The Root of Joy

And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go your 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.” So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them. (Nehemiah 8:9-12 ESV). It is not unusual that we should get to this point in our exploration of joy and think about the many trials and challenges we have faced and wonder if there is any real joy except “then and there.” We see the same principle at work in the life of Nehemiah. When the work of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem had been completed, all the people assembled to hear Ezra read the Book of the Law, but as Ezra read, Nehemiah noticed that the people were weeping, and he immediately sensed danger. On a day that was sacred to God, it was utterly inappropriate to be mourning and weeping. He then gave a remarkable instruction: “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared” — and to that instruction he appended a memorable statement of principle, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (v. 10). The truth is that without joy we are powerless in the face of our trials. We become vulnerable and likely will fall into the patterns of the secular world and its obsession with the “good stuff” of our culture. I have been working with people for over four decades as they process the troubling challenges of loss and grief. On more occasions than I can count I’ve heard people mourn their “loss of everything.” The real truth is that we have lost nothing of importance even when it seems so. God’s promise to us is that we will not be lost, nor will we lose anything good from our lives. Nehemiah gives us an essential truth. The primary way to achieve fullness in our relationship with God is through the filling of our hearts with joy; which in turn means filling their minds with constant reminders of the breadth and depth and length and height of the love of Christ. The Apostle Paul says as much to the Ephesians. He prays for them, that they “may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:18-19 ESV). Sorrow, especially for our own sin, has its place. But it is not our strength. That lies in the joy of forgiveness. That is yours in Christ...

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