Yesterday, I was talking with a friend how debilitating anxiety can be. In its worse form, anxiety can completely hold a person in bondage. It feeds upon itself until the person experiencing anxiety is frozen. The person experiencing anxiety can only think about is what is causing the anxiety – whether it is real or not. Anxiety weakens a person. One thing I can say with conviction is that anxiety is not from God. God does not freeze us in fear and worry. God empowers us with strength to make it through whatever situation we are in. Today, we get to see how God uses joy to empower us.
Before you read Nehemiah 8, let me set the stage. The Israelites were living in captivity in the Persian Empire. When they were first brought into captivity by the Babylonian Empire, they were scattered throughout the empire so that they could not assemble and create an insurrection. Artaxerxes, the emperor, had been allowing the Israelites to slowly return back to their homeland. God placed the desire on Nehemiah’s heart to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem when he found out that it was in terrible disrepair. Nehemiah worked in the court as the king’s cupbearer, but the king gave him permission to go and rebuild the wall. Isaiah wrote about this in Isaiah 61:1-4; he prophesized that the ancient ruins would be rebuilt. After the wall was rebuilt, Nehemiah saw that the Israelites had no knowledge of God’s law and had it read to them in an assembly. In order for their healing to be complete they needed to know how their actions affected them and everyone around them. With that history in mind, please read Nehemiah 8:1-18.
The Israelites began to mourn and weep as they listened to the law because they realized that they were not following the law. Nehemiah said to the people, “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.” As I thought on that statement, I understood how the joy of the Lord is our strength, but I couldn’t understand why they were to be joyful after hearing the law and gaining knowledge that they had been disobedient. But reading on, I saw that they became joyful in their obedience to God. They were happy to obey. Please look at Psalm 1:1-3. We see that the person who delights in obedience becomes like a “tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season.” Look back in Isaiah 61:3 where it says, “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of His splendor.” Wow! How beautiful is it that God gives us joy in our obedience and as we bear fruit? Do you remember what Jesus told about those who obey? He told us that if we love Him we need to obey His commands and His command was to love each other (John 15:10, 17). He also told us this because if we remain in Him, His joy will be in us and our joy will be complete (John 15:11).
The joy we gain in obedience empowers us to be obedient! It is our strength to be obedient when it is difficult to obey. When we know that we are pleasing God, we have joy just like the Israelites were joyful to obey in a way that hadn’t happened for several generations.
Do you obey and love with joy? Are you joyful knowing that you are pleasing God?