“Joy for the journey”

By Pastor Kent Munsey

“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. 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.”

Nehemiah 8:9-10

God always works according to his word, and his word works. God chooses to work according to his good pleasure. Sometimes that work is from the inside out, and sometimes from the outside in; sometimes with our cooperation, and sometimes even without it.

In Nehemiah God starts with the outside first by mobilizing people and money to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and re-establish his people. The people gathered in the middle of the city and asked the priests to read them the word of God. This was the first time they had asked to hear God’s word in years. The priests taught and the people listened for six hours.

We see that the people, after hearing God’s word, began to grieve and mourn. There was a tremendous feeling of guilt because of their sin and failure. Sin is an archery term that means missing the mark.

The Israelites began to focus on their past failure past mistakes. They were weeping when heaven was rejoicing. When we look back at our failures and disappointments, we should see God's work in our lives to get us to where we are today, and it should produce joy.

Feelings are not fact; they can't always be trusted, and they often have to be corrected. Sometimes hearing God's word can lead to a wrong emotional response. We should not allow our past to keep us from celebrating what God is doing in our life right now.

Jesus is writing a story in our lives, and his greatest work is in our hearts. In Nehemiah, we see a Heavenly Father who is doing a new thing, giving a new start to his people, and he’s saying this is a day to celebrate, not to be sorrowful. We need to celebrate today that God is working, both internally and externally in our lives.

Joy is not so much an emotion but an action. God has to command us to enjoy sometimes, to go celebrate what he is doing. Emotions can’t be commanded, but they can be corrected. Sometimes we need joy but we don't have enough. If we do not take authority and command joy, we're going to miss how God is working in our lives.

All throughout scripture, there is a command of joy. We are told to rejoice in the psalms. Paul commanded continuous rejoicing (Phil. 4:14), and he said to rejoice in persecutions because it produces endurance (Romans 5:3-5). 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, "Be joyful always." Joy is not just an emotion it's an action. We have to submit our feelings back to God's word. When we do that, we can see our circumstances through the lens of God's work.

So how and when do we respond to God’s commanded joy?

  1. Joy over our Past: Don’t carry the dead weight of past sins and past generations. Under the current circumstances, it may seem inappropriate to rejoice but God is saying, “I don’t want you to begin this new season with a heavy heart.” He wants you not to grieve but rather to celebrate, because the joy of the Lord is your strength. Joy should rule and reign when we look back at what God has done.

  2. Joy in our Present: The joy of the Lord is our strength. “For the joy set before him, Jesus was able to endure the cross,” (Hebrews 12:2). There are promises of God in our lives that are not yet realized. Regardless of what we're feeling or facing, joy should rule and reign in our present. We tend to lose joy when we don't have enough strength, money, support, faith, understanding, and we find ourselves weak and vulnerable. We can draw strength from God’s joy, knowing that if he is for us, nothing and no one can come against us.

  3. Joy for our Future: When we look at what's ahead of us, sometimes we feel like Jesus at the cross, saying “take this cup from me,” and we question our ability to endure the trial ahead. It was torture to face crucifixion. But Jesus set joy before him and drew strength from the victory that only God could give. He saw himself defeating sin, death and the grave. He saw God as a faithful God that was going to see him through.

If you're willing to let God work in your life, it begins in the word of God. There should be joy when we look back at our lives and all that he has done to get us here. When we look at where we are now what we may be facing there should be commanded joy, go-go gadget joy. When we look at the future we have to set joy before us. Disobedience will steal joy, but God's word works. There is victory on the other side of our obedience. Let joy be the story of your past, the authority that commands your present and the hope that draws us toward our future.

Receive the joy of the lord. Act in the joy of the lord. Nehemiah knew that the way he would finish what he had started was by being joyful on the journey.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!“

Philippians 4:4

Discussion/Reflection Questions:

  1. What are some victories we can rejoice in that God has given us?

  2. What work do you see God doing in your life right now?

  3. How can we rejoice in our present circumstances, even if we’re facing trials?

  4. How do we set joy before us as we look ahead to our future?

  5. Journal and reflect on all that God has done, is doing, and that you’re believing he will do in your life.

  6. How can we practice commanding joy today?