Nehemiah 8 contains such an important snapshot of God that we must make sure we don’t miss it. It’s in Nehemiah 8:10… the people have been listening to a preacher read the Bible for 6 hours and at some point in this reading, the Holy Spirit started convicting people. No sermon, just reading the Bible. So the Holy Spirit starts touching people’s hearts and the tears start to flow…the groans start to escape from the lips of people whose hearts have been tenderized by God’s Word. The people are filled with sorrow, their hearts are broken because they realize how far from God and how messed up their lives have become.
In the midst of those tears, Nehemiah stood up and spoke for everyone to hear these words…
“And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD
is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10 (ESV)
This tells me there is no such thing as “just joy.” Here is my concern. I think we have seriously underestimated two things. We have seriously underestimated our need for joy and we have seriously underestimated God’s capacity for joy! According to Nehemiah to be without joy is to be without strength. The philosopher Pascal once wrote,
“All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war and others avoiding it, is the same desire in both… …This is the motive of every action of every man…
I believe that God created us to desire joy. We thought it was just happiness and we legitimized it’s pursuit in our national constitution. But joy goes deeper than happiness, happiness is based on what happens. Joy goes beyond the happiness of happenings. God created us for joy…when we do something because it brings us joy…we are not being selfish, we are being creatures in his image.
C.S. Lewis put it so well when he said…
Indeed if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the life promised us in the gospels, it seems the Lord finds our desires not too strong but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures fooling around with drink, and sex, and ambition, when infinite joy is offered us. Like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mudpies in the slum because he cannot imagine what the offer of a holiday at sea is like; we are far too easily pleased.
Our problem is not our desire for joy, it’s our pursuit of joy in things that at best will bring us momentary happiness. “Do not be grieved,” Nehemiah said, “for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” So here is the question I’m asking us, “Where do we find our strength?”