As I shared with you in my last blog, our church has been going through some very stressful and painful situations. And as I stated in that particular blog, I am choosing to love, in spite of my flesh, and only by the grace of God. But to be honest, I have been discouraged. More importantly, I have found my joy to be ebbing over the last several weeks and if I am writing a blog titled ‘Just Joy-filled’, than I am convicted to be seeking the joy of the Lord! So, as I explore this today, how do I go about seeking His joy?
As usual, I turned to the Scriptures to seek the truth and I found myself in the Book of Nehemiah. A remnant of Israel had returned and reconstructed the Temple and then the city walls around Jerusalem. In celebration, the priest Ezra (who was also a scribe), assembled the people for a reading and teaching of the Law, their Scripture if you will. This remnant of Israel had probably never heard the Torah, and they were weeping; perhaps in repentance or perhaps for joy as they were once again living in the city God had given to them (Neh. 8:1-8). But, interestingly enough, as they were preparing for the feast to begin, Nehemiah tells the people, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." There it is: “…The joy of the Lord is my strength!”
James puts it a little differently: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1: 2-4). Well, we have been going through some difficult trials but I can’t honestly say that I’m counting it a joy!
However, as I ponder the last few years, I recognize that many of us are applying scriptural truths to our lives; Scriptures that remind us to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute [us]” (Matt. 5:44); “to consider others better than ourselves” (Phil. 2:3); to go to the person when we disagree with a sister or brother; not my friend, not the pastor, but the person with whom we disagree or by whom we have been hurt (Matt. 18:15-16). These behavior changes cause me to rejoice in the trials as James commands. These positive changes encourage my trust to grow; to recognize God is giving us the strength to persevere. This is an outward sign of an inward transformation! We are growing and maturing in our faith! When I observe the difficulties from this perspective, (dare I say God’s perspective?), than I find I can choose joy! And as I choose joy, the joy of the Lord, I feel the renewal of my strength to “keep on keeping on”! I pray that each of us will not only choose love, but that we will choose joy!