Friday, March 13, 2009

"The joy of the Lord is your strength." Nehemiah 8:10

This phrase stands out to me so much. Perhaps it is because I have felt like I wouldn't be able to carry on at one point or another. It is the Lord's joy that is our strength. It is his rejoicing that gives reason to rejoice. It is his joy that fills us with hope. It is his joyful wish to save me just as I am, in spite of myself. It is God's great joy to stand me back upon my feet and strengthen my feeble legs and wobbly knees so that I might discover his joy as my strength. However, to really understand the depth of this phrase you need to know where the Israelites are when this is said to them.

In Nehemiah 8 the walls of Jerusalem have just been completed. But there is something lacking. Life is more than brick and mortar. They have finished rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, but their lives are in shambles. They have spent seventy years in Babylonian captivity and they have finished the walls but their distress continues. Their condition is revealed in the words of Nehemiah 9:36, "But see, we are slaves today, slaves in the land you [God] gave our forefathers so they could eat its fruit and the other good things it produces. Because of our sins, its abundant harvest goes to the kings you have placed over us. They rule over our bodies and our cattle as they please. We are in great distress."

They had forgotten their heritage as they were held captive in a foreign land. They had forgotten their native language, but most of all they had forgotten God. As a result their lives were falling apart. These people see the connection between the sins of their own hearts and their distress. As they lay there on rock bottom flat on their backs looking up, they began to realize that it is in God's joy that they can find strength to put their lives back together.

The joy of the Lord becomes our strength as we realize that we can only come to God from where we are. As they stand there with their lives in shambles they are mourning over their sins. They were not told "I told you so" or "you should have known better" or "look what a mess your life is in" or "the next time you had better do better." But they are told "Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks . . . This day is sacred to the Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!" When they understood the message of salvation, Nehemiah says, "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. (8:9-12)

This week at Carrollton I have seen a church live this idea out. I have seen such joy over cieling tiles and used carpet squares, and I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that they have the joy of the Lord. Things always seem to be just out of reach, and yet, the joy of the Lord has been their strength to continue on in the race set before them. And what a strength he has given them. In the past three and half years they have gone from literally nothing to helping hundreds of people after the storm, reopening thier building, having camp for more kids than ever despite sub par facilities, and planting a church in a neighborhood in darkness so that Christ's light might shine in all the dark corners of the city. So it would seem that "The joy of the Lord" remains our strength today. His faithfulness continues throughout all generations, whether I can see it or not.

You're the God of this City
You're the King of these people
You're the Lord of this nation
You are

You're the Light in this darkness
You're the Hope to the hopeless
You're the Peace to the restless
You are

There is no one like our God
There is no one like our God

For greater things have yet to come
And greater things are still to be done in this City
Greater thing have yet to come
And greater things are still to be done in this City

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