Longing for joy?

We’re tired of the 2 metre distance, face masks that fog up our glasses and make conversation almost impossible and lack of social interaction...

We’re exhausted emotionally and physically, and right now joy seems like a precious jewel - hard to come by and only for a select few!

Perhaps you feel that ‘Joy’ is a characteristic that you’re either blessed with or you’re not...

Jesus’ words pull us out of our comfort zone and challenge each one of us to rethink how we understand joy!

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.

If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

John 15:9-11

Joy is a gift that the Lord Jesus longs to give to each one of us, His words show us that true joy is not only attainable, it should be the hallmark of every believer.

It is one of the Fruits of the Spirit, evidence of God at work in our lives; but what is it, what does joy look like...and how do we get it?

God is the source of our strength, we know that - it is our Father who equips and enables us to get through each day, but what is the type of strength He longs to fill us with? Nehemiah 8:10 tells us, “...for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Joy? Have we read that right?

Surely energy, vigour, a divine toughness or resilience to cope with what is thrown at us would be best...

...but God’s ways are not our ways, His thoughts are far above our own - and what He wants to strengthen us with - is JOY!

Not just any old joy: we can have joy in our spouse, our children, our home, our friendships - all precious things but not sustaining... the joy of the Lord is our Strength!

What does this mean?

Note firstly that it doesn’t say - to joy IN the Lord is our strength.

It isn’t about us, it doesn’t depend on our ability to summon up happy feelings about Jesus, we’re not called on to dredge our inmost depths and scrape up the last bits of cheerfulness. No. The verse says - the joy OF the LORD

So literally - the joy that God has!

His divine, inexhaustible, strong and powerful joy is what God wants to strengthen us with - wow!!

Tired friend, weary with the burdens of the moment - just pause and allow this thought to fill your aching heart with hope.

God does not expect you to haul your exhausted body out of bed in the morning, carry out your work, support the people you love, and everything else required of you in your own strength.

He longs to fill you with His joy that will give you fresh hope and confidence, and strength from Heaven - better than any number of gym sessions - to make it through each day!

And how can we experience this joy? Let’s put our verse into context...

"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.” The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.” 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." Nehemiah 8:9-12

The people returning from exile in Babylon, had had the Law of God read and explained to them, so that they understood and it made sense to them. As they heard God’s plans and promises for His people, they began to weep when they recognised their sins before God and the broken condition of their hearts.

As we read God's Word the Bible, we too are convicted and challenged. But, as C H Spurgeon put it so beautifully, 'Even sorrow for sin must not hinder our joy in God!'

So Nehemiah very wisely instructs the people to stop mourning and weeping, and instead to celebrate! God Almighty has shown them His mercy and love, He has been pleased to restore their city to them again and He offers forgiveness to all who truly repent!

Psalm 126:5 reminds us that “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.” and the Lord Jesus Himself promises that, “Those who mourn shall be comforted.” [Matthew 5:4]

God does not want us to be miserable, wearing long faces, and with gloomy outlooks.

He wants us to mourn over our sin, to be cut up over the thought of offending Him by our selfish thoughts and deeds. He wants us to grieve as we look at our wagging tongues that love a juicy bit of gossip. He wants our hearts to ache as we realise how far short we fall compared to His perfect and holy standards...

...but God does not want us to stay in our mourning clothes, our ‘sackcloth and ashes.’ Scratchy, dusty material and dirty soot are not the garments that the King desires His daughter to wear.

Bring your tears to the cross...and then leave them there!

See your Saviour hanging there, taking all your sin upon His beautiful, bruised and battered, bleeding body. Weep before Him, confess your sins, whisper your love and gratitude to Him.

See Him there.

But then, picture a garden drenched in early morning sunlight and an empty tomb!

Christ is Risen - Hallelujah!! - and His Resurrection proves that our sins have been taken, paid for and punished once and for all.

It is finished! Like Christian in John Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’, at the sight of the cross, that huge sin burden that has crippled and hindered for so long has rolled off your back!

You are free!!

Our tears of repentance have become seeds of joy!

Where once there was a heap of ashes there is now a Crown of Beauty!

Instead of mourning, God delights to anoint you with the Oil of Joy!

The spirit of despair is gone - and in its place - a Garment of Praise!

These aren’t my words, look up Isaiah 61:3!!

Perhaps you are going through a dark night, days that are heavy and long, pain and sorrow so deep you feel that your heart might actually break.

But, daughter of the King, the joy of the Lord is your strength!

Nothing and nobody can take your Salvation in JESUS CHRIST away from you! No matter how great the trouble, or how deep and terrible your sin, forgiveness is waiting for you in the arms of your Father God. Pour out your heart to Him - and let His beautiful joy fill you, and that soft garment of praise to be gently put around your weary shoulders as you realise that God is For You!

‘Behold Him there, the risen Lamb

My perfect, spotless righteousness

The great unchangeable I Am

The King of glory and of grace

One in Himself, I cannot die

My soul is purchased by His blood

My life is hid with Christ on high

With Christ, my Saviour and my God’

(Charitie Lees Bancroft)

All Bible quotations are taken from the (c) 2011 New International Version