Nehemiah 8:9-10 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, this day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep. For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions 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.”
However many your fears and failures; however many times you must pick yourself up from the hurts and pains of life and go on; however difficult it is to get through each day - the joy of the Lord can be yours.
There are lots of stories that use an illustration question as to whether a glass is ½ full or ½ empty. Much of life seems that way. I guess the answer depends on one’s point of view at the time. Much of the thrust of this text from Nehemiah emphasizes the efforts taken to insure that the people listening to the scripture really understand the spirit and the force behind it. It seems however, the people at first only capture half of the message. They seem to readily grasp the reality of humanity's failures. When they compare their lives with the exacting standards ordered and esteemed by God, they are horrified at their complete inadequacy. As obedient, worshipful, worthy human beings they are clearly half-empty. The conflictive forces of daily life are always threatening to drain away ever more of their integrity and faithfulness.
The bigger picture is of a day made holy by the Lord's presence - of a people blessed to be able to freely worship God's presence on such a day. It is the very existence of God’s presence that must move the people beyond the experience of disappointment with how things are going, and on to an open-mouthed, awe-stricken, exuberant sense of joy. Acknowledging this joy provides a more complete picture of humanity. We are not half empty, but half-full. While it is true that we are flawed and fractured and never be able to remain filled and satisfied for very long, we can regularly return again and again and again to the well of God's love and joy and draw from it all that we need to refill our strength of will and openness of heart.
Our New Testament promises step it up to an even more astounding new reality - that Jesus came so that our joy may be full. In John 15:10-11, Jesus announces, "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete." And again in John 16:33 Jesus says, "I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world! "
When the storms of life are raging we need to concentrate on the things that bring joy to the Lord. We know what they are, and as we do our best to make them a significant part of our lives and responses, it is a real encouragement to remember that, “The joy of the Lord is our strength.”
O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.
Thank you God for giving us what we need to do that will bring you joy. Continue to provide your strength in the times we experience challenges so that joy will be what refills our cups.