Looking toward the future can be thrilling or frightening depending both on your circumstances and your point of view. If you are a child in December, you look forward to Christmas with an anticipation that brings joy to every moment. But if you are an adult in April, you tend to dread the day you must write that check to the United States Treasury. Perspective matters. Therefore, consider what it must have felt like to be a Jew returning from captivity in Babylon. Imagine all the work over decades that it took under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, including the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah, to rebuild the temple after captivity, rebuild Jerusalem from the rubble, and rebuild society in accordance with the Law. This was the challenge for all those who returned from Babylon, and these were their accomplishments after many years of effort. This work—every step of the way—meant facing the ruins of the past daily, opposition and persecution regularly, and then gradually making progress that would mean life could once more return to some sense of normalcy. I have trouble imagining the emotions of those Jews who once more had the opportunity to travel to Jerusalem, enter its gates, and then worship at the newly constructed temple. Fortunately, we do have to imagine, because a psalmist penned exactly how he felt in Psalm 122:1-9.
The heading that includes “Of David” describes the style rather than the authorship. More important is the heading “A Song of Ascents,” indicating that this would be sung as people once more came from all over to worship. The inspired writer had seen dark times; he knew adversity; and through hard work, he also enjoyed a renewal of success and joy. And this is the kind of perspective we need today about the Lord’s church so that we can move beyond difficulties and begin to build a brighter future.
We ought to be excited for the future (Psa. 122:1-2). Christians ought to be excited to have the opportunity to gather with the saints and worship God precisely as He desires—every time (Jn. 4:24). God’s people ought to be excited about the work already accomplished and what it makes possible today (1 Cor. 3:6; Mk. 16:15-16). To get to participate in what God has ordained itself should produce energy within (1 Cor. 15:58). Somewhere along the line we began serving less out of anticipation and more out of obligation. It is time to recapture that excitement for what the church is really all about and what a privilege it is to be part of it, and then channel that excitement into what we can build for the future. Christians ought to hope for a better future (Psa. 122:3-5). There is always hope for a better future when we follow the word of the LORD that came forth from Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost following the resurrection of Christ and let it govern us, shape our opinions, and change our character (Acts 2:17-47). There is hope for a better future when our worship becomes more about God and less about us (Jn. 4:23) and our enemies become friends because they submit to the King of Kings. Our future will be bright as long as we let Jesus decide what we do instead of trying to force God to accept whatever we do. This is why we ought to pray for the future (Psa. 122:6-7)—to pray for future peace from the attacks from without and for unity within (Jn. 17:15m 29-23). We should pray for future prosperity for the people committed to the church and for the benefit of the whole (Jn. 17:16-19, 24). And throughout it all, we must remain motivated for the future (Psa. 122:8-9)—by Christian fellowship (Heb. 10:24) and by God and His purposes.
No matter what we face in the present, the future is there, waiting on us to make something of it. We must do better at visualizing just how good things can be if we are willing to work toward greater goals in the kingdom. We must do more to build a future for the church that will make future generations thankful. We ought to spend far more time praying for the work—specifically, fervently, and daily—instead of seeing it as a given. We must motivate ourselves to fill our lives with all of those things that will make the future bright, because that is what it will take.