"Turn us again to yourself, O God.
Make your face shine down upon us.
Only then will we be saved."
Psalm 80: 3, 7, & 19
If you have houseplants, you may notice that they often stretch their stems and blossoms toward the brightest source of sunlight. For them, this is survival. They crave the nutrients of the sun and will stretch themselves to absorb as much of the source as possible.
In Psalm 80, this is also the scene. Israel is compared to a small grapevine cutting that was brought from Israel and transplanted into fertile soil. God's people "took root" and flourished. Filling the land, spreading its branches far and wide, providing shade and protection and strength.
God's people grew strong because their branches were stretching out far to receive the nourishing light of God's love and favor. They pulled the nourishment down into their roots and became a strong people--deeply rooted in God.
But something happened. The author says on three different occasions, "Turn us again to yourself." The picture that I see is of my houseplants. If there is a different, brighter source of light anywhere close by, they will stretch their stems in the other direction.
This happened when I was in college. I had three beloved houseplants that I nurtured, fed, watered, and talked to on a regular basis. One of the plants was a cutting from my great-grandmother. I kept them on the windowsill until a roommate moved in and I had to move them to the opposite side of the room. I noticed that over time, they no longer reached for the light streaming through the window but began reaching for the bedside lamp, which was closer and brighter.
This Scripture makes me curious about what was causing God's people to reach elsewhere for nourishment. Something was drawing their attention. I wonder.
Yet they realized after a while that the "nourishment" that they were receiving was a poor substitute for the rich, warm sunlight.
Like a little houseplant. When she realizes that the light she is reaching for is just a bedside lamp. She cries out for her owner to turn her around.
Turn me back to you. That my branches and stems may reach for the sun.
That your face may shine down upon me.
That I may see your smiling face, O God.
A face with no anger, no disappointment.
He does not shame us or condemn us for reaching out to other sources. He is patient.
He gently turns us around again. And again. And again.
Only then can we receive what we need.
Only then can we be saved.