In a discussion group I participate in someone referred to the first few verses of Psalm 137. The reference began me remembering the thousands of people who have never known the glory of Zion.
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. Psalm 137:1-3
What a fantastic and thought-provoking account we find here of what it is to have known the glory and beauty of the Church of God and then be forced through circumstances to sit in a worldly church and experience the shallowness of false religion. This, like so many of the scriptures, presents a dual picture. First, it is the account of the captivity of the Israelites in Babylon. They were forced to be away from their spiritual and physical home in Zion and the wept for it. But it is also a picture of the Church of God as compared to worldly religion typified by “Babylon.”
A few times during my life I have, for one reason or another, had to be present in a false church. And each time I’ve know the sorrow of ‘remembering Zion.” Not that the memory was sad, but it was the very fact that I had to remember it in such circumstances. The first time was when I was in college. My room mate was greatly bothered because I was so conscientious about my life and living for God and didn’t go to church services. She attended the close-by Methodist church every Sunday.
After several weeks I agreed to go with her. Remember, I grew up in the Church of God. I had literally never experienced false religion. I had no idea what to expect. I walked into a beautiful facility full of stained and varnished natural wood with plush carpet and stained glass windows. There was lovely organ music emanating from all around. The atmosphere was hushed and reverent. My heart broke. The building was absolutely devoid of the presence of God.
How did I know? I’ve never been able to explain it except to say that once you have known the presence of God, you will never be fooled by beautiful surroundings, a reverent atmosphere and sweet music. Everyone sat reverentially as the choir filed in and the ministers took their seats on the platform. Everyone on the platform was serious and much aware of their role in the service. It looked so "holy." But God wasn’t there. And no one even seemed to recognize the fact. But it can only be compared to maybe eating hamburger when you really want steak. Someone who has never had steak would never know the difference.
The music from the choir was technically correct, but the singers didn’t know the glory of the saving grace of God and it showed in their singing. The specialist was beautifully made up and had had voice training, but she had no experience in a living for the Lord. A singer who can’t carry a tune in a bucket (as my dad used to say) can sing a song of Zion that will be so filled with the spirit of God that the saints will rejoice, but a beautiful voice can fall flat when there is none of the power of God in the life of the person singing.
The minister spoke that day on Gideon choosing 300 men to defeat the Midianites. Notice I said "Gideon chose" not "God directed." He emphasized over and over how these were the strongest and most alert men and that’s why Gideon chose them to defeat the Midianite army. No reference was made to God’s statement, for I have given it into your hand. All the emphasis was on Man’s part in the battle.
For the first time those verses in Psalms became reality for me. I did feel as though I were sitting on the banks of that river in Babylon and remembering Zion. I knew what preaching under the anointing of the Holy Spirit sounded like. I knew what songs of praise sounded like when the singers had fought the battle for righteousness and triumphed over Satan and the world. I knew the witness of the Spirit as it flowed from the singers and the minister and there was none here. And as I sat in that beautiful place my heart wept.
Part of the reason we have so much confusion in the religious world is that there are so many honest hearts, yearning for Zion, but never having had an opportunity to experience the reality of it, never knowing the reality of the Spirit of God moving in the hearts and lives of the people of God. They are deceived by a strong beat to the music and a loud lead singer. They are deceived by preacher's posturing and oratory. They are deceived by noisy hallelujahs and amens and Thank you Jesuses. They are deceived by crocodile tears and ‘heartfelt’ testimonies. They are deceived by promises of material blessings and seed money paybacks.
How sad it is that they have no memory of Zion. My heart aches for them. We tend to often think that people are in Babylon because they want to be. But they may be there because they have never had an opportunity to know what real praise is.