We have all seen them. The short quippy Bible verses, usually ripped out of context and pasted on coffee mugs (or T-Shirts, bumper stickers, or plaques…). Let me throw my cards on the table straight up…I hate ’em. OK, sorry that’s a little strong…I have a deep disdain for them.
Today, I read Nehemiah 8 and ran into one. The coffee cup version of the verse chops it in half and usually reads “The joy of the Lord is my strength.”
It’s nice, but let’s look at it in context, eh? I think you’ll see it’s a bit different —
Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
The “he” is Nehemiah (with Ezra the priest standing with him). They had just read the law to the people and it caused am immediate repentance on the people, verse 9 says that the ‘people wept as they heard the words of the law.’ They were convicted by the word of God…and Ezra and Nehemiah know that is a GOOD thing. Repentance (turning towards God) and conviction are GOOD things, it’s God’s way of bringing us back in line to him.
After we are convicted and repent, it’s time to end the pity party as soon as possible. Get up. Get on with your life. Celebrate even! Enjoy the fat, drink the wine, send to those who need it and pursue Godliness with a passion.
It’s also interesting how in this verse they declare that day of conviction from God’s law as ‘holy.’ Some people think that holy = boring, somber, quite, reverent. Yes and amen…and there are certain parts of scripture that speak to that, and we must have that too. But don’t miss that holy also equals joyfully celebrating because God has revealed himself to you and that’s a GOOD thing.
Elyse Fitzpatrick in her excellent book, Counsel From the Cross, talks about this very thing. She differentiates between the “happy moralists” (why wouldn’t God love me? I’m awesome!) and the “sad moralists.” (How can God love me? I’m so bad.) We’ve all seen both – the answer, like many things of God is the balance of both.
We must believe (and continue to ‘beat it into our heads daily, as Luther once said) that God is perfectly satisfied in Christs sacrifice for us, that we have obtained full adoption, and that God is pleased with us and calls us his ‘beloved’. These truths will stimulate your joy and expand your faith. Most of us think that our efforts should be focused solely on godly living. While this is partly true, it’s not the whole story. We’ve also got to focus our efforts on ‘striving” to enter into the rest he has provided for us. If our souls are not fully resting in his love and welcome we won’t have the energy we need to fight for godliness. Christianity will be utterly exhausting. This rest of soul is found only the the gospel message: we are sinful and flawed, yet loved and welcomed.