And Nehemiah continued, “Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!” Nehemiah 8:10
I have often been asked why I chose obstetrics and gynecology over such specialties as general surgery, family practice, or any one of a dozen other options. I usually tell people that I love surgery and primary care, which are both present in obstetrics and gynecology. But perhaps the underlying reason is that after 8 weeks of intense study in this specialty as a junior medical student, I took the final exam which was not a written exam, but an oral one. There was something about this specialty that made learning fun and exciting. I read the textbooks with interest and understanding. I attended the surgeries and births with joy and excitement And when I walked out of that oral test that October day, I felt as if I were walking in the clouds. I was overjoyed. I was ecstatic. And I wanted to celebrate. The joy I received from knowing and understanding the medical principles of that specialty propelled me into an amazing career as an OBGYN physician.
This is exactly how the Israelites felt after returning to Jerusalem from 70 years of captivity in Babylon. They had rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem before even rebuilding their own homes. Once the wall was rebuilt they asked Ezra the scribe to read the Book of the Law of Moses as they gathered at the town square. We are told they listened closely and were excited by what they heard. In fact, they were overjoyed. They couldn’t get enough of God’s Word. It was music to their ears and lit a fire in their bellies. They digested every word as they got a fresh glimpse of God’s love, concern, and power for them. No wonder Nehemiah told them to go and celebrate. Why? Because “the joy of the Lord is your strength!”
I must admit that I have overlooked this source of spiritual strength. I haven’t thought of my emotions as being a source of anything other than perhaps understanding my thoughts and behaviors. But it makes sense. When I am filled with joy, I am ready to take on any task, overcome any obstacle, tackle any problem. But when I am filled with sadness, I am not ready for much other than avoid tasks, turning away from obstacles, and succumbing to my problems. Of course Nehemiah is not talking about just any joy. He is talking about the joy of the Lord! The source of our joy makes all the difference in the world. The joy of the Lord grounded in His Word has the power to transform our lives.
You have heard that knowledge is power. Well, it’s true. The person with the most knowledge can answer the tough questions and solve the impossible problems, which motivates people to follow her. When we understand God’s Word as it applies in our personal lives to answer our questions and solve our problems, we are overcome with joy. When we understand God’s love and grace and how He is present with us in every situation, our joy becomes our strength. Perhaps if we celebrated God’s Word in our lives, threw a party rejoicing over His Law, ate rich foods and sweet drinks as they did at Nehemiah’s request, we just might have enough joy and strength to change the world. At the very least, we would spread cheer and happiness to everyone we would meet.
What is your source of strength? Do you have joy?