“And Nehemiah continued, ‘Go and celebrate with a feast of choice foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the LORD is your strength!'”
So the people went away to eat and drink at a festive meal, to share gifts of food, and to celebrate with great joy because they had heard God’s words and understood them.”
This little passage is found in the book of Nehemiah (chapter 8, verses 10 & 12), tucked away in the midst of the Old Testament. Although it may not be read as often as some Scriptures, this text is a beautiful reminder of how we can – and should – experience joy in our lives each and every day!
A little background may be helpful to really understand the impact of this story. After the Hebrew people had been freed from captivity and allowed to return to their homeland, they still struggled with building a wall that would protect their citizens from enemy forces. Nehemiah, who happened to be the cupbearer to the king of Persia at this time (a very important position since he got the “privilege” of tasting the king’s wine to be sure it wasn’t poisoned!), heard about the trials of his countrymen. Because of his favor with the king, Nehemiah was allowed to return and help his people.
In just 52 days, Nehemiah organized his fellow citizens, and the wall was finally finished. A ceremony was held to commemorate the accomplishment – but, most importantly, the leaders decided that God’s Word would be read to all of the people. This is when things got emotional! The men, women and children “. . . chanted ‘Amen! Amen!’ as they lifted their hands toward heaven. Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.” (Nehemiah 8:6)
And they began to weep. Why? Maybe some were just happy to hear the Word of their God read aloud again after so many years of captivity. Perhaps others felt conviction in their hearts for things that they had neglected to do or for sins they had committed against the Lord who loved them so much.
Yet the leaders stopped them in their tracks. Look again at what they wanted the people to do – “And the Levites, too, quieted the people, telling them, ‘Hush! Don’t weep! For this is a sacred day.'” (verse 11)
Did Nehemiah’s countrymen still have bullies and bad guys living all around them?
Did these people have troubles in their homes and families?
Was it possible that some of them were experiencing health problems, financial worries, or other stressful issues?
More than likely!
But they got the message God was trying to send them despite whatever dilemmas they were dealing with: the Lord was with them in the midst of their trials – and His love for them was worth celebrating!
What a lesson for all of us as we begin this new year of life! We can have joy – real, God-given joy – despite what’s happening in the world around us. We can be encouraged and even celebrate because the JOY OF THE LORD is our strength!
Notice that this type of celebrating should include others too! These followers of God were instructed to look around them and bless others less fortunate than themselves.
Oh may this be true of us in the days, weeks, and months ahead! Let us begin 2011 by us rejoicing in God’s Word. May we celebrate each and every day because of the joy of knowing our Lord and Savior! And let’s find ways to reach out into our world so we can share from our many blessings.
All of us at Sonkist Ministries wish you and yours a Joy-filled New Year!
Thought of the Month
“Always be full of joy in the Lord, I say it again – rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.”