The concept and experience of JOY seem to be popping up everywhere. The current sermon series at FT…. conversations with friends… and now, it’s suddenly appeared the last few days in my personal devotion time as I work through Kelly Minter’s study on the book of Nehemiah.
In yesterday’s lesson on the first part of Nehemiah chapter 8, Kelly focused in on verse 10:
“… and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Now up until this point in the book of Nehemiah, a lot has happened. The short version is that God put it in Nehemiah’s heart to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls that had been destroyed when all of God’s people were taken into exile years before. The people band together and despite threats and battles with the people around them, they were able to accomplish this task miraculously in only 52 days. This made the people who had been taunting them freak out because they realized a task like that could only happen with God’s help. The people began to move back in the city and some might think that Nehemiah’s job there was done, but he knew that all of what he had already done to restore God’s city of Jerusalem meant nothing if the people’s hearts weren’t focused on God. That brings us to chapter 8 where they gathered everyone together… “both men and women and all who could understand what they heard” (8:2) and Ezra began to simply read God’s Word. From early in the morning until midday he read, others explained what they were hearing and answered questions, and they ALL worshiped and praised God as they heard his Word again.
Though, as they wrapped up their time together, the people began to weep, likely because they realized how far away from God they had gotten while in exile… how far they had walked away. But this is where Nehemiah steps in saying:
“Go your own way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10; emphasis added)
While God’s greatest desire was for them to return to him and live in his ways, this day was not about grieving, but rather a new beginning a chance to start again and remember the grace God had for them. By telling the people to CELEBRATE today, Nehemiah was reminding them of God’s great grace and love for them. It was as if he was saying, don’t grieve the past just live in my ways, in my joy, as you go forward.
In the book I’m using to help me study Nehemiah, the author points out something neat about the word “strength” in the phrase “the joy of the Lord is your strength”. She notes that the Hebrew word for “strength” here is maoz which means “refuge, stronghold, fortress, place of protection”. In the midst of a day where they realized just how far they had fallen from God’s will for their lives, they were reminded to find refuge and protection in joy. What I love about that is that it reminds us that joy is not about being happy or having things go well in life. Rather, joy comes from simply being in God’s presence, in his refuge, in his protection when the things around us may not be going well.
Joy protects our hearts when they get overwhelmed.
Joy protects us from bitterness when things don’t go as planned.
Joy protects us from despair when hope seems gone.
Joy protects us from complacency and ingratitude when things ARE going well.
Joy provides a place of refuge in a world that often isn’t throwing “happy” things our way.
And so I end with this question for you: How has the joy of the Lord but YOUR protection, your refuge, your strength, lately? May you CELEBRATE and rest in His grace today!