Teach Us To Pray – Study #13: Surprise Endings


Jesus taught his disciples to pray. But there’s a very real sense in which the psalms taught Jesus to pray. In this series, we’re going to sit with Jesus at the feet of the Bible’s lament psalms to see what they can teach us about prayer.

Why the laments? One of my students once observed that reading the laments made her feel like the Holy Spirit had been reading her diary. Generations of the faithful have testified to these psalms’ peculiar ability to help us express our most private and sometimes painful thoughts. Yet, the laments also teach us that, even when our prayers are full of anger or anguish, they are still “praise in a minor key.”

Study #13: Surprise Endings

Read: Psalm 126

May those who sow in tears, reap with shouts of joy. (v.5, NRSV)

It’s no use telling someone whose tears are falling into the earth beside an open grave that “those who sow in tears, reap with shouts of joy.” When grief is fresh, tears are tears, pure and simple. Still, once our eyes have cleared and some time has passed, we may be ready to read Psalm 126.

The image of tears as seeds is a powerful way of saying, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” And the person who wrote those words knew firsthand that our God enjoys surprise endings. “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,” the psalmist recalled, “we were like those who dream” (v.1). No one could have predicted that the exile would have a happy ending. “You can’t go home again” is a saying that could have been written by the Babylonians. No one ever expected that those ancient enemies would be overthrown by an empire with a more generous philosophy. And yet, the Persians said, “Pack your bags,” and the exiles’ mouths were suddenly “filled with laughter” and their tongues “with shouts of joy.”

For the women at the foot of the cross, tears were tears, too. They had no way of knowing that God’s biggest surprise ending of all was just three days away. But nothing has ever been the same since that first Easter morning when they ran from the tomb “with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves” (v. 6).

Prayer: Plant our tears, O God, and help us to wait for a joyful harvest.