Revive Our Hearts Podcast

How to Sing in a Foreign Land, Day 2

Leslie Basham: Do you ever feel like life is so dark you couldn’t possibly sing or be joyful? Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth reminds you that a new day is coming.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: We’re headed home. We’re headed to Zion, where we’ll join all those angelic choirs and those citizens of heaven from all the ages of the earth who’ve gone there before us—the redeemed! We’ll join them in singing together the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts for Tuesday, October 11, 2016. Nancy is continuing in a series called, "How to Sing in a Foreign Land"—based on Psalm 137.

Nancy: I’ve been reading a fascinating book recently by my friend Dave Butts, who heads up Harvest Prayer Ministries. The book is called, With One Cry: A Renewed Challenge to Pray for America.

Dave talks in that book about growing up in Indiana and going to high school basketball games. I don’t know if it’s anything like this here in Atlanta, but we live in Michigan—very near the Indiana border—and they are high school basketball crazy!

He talks about the advantage of being the home team. Let me read a portion out of this book:

Home teams have the fans and the noise! Almost everyone in the stands was cheering on the home team. Often, there was a small band that played the school fight song. Every call by the officials was cheered or boo-ed by the crowd. It’s pretty intimidating to walk into your opponent’s gym as the away team!

For many years now, the church has been the home team in America. We’ve had the advantages that a home team enjoys. We were the culturally dominant force that had to be dealt with by everyone else. When national leaders talked about faith, everyone knew they were referring to the Christian faith. The home team advantage was enjoyed—and simply taken for granted—by the church. The church is no longer the home team in America. If we can understand that, we will pray differently—and more effectively—for our nation. So much of the conflict comes when we still act as though we’re the home team.

It would be pretty discouraging for a basketball team to come into a gym they believed to be their home, and be met with boos instead of cheers. But when you know you’re walking into an opponent’s gym, you expect a negative response. We need to embrace our role as the away team, which better fits who Jesus said we are. Luke 6:22: "Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man" (NIV).

An away team isn’t trying to be loved and honored. They want to do their best to bring about victory! All too often, we forget that as we pray for the United States. Our prayers are often more about returning the church to a place of privilege than about seeing the gospel preached with transforming power. 

Isn’t that a helpful word picture?

Scripture puts it this way in 1 Peter 2:11, “[You are] as foreigners and exiles . . .” which in modern parlance would be, “You’re the away team.” You’re not the home team, here. We are in a foreign land!

We’re looking this week at Psalm 137, and I’ve called this, “How to sing the songs of Zion when you’re living in Babylon!”

We talked about two cities: the city of man and the city of God . . . the earthly city and the heavenly city . . . Babylon and Jerusalem (or Zion). How can you sing the songs of Zion—how do you act like a citizen of Zion—when you’re living in a foreign country (pictured as Babylon)?

We saw in the first four verses of Psalm 137, that God’s people are pining in Babylon. Now remember, this passage was probably written after they returned from the exile back to Jerusalem, but they were remembering back to what it was like during those times of heartache—those heartbreaking years of captivity.

So this psalm of lament. They’re pining; they’re grieving in Babylon. They’re longing for Zion: “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our lyres" (vv. 1–2) or our harps, as many of your translations say. We hung up our musical instruments on the willows there in Babylon.

The people had lost their song. Between the memory of Zion and what they had lost, and their current situation as the “away team” in Babylon and the reminder that this was all a result of their sin and God chastening them . . . between all of that, they just didn’t feel like singing anymore.

Now, the Jews were a singing people. And God’s people should be singing people! But they said, “We don’t need these instruments anymore. We don’t feel like singing. It’s hard to sing.”

Verse 3 continues: “For there [where is that? in Babylon] our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth . . ." That’s a word that means gladness, rejoicing, songs of joy. Our captors—our tormentors—required of us happy songs of celebration. “. . . saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’” The people of God were mocked, they were ridiculed, they were tormented, they were taunted by their Babylonian captors, who wanted the exiles to be joyful, to entertain them with fun songs.

