Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10, NKJV).
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said, “The joy of the Lord is my strength” without really stopping to reflect on those words in context of the verse and passage. This morning I’ve been doing exactly that, and it struck me that these words were spoken at a time of great celebration. The people of Israel were assembled together as Ezra the priest read from the Book of the Law of Moses, something the people hadn’t heard or studied in quite some time. When they heard God’s commands and realized how far they had drifted from living according to His Word, they began to weep. But Nehemiah, the governor, explained to them that it was not a day for weeping, but rather for celebration as they re-discovered the joy of being in God’s presence and listening to His Law and His Word.
How much more should that truth speak to us today? How is it possible that we can mourn and complain and lament our circumstances and failures when, in fact, God has blessed us beyond imagining? I am so guilty of this, and it breaks my heart each time God’s Spirit draws this sin to my attention. After all God has done for me, I would dare to complain, to feel sorry for myself, to think I deserve better? I can almost hear Nehemiah cautioning me against this, reminding me that every day is a day of celebration when we know Christ as our Savior and Lord, when we are assured of eternity with Him, and when we are welcomed into His presence any time we wish to go there.
And why would we not wish to go there? His presence, after all, is where we experience joy and draw on His strength to face whatever lies ahead. We are called to be a people who celebrate God’s presence and all that goes with it. But do we…really?
Author Keri Wyatt Kent, in her excellent book Deeply Loved, writes, “The discipline of celebration ushers in joy.” Perhaps that’s our problem. We haven’t disciplined ourselves to celebrate the many blessings God has bestowed upon us, first and foremost welcoming us into His very presence. Will you join me in practicing the discipline of coming into God’s presence and celebrating who He is and all He has done for us? Then we can truly say, “The joy of the Lord is [our] strength.”