The title of my blog is from Psalm 137 where the Hebrew exiles, while sitting and weeping by the waters of Babylon, were scornfully asked by their Babylonian captors to sing some of their Jewish songs. They responded by hanging up their harps and lyres in the willow trees and asking this question, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”
Last Tuesday I had my third set of CT scans (I get them every three months) since my cancer surgery back in October, 2017. While my previous scans in June cancer revealed no cancer, they did reveal a couple small nodules in my lungs. Thus this set of scans would show if these little suckers were growing. As I sat in the waiting room drinking that horrible barium masked as a fruit drink, I continued to wrestle with my fear and uncertainty. By the way, it hasn’t gotten any easier to deal with these apart from a fresh exercise of trust and surrender. My prayer was this:
Once again, I surrender myself into your loving care, Heavenly Father, trusting in your plan for my life and your thoughts for me. Please encourage the faith of others, especially my children, by a good report and I pray for more years of service in helping to build a future generation of your disciples…nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.
I knew that the next day I would preach to our graduate school chapel community this message from Psalm 137 on how to sing the Lord’s Song in a strange land. In other words, how does one continue in the faith and grow in his or her salvation in the face of difficult situations which make us feel like we are exiles in a strange land? My target audience in chapel is especially the new students, many of whom are internationals, who have been here only a week. They have come to live in this very strange land of academia for the next 2-5 years depending on their program – far away from home and the familiar. It must be so difficult for them. But as I sat waiting for my scans, I knew that no matter what the outcome, I would also be preaching to myself living in the strange land of cancer.
I realize how easy it is to “sing my song” in the familiar and while the sun is shining, as Matt Redman suggest by the lyrics to his song: “Blessed be your name when the sun’s shining down on me, when the world’s all as it should be, blessed be your name. ” It’s far more difficult to sing, “Blessed be your name on the road marked with suffering, though there’s pain in the offering, blessed be your name.” In fact, how can you sing at all?
And so the next day (Wednesday), I was sitting in chapel alone as students, staff, and faculty were arriving. I was praying and preparing my heart to preach when I got a text message saying that I was still clear of cancer and the nodules in my lungs had not grown and remain unremarkable (this was just confirmed today 9/10/18 by my oncologist PA). Just then, chapel began and soon I was preaching my message with a conviction mixed with relief.
What were the bedrock beliefs that enabled exiles like Joseph, Daniel and his 3 friends, and Ezekiel to sing the Lord’s Song in a strange land when no doubt they were also tempted to hang up their harps? I’ll give you my main points, but my entire message can be found on https://youtu.be/H04VxqozIT4
- They believed that God was Sovereign and that nothing came to them except through his hand.
- They believed that God would always keep his covenant promises and would never leave them.
- They believed in prayer and maintained their spiritual practices. (By the way, thanks to those of you who have been faithfully praying for me!)
- They believed in the community of fellow sufferers and did not pull away to suffer alone.
I cling to these. These are weighty matters. Take them to heart no matter in what strange land you find yourself… and keep singing!