One commentator says about this verse, “To rob a people of their treasures, drag them from their homes, burn their dwellings and cities, devastate their fields, desecrate their temple—and then call upon them to be joyful is as cruel as it is absurd!” You can’t do it!

Now, those tormentors can be external, as was the case with the enemies in Babylon. Those are forces that are hostile to God, forces that are opposed to Christianity and Christ. And we’re seeing more and more of those forces in our day, aren’t we? Those who reject the ways of God, they reject God’s truth about anything—about gender, about sexuality, about right, about wrong, about good, about evil. There are external captors, tormentors. They own the land here, or think they do. And they torment the people of God.

But there can also be internal tormentors: despair, fear, a past that haunts you and taunts you, sins that dog you, a feeling of inadequacy. These are tormentors; they’re captors. When you’re in pain, when you’re sad, when you’re discouraged, you don’t want to sing, do you? You want to “hang up your harp.” It’s hard to sing. You feel like you just can’t sing!

That’s what is expressed in Psalm 137:3–4: “Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land?” Remember, God’s people were in Babylon because of their sin, because of their rebellion against God.

As a result, they had lost their song. They’re saying, “How can we sing? There’s nothing to be joyful about!” And they didn’t want God’s enemies—I suspect—to ridicule the songs of Zion. “We’re not going to sing you those songs. Those are precious to us. We don’t want you to mock them. We can’t sing. How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”

Now, just a few observations here: It’s hard to sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land. When you’re the away team, it’s hard to sing the song of the home team—but it’s not impossible. Even in the foreign land, God can give us a song to sing—a song of Zion. When we choose, by faith, to sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land, our faith is strengthened. This is what happens when we gather together in a place like this for corporate worship on the Lord’s Day.

All during the week, we face opposition—the barrage of the world’s song. All week long, we’re hearing it, we’re feeling it, we’re sensing it. We feel like we don’t fit, like we don’t belong. But then we come together, as we did this morning, and we sing the Lord’s song. And what happens? Our faith is bolstered. We get courage to go out and face the world again, the next day.

When we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land, something else happens. Not only is our faith bolstered, but we make the gospel believable to the people who are citizens of that foreign land. We’re teaching the Lord’s song to the citizens of that foreign land. So this is part of our gospel witness—to sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land, to sing the songs of Zion even when we’re in Babylon.

I also want to point out that only those who belong to Christ can truly sing the Lord’s song—especially when it’s hard! Now, we can all mouth the words to the hymns, the choruses, ,the praise songs. We can open our mouths, and we can make a sound come out. But you can’t sing the Lord’s song from your heart if the Lord isn’t in your heart . . . if He’s not first in your heart. If you don’t prize Him, if you don’t belong to Him, then what song are you really going to want to sing? The song of Babylon! You’re going to want to sing the song of the place where you have your citizenship.

I want to take several moments and just share with you what has been an encouragement to me over these past few weeks as I’ve thought about examples of those throughout history who have sung the Lord’s song in a foreign land. I hope this will encourage you and remind you that you can sing the Lord’s song—the songs of Zion—even while living in Babylon.

My mind went first to Acts chapter 16 where we have Paul and Silas in that Philippian dungeon, that jail, that prison. They were wounded, beaten mercilessly, unjustly, and what are they doing at midnight? It never ceases to amaze me when I read this. They’re singing hymns to God! What are they doing? They’re singing the songs of Zion while they’re living in Babylon.

And then, I think of another example in the Old Testament: David, hiding in a cave, fleeing from the maniac King Saul. These were hard times; these were difficult times. David wrote some of the lament psalms while he was fleeing for his life. Just think how many precious psalms would be missing from our Bible if David had not purposed to sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land.

