1Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth 2before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us! 3Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved. 4O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers? 5You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure. 6You make us the scorn of our neighbours; our enemies laugh among themselves.
7Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved. 17But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself. 18Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name. 19Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
Text © The New Revised Standard Version (English version), alt, used with permission.
Many have said that the mainstream churches are in crisis. Declining attendances and an unwillingness to stand up against moves in society to devalue Christianity and expect people not to attend any church would seem to support that idea. There is a sense, in the Anglican, Roman and Uniting Churches, that we don’t know what to do to stem the tide. We look at some of the mega-churches, seeing the numbers of new people going to them (and ignoring, or not being aware of, the numbers leaving at the same time) and wonder what we can do.
Psalm 80 is one of a number of corporate lament psalms – and the psalms were, for the people of the day, their hymn book – looking at how the community was suffering, wondering why it was suffering, and seeking God’s help to stop that suffering. Though we only see part of this psalm we get the refrain in verses 3, 7 and 19, appealing to God for restoration of the good relationship they used to have with Him.
We are reminded about God’s influence, in Genesis, when Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, and how that divine influence brought about good fortune for Joseph’s family, and eventually the return of the Hebrew people from Egypt. The call goes out for God’s power to be used to save the people.
Is the problem in the mainstream churches today because we have forgotten to focus on God, and what we are expected to do when we give ourselves in worship? We are about to celebrate the birthday of Our Lord. Forget the undeniable fact that the 25th of December isn’t the actual birthdate of Christ: that’s not important. What is important is that when we go to a birthday party we expect to take gifts for the person whose birthday it is, not for others. Over our lives have we gone to this birthday party and held a significant part of us back from God? Have we grown up with a mentality that this is a commemoration of an event in the distant past and not the opportunity to give ourselves to God afresh, as if Christ were born into a stable physically near us, and we visit Him in 2019?
Are we actually prepared for God to answer our petition to restore us, to let His face shine upon us, and save us? What if that petition is answered with “you need to change this part of you” or “what about dealing with this situation?” Far too often we pray for something to happen and fail to observe that God has done something different, for the same benefit.
How easy is it for us to put the blame on God for being angry about the content of our prayers instead of looking at what we are demanding from God? Is it God who feeds us tears, or are we inflicting that on ourselves because we don’t want to listen to the message?
One of the things I love about scripture is that God can intend a message to be received by a people who had not yet been born, as well as by the people for whom it was originally written – and that message can be different! Christians might think of “the one at your right hand” as Christ, and that may be a valid interpretation for us, but it certainly wasn’t the intended meaning for the people of the day. In that case it was the whole community, wanting to be restored to a good relationship with the divine entity. We have to laugh at the claim that “we will never turn back from you” given the evidence of frequent excursions from the way God has given us – and we still do the same today.
The cry of the refrain gets louder as it gets repeated: “O God”, “O God of hosts”, “O Lord God of hosts”. The cry is sincere, but were the people listening?
Are we prepared for what God wants us to do to restore our relationship with Him?