For the joy of the LORD is your strength. Nehemiah 8:10

The story of Nehemiah comes after the defeat of Judah by the Babylonians.  It was a time of agony and distress for the people who felt that Yahweh had forsaken them and deliver them into the hands of their enemies.
On hearing the plight of his people, we are told that Nehemiah fasted and prayed for an end to the horrendous situation that engulfed the people. He set about to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and at its completion, the people assembled in the public square to hear the reading of the Law of Moses by Ezra. It was an emotional experience and the people wept on hearing the word of the Lord.

Nehemiah, Ezra and the Levites said to the people: "This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep." For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, "Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine .... for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." Nehemiah advises the people not to give in to despair and not to dwell on the doom and gloom of the past. Instead, they must be joyful “eat the fat and drink the sweet wine.”

There are times in our lives when we experience disaster and pain which cause us to grieve. Grieving is part of the human experience; we are emotional beings. As such there are times when we laugh and cry, experience happiness and sadness. But we cannot grieve for ever, the time comes when we have to move on and live our lives. This is the message of Nehemiah, “do not mourn or weep, eat the fat and drink sweet wine ... for the joy of the LORD is your strength."

We are called to be people of joy and people who spread joy. Joy must not be mistaken for happiness. Happiness is a state we enjoy based on external forces: success, wealth, fame, material possessions and the like, which give a sense of happiness. Joy in this thinking does not last forever. It can be a fleeting experience. We all know that one can have and possess all that one needs for a good life and yet be not happy. Some of the unhappiest people are persons who are richly endowed with this world’s goods. They are not joyful.

Joy is a gift from God which cannot be bought or earned. It is God’s peace dwelling in our hearts which makes us peaceful and loving. The joy that comes from God strengthens us in our weakness, gives light when life becomes dark, replaces despair with hope and death with life. The joyful person faces life with confidence and is not permanently daunted by the spectacle of adversity. He or she is able to follow Paul’s teaching; “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice.”

The opposite of joy is anxiety which causes undue worry. The joyful person trusts God and knows “that in everything God works for good with those who love him.” Anxiety can be a killer; it has the potential for sucking our energy and robbing us of a peaceful life. The joyful person understands what it means when our Lord says, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, `What shall we eat?' or `What shall we drink?' or `What shall we wear?'  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.  "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day.” Joy is an antidote for anxiety and worry.

Joy is linked to contentment; to be contented is to be joyful. Contentment does not mean surrendering to the evils of life as some would want us to believe; it means we accept life’s challenges with God’s grace and make the best out of the present, it is to say with Paul: “Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want.  I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” This is joy, possessing God’s peace.

Joy enables us to triumph over all forms of adversity. We do not allow doubt and gloom to cloud our vision. We do not allow pessimism to define who we are or what we are. We never give up and we do not surrender to the evil one.
Joy tells us that in all these things we are more than conquerors and that nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love.

Always remember: “the joy of the LORD is your strength."

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