and… how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.’ (Read Job 1:1 – 2:10; 42:10-16.)

[] Jonah prayed to the Lord…from the belly of the fish’ (see Jonah 2:1-10). Surprisingly, he began his prayer with testimony of his imminent release: ‘I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me’! He was so sure that light and joy would blossom as a resurrection experience, which they did.

[] ‘About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God’ so loudly in jail that ‘the prisoners were listening to them.’ They had no doubt that light and joy would germinate. And ‘suddenly…a great earthquake’ flung ‘all the doors…open’ (see Acts 16:25-34), and a new church community was established in Philippi.

[] Jesus,… for the joy set before him endured [the dark hours of] the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God’ (Hebrews 12:2).

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