Ambassadors of Joy
Nehemiah 8:10 say’s “The Joy of the Lord is your strength”
Many of us are very familiar with this passage of scripture, and we often celebrate Nehemiah’s commitment to rebuild the walls of his homeland, which had been lying in ruin for 40-50 years. We are often astonished by the dedication of Nehemiah, Zerubbabel, and Ezra who rebuilt their nation and restored the lives of their fellow brothers and sisters. Those who were living in slavery for 60 years and had no hope for freedom.
In the midst of all the chaos and brokenness, the eyes of these three men never turned away from the throne of God. They were waiting for the moment when God would release them to do what they had been praying and preparing to do. When that moment did arrive, and God gave them the ‘go’, they were instantly ready to move. They began to rebuild and reconstruct. We all know the intensity of Nehemiah’s request to king Xerxes (Nehemiah 1). We can sense the emotion of that dialogue between the King and his cup bearer, who is not only faithful to his king, but even more so committed to see his people and city restored to it’s former pride and fame. Ezra on the other hand was dedicated to study the word of the Lord, to do it and to teach it (Ezra 7). Ezra left Babylon to come to Jerusalem and reestablish God’s law in his Nation. Even though he served in a pagan nation, under a pagan king, his commitment and accountability always stayed with God and His covenant.
All these men, in the midst of a national revival, when their cities were being restored, the Temple was being rebuilt, and their people were being revived, did not forget one very crucial thing. It has been reflected clearly in the very words of Ezra, ”the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
After hearing Ezra read from the book of Law, the people were ready to repent, they understood their failures and were ready to turn their faces to the Lord. But Ezra did not condemn them for their past ways, rather, he asked them to be joyful and to celebrate. Ezra, even though his ministry was under the Old Covenant, understood a very crucial fact: No one can be restored and rebuilt under condemnation. Condemnation pulls people under to where they can’t see a way out, and where they quickly get stuck in a cycle of sin and repentance. But joy, which comes out of the forgiveness received through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, brings hope and faith for God’s promise of restoration! (Nehemiah 8-10) The moment Ezra sees the change of heart in the people of Israel, he calls forward national CELEBRATION. He took a step to create hope in people, allowing them to celebrate what God has done in their lives. How often do we forget the importance of celebration!?
Repentance is not always tearing up your clothes and lying in ashes for days. Repentance is not always declaring your sin to the world. Repentance is not there to bring guilt or shame or tell you how sorry you should feel for what you have done. When our ways were sinful, we lived in condemnation, and if our repentance is also leading us towards condemnation, then we don’t have any other way to go and we are without hope.
Repentance always means renewal of the mind, a changing of the mind, which never happens with condemnation, but only with joy. It is a sense of hope and expectancy for something different than your old state; which looks so attractive to you that it literally pulls you toward change.
Ezra knew that the new nation he was leading needed hope, and that hope can be created only through joy and celebration. The people were ready to repent, but the goal was not only repentance in the sense we often think of. They needed to be given a NEW way, something to turn TOWARD, which is full of hope (John 3:17). And who can walk in this new path with the feeling of how bad they were pulling them down!? Why should they repent? Not just because of the guilt they feel, but for the HOPE that they have! They were slaves, but they aren’t anymore. They were a failure, but they aren’t anymore. They were rejected, but they aren’t anymore.
Often we lack celebration, joy, and laughter because of the familiarity of the hopeless cycle we feel stuck in. The thing that brings us BREAKTHROUGH though, is remembering all of the beautiful, loving things that God has done and desires to do! Celebration releases faith to encounter breakthrough; which has already been given through God’s ‘Yes and Amen’. You are just coming to agreement with heaven! When you celebrate, you are also adding joy to your testimony, which imparts life to the people around you. People are attracted to joy and love. If they are looking for hopelessness, they can go anywhere in the world. What make us different from the world is the joy that we carry. Jesus brought hope of eternal rest and peace through the cross. The sense that we can achieve eternal peace and joy irrespective of our circumstances brings hope in us, even in the midst of chaos.
Any moment we lose our joy is a moment where we’ve become disconnected from God’s working in us and through us. Every where God is there is light. “God is light and there is no darkness in Him” (John 1:4). It’s unnatural for light and darkness to exist in the same place at the same time. It has to be either one or the other. You cannot be in light and in darkness at the same time.
You cannot have fear and stress and consider yourself within the light of God when peace and joy are the fruits of Light.
Galatians 5:22 gives us the list of the Fruit of the Holy Spirit. John 1:1-3 brings in revelation of God in our life, making the fruit of the Holy Spirit equivalent to the fruit that we experience when we are in the presence of God. So it can be described as the fruit of Light.
You cannot have fear and stress and consider yourself within the light of God when peace and joy are the fruits of Light. It is possible that we have left a door open in a certain area of life, which is letting these fruits of darkness come in and steal our peace. It is impossible to be in the presence of God and to be without hope. Fear, Stress, anxiety, etc.. are fruits of hopelessness, which comes in the absence of joy. Fear takes away our ability to move forward, and pulls us into the dark dungeon where only loneliness is our companion. Stress breaks our health and takes our ability to connect with people and God. The reality is that, “any area of our life that is not glistening with hope, is under the influence of a lie,” is under the influence of darkness.
With the help of the Holy Spirit and the grace of Jesus Christ – which he lavishes upon us, without any boundaries and limits – we can always find our path back to joy. The Joy of the Lord is indeed our strength.
Joy activates hope in us, hope builds faith, and as the author of Hebrews writes ”Faith is the assurance of things hoped for.” Hope is a door which brings us into the atmosphere of Heaven, the very presence of God, where every impossible thing is made possible. Where mountains can be moved, dead can be raised, cities can be rebuilt and nations can be transformed. You cannot worship Jesus and be hopeless at the same time. We are called to be ambassadors of joy!