I’ve been reading recently about some of what’s going on in the church in China. The people of God living in Babylon are trying to sing the Lord’s song. I’ve read about some of these tiny, little house churches—sometimes just five or six people—and do you know what they do? They sing! Now, sometimes they have to sing really quietly because if they don’t, they’re going to be arrested; they’ve going to be thrown in prison. But when they get together, little groups in those homes—they sing the Lord’s song—the songs of Zion. They sing it in Babylon.

I saw a video just a few days ago of a group of Chinese believers—this was so moving!—who were standing outside their church building while the government did what I understand they’ve done in thousands of cases in recent months. The government came in with a crane and removed from the top of that church building, the cross.

As the cross is coming down from the top of the buildings—slowly being brought down to the ground—there’s a band of believers standing at the foot of that church, singing: "At the Cross" (in their mother tongue). It’s so moving. They’re singing the songs of Zion while they’re living in Babylon.

I think of my friend, Joni Tada. If you know anything about Joni, she’s always singing. She’s always singing hymns . . . and she’s always in pain. Here’s a woman who perpetually sings through her pain. For her, that pain-stricken body is a Babylon of types. It’s an enemy. It’s keeping her captive; it taunts her; it torments her. It doesn’t function as our bodies were intended to function. None of our bodies function as they were intended to function, but Joni is forever singing through her pain.

Not long ago, my husband and I were at a convention together. Joni was there, and she convened a hymn sing. Many of us came together in a crowded room, and we sang the songs of Zion. We lifted up our voices to the Lord.

I sent Joni a text afterwards. Let me read to you what it said. I was meditating on this passage, and I said, “Thank you, dear Joni, for leading us to sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land!” There is much cause for weeping these days in Babylon, but for those who are citizens of Zion, how much more cause for rejoicing. Heaven rules! Let us keep on singing.

Do you know who’s encouraged me to think that way? It’s Joni Tada, because she’s always singing—through her pain, in the opposition. She doesn’t care if she’s on an airplane, at an airport, in a crowded room with all unbelievers—it doesn’t matter to her. She sings the Lord’s songs—the songs of Zion—while living in Babylon.

Missionary and author, Nik Ripken, tells the story of Aisha—a twenty-four-year-old mother of four who converted to Christ from Islam shortly before her much older husband died, leaving her now a widow with four young children.

Aisha became an outspoken, effective witness about her newfound faith, and the authorities in her Islamic community finally had had enough. So they arrested her, they threatened her, they threw her into the dark cellar beneath the police station.

Let me read to you the story of what happened from that point. (This is in Nik Ripken’s words):

In that place there was no light at all. The unfinished cellar had a dirt floor. Spiders, bugs and rats skittered around her in the darkness. Terrified and at the point of giving up, she told us that she intended to scream out to God that she couldn’t take anymore. But when she opened her mouth in protest and in despair, a melody of praise rose out of her soul instead! [She sang!] Surprised and strengthened by the sound of her own voice, and overwhelmed by the renewed sense of God’s presence beside and within her, she began to sing her praise and worship to Jesus even more loudly.

As she sang, she noticed that, office by office, the police station above her head became strangely silent. Later that night, the trapdoor was opened; the light spilled down into the darkness of the cellar. The chief of police, himself, reached down and pulled Aisha out. He looked at the twenty-four-year-old young woman and shook his head in bewilderment. "I don’t understand!"—he admitted—"You’re not afraid of anything!" He sighed, and he shook his head again: “My wife, my daughters, and all the women in my family are afraid of everything! But you’re not afraid of anything! So, now, I’m going to take you safely to your home tonight, but three days from now, I’m going to come get you and bring you to my house so that you can tell everyone in my family why you are not afraid. And I want you to sing that song.”

Singing the songs of Zion, when you’re living in Babylon. Well, there’s probably no greater example of that than the Lord Jesus Himself—who sang the Lord’s song in a foreign land. We read about it in Matthew 26, how before leaving the Upper Room where he had that last supper with His disciples, before he headed out with them to the Garden of Gethsemane (and beyond that to the cross), Jesus and His disciples sang a hymn.

