By Pastor Emmanuel Akatukunda
9 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.
10 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.”
11 The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.” 12 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.
I would like to start by asking you a question. If you had an option to hang out with two kinds of people: one has an attitude, is always complaining and is the very definition of self-pity. The other person is full of life, hopeful and filled with joy. Who of the two would you rather hang out with? Let me ask the question differently? Would you say that you are a joy-filled person or one characterized by anxiousness and self-pity? Today I would like to share on the subject of joy. We all love to be around joyful people. Life can be difficult if the people around you are mean and grumpy. Also, our joyful attitude and lifestyle energizes and blesses others.
The Bible tells us that the joy of the Lord is our strength. Joy is an inward sense of peace, satisfaction and gratitude. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. In Galatians 5:22 Apostle Paul tells us that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…” It is a characteristic of those who are united with the Lord Jesus Christ and have allowed the Holy Spirit to transform them. Joy is also a choice. Over and over again we are commanded to rejoice. Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4). We choose to be joyful rather than allowing ourselves to be consumed with self-pity. The source of our joy is the Lord.
Beware of Joy Stealers!
If we try to derive our joy from other things, including ourselves, we will be frustrated. There are a number of things that can steal our joy.
i. Guilt or a sense of failure
A sense of guilt is one of those things that steal our joy. Many people find it difficult to get over failure or past mistakes. As a result, they allow themselves to live in perpetual misery. Now, as long as we are human, we will make mistakes. Some of them can be life-changing. That is why we need to be reminded of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. When King David was faced with the guilt of the sin of adultery and murder, it affected everything about him. Unconfessed sin takes your joy away. David prayed, “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice” (Psalms 51:8). A sense of guilt can even affect our physical health. It certainly affects how we relate with others. Joy-less people are very difficult to relate with. A sense of guilt can make our relationships with others toxic. Like David, when faced with the guilt of our sins, we need to turn to the Lord, confess our sins and ask the Lord to “restore to me the joy of your salvation (Psalms 51:12).
ii. Focusing on our imperfections
Some people choose to focus on their imperfections and limitations. They focus on what they don’t have or have not accomplished. They are always admiring other people. They are always wishing they were someone else. They are always complaining or even blaming God why they are not like the other person. This robs them of their joy. Like the old hymn says,
When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings; name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.
You need to learn to celebrate your uniqueness. What you call imperfections are probably the things that make you special. Instead of complaining, you need to start thanking God for them. Like David we need to develop an attitude of gratitude. This is what he says: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Psalms 139:14). If we focus on the outside world, our accomplishments, failures, losses or anything else apart from the Lord, we will be disappointed. Because none of these things are reliable. Only the Lord is dependable.
iii. Anxiousness over what we cannot control
The other joy stealer is being anxious over things we have no control over. For instance, we can be easily anxious over how this whole COVID-19 pandemic will end. In Uganda, parents and children alike may be anxious over the future of the education of their children; whether they will have to repeat the school year or not. Most of the things we worry about are things we cannot control, which means that worrying cannot change anything. If worrying does anything to us, it does hurt us. It steals our joy. Our Lord told us not to worry about anything—and this is why: Matthew 6:28-34
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
The Joy of the Lord is our Strength
In Nehemiah 8:10-11 we read that 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.”
When the people listened to Ezra read and expound the Word of God, they began to weep. They perhaps realized how far they had fallen short of God’s righteous standards. Sorrow for sin is an appropriate response. But Nehemiah also reminded them of the renewed relationship with the Lord. This was to be their source of joy. God is our source of joy. We can be joyful regardless of what is happening around us because of our assurance of salvation through Jesus Christ. Because of His sacrifice, we are children of God. God has declared us not guilty. We are eternally secure in Christ. No one can ever snatch us from His hands.
In Nehemiah 8:12 we read that: 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 Joy is never self-centered. The people went and celebrated with joy. They shared with those who did not have. Our joyful countenance cannot be hidden. Joyful people are not hard to find. God calls us to be witnesses of the joy that we have found in Him. As someone said, “Joy has no value until it is given away.”
The joy of the Lord energizes us. The joy of the Lord is our strength. As we rejoice in the Lord, He gives us the grace and strength we need to do His work. He defends us from our enemies. May the Lord fill you with His joy today.