Mothers for Prodigals

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Receive Joy

JOY - means delight and jubilation
O - others
Y - you
It’s an acronym, if lived, that will prompt an overflow of gladness in our lives. But we typically don’t prioritize our lives in that way. We usually think first about ourselves, either in puffed up arrogance or pitiful humility. Our circumstances receive most of our attention, especially when they are gloomy and hopeless. Then our lives usually spiral out of control in topsy-turvy fashion. 
Y - you
O - others
YOJ - means nothing
Suddenly joy seems to be an elusive concept. What do we do? Where can we find joy? The book of Nehemiah holds an answer for us. 
Then he said to them, “Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10 (NASB)
The books of Ezra and Nehemiah are about the return of the exiled Israelites from Babylon to Jerusalem. Ezra gives an account of the rebuilding of the temple and Nehemiah describes the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls. The walls had once allowed watchmen to survey the landscape for great distances, peering out at any visitor or invader approaching the city. Now the returned exiles were full of grief at the sight of their city and walls in ruins, and they mourned. 
What had happened to the Israelites? Why were they returning from Babylon and standing before the ruins of their promised land? A bit of history might help us to understand their trials. Beginning with Abraham, the Israelites journeyed with God through the land of Canaan to the promised land. Whether they were in Egypt, the wilderness, or somewhere else, God tried to guide and direct them with His laws. He loved them very much and called them to be a special group—a separate people—to shine for His glory. But they wanted to be like other cultures with their many gods and their kings. The Israelites didn’t want to be unique and serve their Creator God; they wanted to be ordinary. But being ordinary opened their lives up to anything. Over the years they were invaded and taken into exile by the Assyrians and Babylonians. It’s here that the Scripture text from Nehemiah lies—the return of the exiles from Babylon. They returned to their land to see the destruction and devastation that had taken place. They had been invaded and the walls of their precious Jerusalem broken down, opening them up to anything coming upon them. 
As Nehemiah tried to lead the exiles in rebuilding the city walls, their enemies determined to discourage the reconstruction. Nehemiah prayed, “O God, strengthen my hands.” And as he continued in prayer, even though facing opposition, God strengthened him to complete the walls. Once the temple and walls were rebuilt, all the people and Levites with Ezra and Nehemiah gathered as one at the city square where the book of the law of Moses was read. When the people heard the words of the law, they began to weep. Prior to the reading, they had moved away from the words of their Heavenly Father, the God who created and loved them. Now their hearts were ready to hear the word of the Lord. ....all the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel. Nehemiah 8:1 (NIV)
They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read. Nehemiah 8:8 (NIV) It was read and translated, giving understanding and new meaning to God’s word. The words brought them to their knees and they wept at the hearing of God’s word. 

Nehemiah reacted....Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy 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 holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.” Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them. Nehemiah 8:9-12 (NIV)

Nehemiah told the people to stop mourning and weeping because the day was holy to the Lord. He added that they shouldn’t be grieved because the joy of the Lord is their strength. Nehemiah prompted the people to rejoice instead of shedding tears, thereby gaining strength.

Have you ever felt like the Israelite exiles? Does it feel as though your life has been ravaged and destroyed? Do you feel as though you’re in a place where you don’t belong? Does it feel as though all your defenses are down and hazards keep coming in waves over your life? 
Have you rebelled against the calling of the Lord? Have you wanted to be like others in the world rather than stand alone? Have you tried to manipulate your own life rather than follow the perfect plan of your Lord and Savior? Do you feel as though your life has been invaded and destroyed by marauders? 
Well, go back and read the Old Testament law and then read about the New Testament grace. Unlike the exiled Israelites, we have both testaments and we have Jesus. Will you pick up the word of the Lord and read His words? Don’t grieve over it and be sad! Be glad and rejoice, giving Him praise for His Word. Let it invade your heart and strengthen you with joy every day, but especially at Christmas. 
Christmas time is a season of rejoicing because our Creator Lord came to us in human form. He chose to be near us in the very same form that He created us and we should praise such a loving God. Our situations may not be happy and our circumstances may be dire, but we have a God who loves us very much and desires to fellowship with us through relationship. Don’t lament over your lot in life, but revel in the joy of the Lord. It is your strength and others will see it and know that the Lord is near. So receive joy, glorify God, and share with others the love of the Lord.

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