Now, Scripture doesn’t tell us what hymn they sang, but we believe it was likely the Jewish hallel. That’s Psalms 115 through 118 in the Jewish hymnal—the psalms that were sung after drinking the last cup of the Passover meal.

So, let me read to you a portion of that hymn; this may be the hymn that Jesus sang as he was on his way to the Gethsemane—and the cross:

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!. . . The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? (Ps. 118:1, 6).

The Lord is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me. The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes (Ps. 118:7, 22–23).

This [the day of crucifixion] is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps. 118:24).

And on He sang, singing the songs of Zion, while living in Babylon. And then, hours later while hanging from the cross, what is Jesus doing? He’s quoting Psalm 22—quoting the Jewish hymnal: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1). He is singing the Lord’s song while He’s in Babylon.

When his tormentors, His captors, taunt Him, “Sing us one of the Lord’s songs,” what does He do? He opens His mouth and He prays—He speaks—words from the Jewish hymnal. And when you pray and praise and sing through your pain, through your captivity, through your torment—through that pain of a prodigal son or daughter or grandchild; through the physical pain—the diagnosis you’ve just been given that was not what you were hoping for, the financial pressure, the job you just lost, the husband who does not love you as Christ loves the church; through the pain and the torment of your own inner sin, indwelling sin, and you want to love God and you want to please Him, but you still find yourself going back to those sins. When you lift up your voice, when you sing the songs of Zion—even while you’re living in Babylon—your faith is going to be strengthened and the gospel witness will go out. Others will want to hear and to sing the songs of Zion as you lift up your heart and you worship Jehovah through your tears, through your pain.

One day, not long from now, we will be home in Zion—no longer in a foreign land. That’s one of the things we have to do if we want to sing the Lord’s song while we’re living in Babylon. We need to remember that this not home—this is not it—this is not final. This will not last forever. We’re headed home! We’re headed to Zion, where we’ll join all those angelic choirs, and those citizens of heaven from all the ages of the earth, who have gone there before us. We’ll join with them in singing together the song of the redeemed, the song of Moses and of the Lamb!

Revelation 15:2 says, “I saw . . . those who had conquered the beast [those who had come out of Babylon] . . . standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands.” Yes, we hung up our harps temporarily on the willows here in Babylon, but one day we’ll pick them back up and we’ll stand beside that sea of glass with harps of God in our hands, and we will “sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, ‘Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!’” (Rev. 15:3).

So what do we do between now and then, between here and there? Remember the Lord’s song—the song of the redeemed!

It may seem difficult, even impossible at times, to sing it in a foreign land, but purpose to sing it—even through your tears! Sing it by faith, and sing it in joyful anticipation of that day when we will sing it forever and ever and ever. Amen.

Leslie: That’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, reminding you that if you know Jesus as your Savior, you’re looking forward to an eternity of joy. What a needed reminder in our day-to-day struggles!

That message is part of a series you’ll hear all this week on Revive Our Hearts. It’s called "How to Sing in a Foreign Land," based on Psalm 137. More and more, it feels like our nation is a foreign land to believers in Christ, as good is being called evil and evil is being called good.

Pastor Dave Butts has written a book that shows us how to pray for our nation during a time like this. It’s called With One Cry. You heard Nancy quote from the book at the beginning of the program. Remember the word picture about being the “away team”? She was reading from With One Cry.

We’d like to send you a copy of the book and encourage you to be crying out to the Lord for our nation and our world. When you donate any amount to keep this podcast coming to you, we’ll send you the book as our way of saying thanks.

Ask for the book, With One Cry, when you support the ministry with a gift of any size. The phone number is 1–800–569–5959, or you can visit ReviveOurHearts.com. We’ll send one book per household for a donation of any size this week.

A woman who has a business making gifts got a big order not too long ago. Then she realized the order came from an organization that provides abortions. What would you do? Would you fulfill the order?

Nancy will tell you what that woman did on tomorrow’s program. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the ESV.

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