“Then [Ezra] told them, Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet drink, and send portions to him for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. And be not grieved and depressed, for the joy of the Lord is your strength and stronghold.” Nehemiah 8:10 Amplified
I have always loved the story of Nehemiah. I believe his journey is a strategy for the church in every season. Imagine how he felt when he looked at Jerusalem. He knew her as God’s city, the people as God’s people, and yet here this beautiful city of promise has her walls and gates laying in ruins. She is anything but what she was intended to be. To anyone looking on, she was a failure, and the people of promise had become people of captivity to a Babylonian empire instead of being the people of liberty that they were called to be. Sound familiar?
For seventy years Jerusalem remained in this state. Then at God’s appointed time, He raises up Nehemiah as a voice to a generation who had lost sight that God had more than captivity and ruins for them. He leads a group of people from despair back to confidence in God and His plan for their lives. What was an overwhelming situation of hopelessness and despair, in 52 days become a place of hope and renewed confidence. Seventy years of loss was being restored as one man leads a few of God’s people to stand up and make a difference.
A wall rebuilt, lives restored, and the Word is being read publicly! The people’s hearts are overwhelmed and they begin to weep. In this moment, they are told not to be grieved over the past failure, over the years lost, but to celebrate in the God who has rescued them. Ezra says, “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” How that is really written in the Hebrew is, “Your joy of Yahweh is your strength.”
There is still work to be done for Jerusalem to be all that she is supposed to be, the enemies are working overtime to discourage and distract them from their success. Yet, they have a reason to be joyful. It isn’t in their ability, their efforts, or the amount they accomplish that day. The level of their joy in God determines their strength and power to overcome. Their joy in God is their refuge.
You can be sure that in this moment for those who had been captive that their hearts were overwhelmed with gratitude for God hearing them and making a way for them to start again.
Have you ever met a person who was joyful in God and ungrateful at the same time? You cannot joy in God and not be overwhelmingly grateful. If my joy in God is my refuge and strength, which produces a heart of gratitude, what does ingratitude say about me? I believe it says that my joy is not in God. Likely I am looking for answers in the wrong places. Am I hanging out in places of captivity instead of places of deliverance, restoration, and rebuilding? It might be time to change mental locations and really see, that true joy in God always produces a grateful heart.
Today I am grateful that despite the mess that sometimes surrounds me, God is a rebuilder and restorer of all things. I am thankful that even in my failures, or the church’s failures, we still have a bright future in Christ. He is building His church and the gates of hell will never overcome it. It is a good day, true joy is producing in us true gratitude.