Joy and Strength

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I like Nehemiah. I like his book, it’s maybe my favorite. Every time I read through it, I find something encouraging. Reading through Chapter 8 today, I was encouraged about a topic that has been a tough one for me the last couple of years: corporate worship.

In Chapter 8, the people of Jerusalem are coming off a tough year. They rebuilt the destroyed walls of their city in 52 days…every one of them worked nearly non stop…the politicians, the priests, the skilled artisans, even girls pitched in. They did not have backhoes or cranes, they did it by hand. Their lives were threatened during it. They had to work and stand guard with swords at the same time. It was physically hard and mentally exhausting.

But they are done in chapter 8, and this is a day set aside for God. Ezra came to preach. Everyone able to understand, showed up. When Ezra opened the book to read, they all stood up. They stood up out of respect for God and His word, and out of respect for Ezra. They stood up because in that day, servants stood before their masters to receive instruction. By standing, they were ready to move out immediately to begin what they were charged to do.

Ezra read from daybreak to noon. Remember, they were all standing. He brought priests to explain to the crowd what he was reading, while he was reading it.

The people began to weep…not because Ezra was going over the scheduled hour and 15 minutes, and dinner was in the oven at home. They wept because their hearts were tender and they understood how they had broken God’s laws and grieved Him. I understand this feeling of not being able to be the Kim that God has made me to be, not being able to follow all of God’s commands, and grieving the Holy Spirit in the process. It is easy to mourn my guilt.

But Nehemiah stepped in. He reminded them it was a day set aside for God, a sabbath, holy day set aside for celebrating with joy and praise for all God had done for them. Nehemiah and Ezra told them to get rid of their heavy heartedness and to testify to the joy they have in God.

They ate and drank and shared what they had with people who had none, so those people could have joy too. They remembered the joy of being favored by God and living in His grace. They remembered first hand what it means to be God’s chosen, to be provisioned and protected by God Almighty. Nehemiah and Ezra helped them to shake off the funk, forget about their shortcomings for the day, and praise God with joy.

Nehemiah teaches us an important thing in chapter 8. We have joy in being God’s chosen. Expressing that joy corporately, magnifies it. It is good for us, and on the day we set aside for God each week, we should praise God with joy and celebration. Praising God with joy gives us hope, makes us remember what it means to belong to our God, brings to mind how He blesses us. It pushes away they guilt and remorse, and makes our connection to Him stronger.

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The joy of the Lord is our strength!

I invite you to print out the piece from verse 10 up at the top. Size it and print it on white card stock. If you want it heavier, print it on 90 lb. watercolor paper, or print it on card stock and glue it to watercolor paper or poster board. Get creative if you want to add a background or a ribbon. Use it as a bookmark, pin it to your bulletin board. Shrink it and make it into a pin to wear. Go for it. And when you feel guilt for not praying enough (or whatever triggers your “I’m not worthy!” complex), get it out and remember that you have amazing joy in just being chosen and belonging to the One True God. I’ll bet it will trigger the remembrance of tons of blessings.

Let Him fill your heart with joy (Psalm 28:7),

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