Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, 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 (NRSV)
One of my favorite TV commercials currently airing is an ad for dishwasher soap. A young girl, looking quite confused, questions the practice of her mother hand washing all the dirty dishes before she places them in the dishwasher. She innocently asks, “So… what does the dishwasher do???”
This week I’m studying a well-loved passage from Nehemiah that is included in our scripture readings for this Sunday: “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”
It seems that the word “joy” is used a LOT in scripture – and it finds its way into many a sermon, including my own. But it’s also one of those words that some biblical scholars will tell us we are NOT to confuse with other similar words such as “happiness” or, “fun” or, “pleasure,” especially when used in reference to God and our faith.
Hmmm. Much like inquiring about the role of a dishwasher, I found myself asking, “So… what is ‘joy’ supposed to do???”
Our reading in Nehemiah tells how a priest named Ezra gathered the people in Jerusalem to teach them about (what we now know as) the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Old Testament. In remembering the laws and commands that the Lord had first given them, the people wept as they realized how far they had strayed from God and God’s plan for them. Ezra, noting their remorse, reminded them that our God is not only a God of law and order, but a God of immense love for all of us. A God who will never leave us or abandon us – regardless of how broken our lives may seem! Instead of weeping over the past, Ezra invites them to REJOICE! Enjoy this holy time that God has blessed us with and remember to be the blessing that someone else needs today as well. Weeping is futile, for it’s the JOY of the Lord that is your real strength!
JOY is simply God given strength! Oh, how many times I have messed up in this life – times when I believed that my joy and my strength could only come from the “stuff” of this world and not from our loving and gracious God. How wrong I was.
Maybe you are feeling that way today. Shame-filled. Defeated. Depleted. Tired of trying to do the right thing, only to find yourself deeper into the wrong thing. Can I give some advice here? Stop looking at the world. Look to God. Look to our Savior, Jesus Christ. Look to God’s Word. Your joy, despite any brokenness, is waiting there for you. I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me. [Philippians 4:13]
Like letting the dishwasher actually wash the dishes – let God be your joy and your strength today and every day. Count your blessings and share a blessing with someone else. And may your own journey with Jesus be faith-filled, fun-filled, grace-filled and definitely JOY-filled!