Recently, I got back from an amazing missions trip to Panama with eighteen others from our church (four of which included my wife and three kids!). One of the things that was so awesome about the trip was how the “joy of the Lord” was our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). There is so much joy in serving the Lord and being with Him where He is!
I want to speak about the joy of the Lord being our strength, because we desperately need it. Discouragement, despair, depression, fear, anxiety, stress and weariness are crippling and paralyzing and weakening the hearts and lives of so many. We all battle with these realities and the key to these things is both the peace of God (which comes through prayer: Philippians 4:6-7) and the joy of the Lord (which is a fruit of the Spirit as we walk in the Spirit: Galatians 5:22-25).
But here is where I want to start (similar to another recent blog I wrote titled “Revival”): the joy of the Lord comes on the heels of sorrow (and confession) over sin. The passage where we find the expression about the joy of the Lord being our strength, is Nehemiah 8:10. The context is after years of captivity (because of sin), a remnant has returned (because of God’s gracious promise and the faithful prayers of men and women of faith) to Jerusalem (representing returning to God). But the walls of the city had been torn down and the gates burned with fire. There was a lot of work of restoration to do. Nehemiah had a burden to restore the walls of the city and God’s hand was upon him to oversee that process and lead the people in that work. Despite much opposition and being under constant threat and abuse by the enemy, they finished the work by the grace of God!
Chapter 8 tells us that after the walls were rebuilt they then all gathered together in the city square and Ezra the priest read to them the law of God (the Word of God). They all listened attentively and worshipped the Lord. He and the other priests made clear to the people the meaning so they could understand it and apply it to their lives. But as they began realizing how far short they had fallen in their lives from God’s Word and as they realized how badly they had failed the Lord and as the Spirit of God began convicting them, they all began to weep as they listened to the words of the Law.
It wasn’t until that point, that conviction was doing its work, that Nehemiah and Ezra and the Levites said to the people these words : “This day is sacred to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law….Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:9-10).
Here is what that teaches me: Sorrow over sin comes before the joy of the Lord becomes our strength. In fact Psalm 126:5-6 promises: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.”
And how desperately we need as the people of God to gather to hear the Word of the Lord and have it made clear to us where we see how far short of the glory of God we have fallen and failed and then begin to weep over these realities. If we let God convict us; if we confess our sins; He will cleanse us and restore to us the joy of our salvation! , And once that happens, then revival will come and sinners will return to the Lord!
In David’s beautiful prayer of confession after a terrible fall in his personal life, he penned these words in Psalm 51:12-13 “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.”
I want the joy of the Lord to be my strength. Therefore I must face the reality and grieve over the reality of my own sinfulness (but then look to my Savior who forgives and cleanses and restores!) and then rejoice in Him and His forgiveness and cleansing! We can easily become discouraged or disheartened by our sin, but God wants us to look to Jesus and rejoice in Him as our Savior! Remember the words of the angel to the shepherds long ago in Luke 2:10-12 regarding the birth of Jesus: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” Weep over sin, yes; but rejoice in the One who saves us and forgives us of our sins!
I must also be willing to serve Him however and wherever He leads. Jesus said in John 12:25-:26: “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” It is by staying focused on Jesus and doing His will that His joy remains our strength and we endure through all of life’s sorrow and pain. Hebrews 12:2-3 says: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
In John 15:9-12 Jesus reminded His disciples and us of this: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
Walking in the Spirit (obedience to the will of God), weeping over our sin and serving the Lord are three keys to the joy of the Lord being a reality in our lives and being the strength of our lives. These all speak of fellowship with God. And fellowship with God is the place of greatest joy. In 1 John 1:3-4 John writes this as the purpose for writing this epistle: “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our (or your) joy complete. “
Jesus came that we might have joy, full joy, that would be our strength; and this occurs through fellowship with Him. He gave His life on the cross that we might be reconciled to God and have fellowship with Him restored! He came to remove our shame and disgrace and all that would rob of joy.
In fact, the first miracle recorded for us in Scripture that Jesus performed was the changing of water into wine. In Scripture wine is symbolic of joy. Jesus and His disciples were at a wedding and the hosts ran out of wine, which not only was a real problem but would be a social disgrace. It would have created need and shame; just like our sin creates need and shame; thus robbing of joy! This is when Jesus stepped in and provided what was needed and removed what would have resulted in humiliation. He restored joy and peace out of His grace, to reveal His goodness and glory!
So as Psalm 30:4-5 says: “Sing to the Lord, you saints of his; praise his holy name. For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”