Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Looking For Joy In The Impending Darkness Of Despair

Ready to give up yet? I am, or rather I would be if it wasn't for one simple fact: The joy of the Lord is my strength. Ever wonder what that verse really means? Maybe it's the last thing you want to hear right now as you face some mighty big stresses in your life but if you understood the context of this verse you may think otherwise.

The people of Israel had been in captivity in Babylon for 70 years. To survive they had let go of their history, of their language, of their God. They had become assimilated into the culture. Now here was a representation of this former nation returning to the land of their fathers, realizing everything they had lost. They had begun to rebuild but something was desperately missing. They were heavy with their sin, with what they had done in their past. They felt crushed, weighed down by their sin. Their captivity was a result of their disobedience to God. As they assembled together to hear from the book of the Law they felt burdened.

We have a wonderful Father who desires nothing but the best for us and from us. As the Law was read to those people he spoke to them and called them back to him. As he brought them to salvation, forgiving them he also renewed them. He lifted the burden from their shoulders and claimed them as his people again. The passage is this:

   They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear[a] and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.
   Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is sacred 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 sacred 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 sacred day. Do not grieve.” (Nehemiah 8:8-11)

You should take the time to read the whole passage because it contains much more than this small portion but what I want you to take from this is that sense of the Lord turning mourning to joy. We become tired from our struggles and burdens. We allow these things to lead us off in captivity. We allow them to separate us from our Father. We become weary. We forget. We set aside the Word. We become too burdened to even pray. But our Father calls us to renewal. He desires to renew us from our sins. Correction may have to come in but our God does not leave us there. He does not desire for us to be overwhelmed by our mourning, our grieving, our burdens and struggles. He tells us to be renewed. Stop grieving he says because the joy of the Lord is your strength. This joy that comes when we realize the goodness and love of the Lord is intended for us even when we feel we do not deserve it. The Word says:

For his anger lasts only a moment,
   but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may remain for a night,
   but rejoicing comes in the morning.
(Psalm 30:5)

We come with all our burdens, struggles and sin, looking to the Lord for salvation from them. But some come and never receive because they do not let go of the grieving to take up the joy. When we come to the Lord it must be with the acceptance that he longs to rescue us. We must leave these things with him and  receive the joy that comes with our rescue because without joy we do not have the strength to be overcomers. His joy is our strength. A Christian without joy is a Christian who has not understood God's grace and deliverance. The time for grieving is over. It is time to realize joy.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)

This verse is important because we so often let go of our strength which is this wonderful joy. Like everything else with God we think that once is good enough for a life time. But joy, along with everything in our relationship with God, is a daily event. Last week's joy is not going to help us today. Today we must be possessed with today's joy. Every day is a day of renewal in our Lord, a daily refreshing, daily worship, daily rejoicing. It is only then that we have the strength to face the battle we are fighting. The "always" of this verse is what we need to master; in the storms, on the mountain tops, in the valleys, when our hearts are so heavy they want to break and when worship comes so easily to us. Face it, our Father leads us through some pretty dark valleys at times but his joy remains our strength as he fills us with his love and peace. Do not grieve because the joy of the Lord is our strength.

One of the most powerful passages of Scripture is found in Habakkuk 3. The prophet stood before a wave of impending doom, when everything was about to be swept away and changed forever as a result of destructive sin. He writes:

I heard and my heart pounded,
   my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
   and my legs trembled.
(Habakkuk 3:16)

What a wonderful description of how fear saps our strength; quivering lips, weakness in the body, legs that cannot hold us up. Even in the face of this the prophet states that he was waiting patiently for his salvation. Then this amazing thing is written:

Though the fig tree does not bud
   and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
   and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
   and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
   I will be joyful in God my Savior.
(Habakkuk 3:17-18)

Amazing. I want that attitude. I want that perspective. I desire that my relationship with the Lord would lift me far above my sins, my struggles, my burdens, my fears. My strength is not found in my physical blessings but in my spiritual relationship with my Father. This relationship must be greater than any physical lack and my only desire should be to be captivated by my Lord's love. In this way his joy becomes by strength and the briefest grieving is chased away by his joy. Habakkuk continued to write:

The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
   he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
   he enables me to go on the heights.
(Habakkuk 3:19)

Yes LORD!! Hallelujah and amen!! My God desires my success not my failure. He desires to build me up not to destroy me. He reveals my sin not to punish me but to rescue me. Grieving comes with the realization of our sins but the Lord has no desire for us to remain there. He rescues us that we would experience his great joy and be able to experience its depth just like Habakkuk.

Realize the generosity of our incredible Lord Jesus today. Do not be overwhelmed by your struggles, burdens and sins. Allow his joy to come flooding in, to rescue you, to wipe away your tears, to fill you with great strength. He must become your everything so that nothing on this earth, not the changing tides or the impending doom, can wash you away from his grasp. Rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice always in every circumstance of your life. Repeat it until you clue in. Allow his joy to be your strength. He loves you. He really does.

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