This is the theme the Lord gave me at the end of last year for 2017. Although I have used this Biblical statement many times throughout my life, I needed to revisit the context (Neh. 8:9-12) in order to understand a theme I believe God is emphasizing for this year.
When presented with this statement some may think it is the words of Jesus. Others might put it in the writings of Paul, or one of the other apostles. In reality, these are words of an Old Testament Jewish leader. He, in conjunction with the other Jewish leadership, powerfully spoke these words of encouragement to the Jewish people. They did this as an important part of God’s process in order to complete a very challenging Kingdom task. How often are we as pastors asked by God to undertake a very difficult ministry that seems to be opposed on every side? You may be involved right now in an effort contending for the faith against the divisiveness of the Adversary, as Nehemiah was. He and his leaders, Ezra and the Levites, were commissioned by God to return home and coordinate the restoration of Jerusalem. They were a conquered people, driven away from their home and vigorously resisted in the work of God. Do you ever feel like this as you press on in Christ? Do not be discouraged. God in His sovereignty intervened on their behalf and gave them favor with the rulers of nations. He is doing the same today in our country and throughout the world.
America may appear to be a nation divided, Christianity rejected, with conflict and controversy as the order of the day. But, the Lord is calling for us to stand and speak in the face of despair, anger and relational breakdown; “Do not be grieved for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” As pastors, we need to call the people together in order to share the word of God, worship Him and send them out to spread the Word. In Hebrew we are told the people were mourning (loud wailing, both verbal and physical, without ceasing), weeping (a flow of tears; making lamentation – involves public calamity – in sorrowful complaint), and grieved (physical and mental discomfort, anguish, shock, pain, anger; being offended). Does this sound familiar? Yet Gods’ plan and work is not derailed by peoples’ display of unrestrained emotion.
Be encouraged! Although the environment was filled with opposition, confusion and chaos, Nehemiah stood strong in the power of God, confident in the favor of kings and determined to overcome all obstacles. In verses 11 and 12 we see the leaders calming the people, instructing them not to be grieved, but rather to celebrate today for it is the Lord’s day, and He has made it holy. I know it is difficult to go against the grain in our culture of no rules, boundaries, restraints, morals, or absolute Truth. As we persevere, God is changing things and people, as He did on that day. In the Hebrew we are told the people understood (received power enabling discernment and Divine insight). They began to celebrate and went throughout the land bringing God’s celebration.
How did Nehemiah and his leaders impart such Divine inspiration which brought forth such powerful fruit? They chose not to be grieved and to possess the joy of the Lord as their strength. In the New Testament, Galations 5:22,23 reveals that joy is part of the fruit the Holy Spirit produces in our lives. We must choose to allow the Holy Spirit to do this through His work of sanctification. Scripture tells us that He will separate us from worldliness and bring us into God’s holiness every day through reading the Bible and praying (2 Thes.2:13; 1 Tim.4:1-5; 1 Thes.4:1-8). This transforming process is empowered as we pray in the Holy Spirit at all times (Eph. 6:18). We must be intimately connected with Jesus, as He was with the Father, by being proactive in this process (John 14). Pastor, if you are burned out from grieving your life problems, broken relationships, and/or ministry disappointments, you will pass these things on to others. We as pastors must choose to be proactive in our relationship with God and others.
Be engaged with people who will help and support you (and your spouse); take time for yourself, your marriage and your family; go to special ministry events, retreats, enrichments; have a mentor; get Christian counseling if you need to (work through your life pain/trauma; the past will be used to undermine your relationships and ministry in the present), call Focus on the Family; read Scripture, pray, commune with the Lord, exercise, eat right, (and include spouse and children in these activities) every day.
Nehemiah and his leaders were intimately connected with God; they were empowered to accomplish His work; they were granted favor with those in authority; they were Divinely inspired; they passed on His inspiration by being a calming presence for the people. The people then followed the instructions of their leaders, became people of celebration in Gods’ holiness and brought the good news to everyone.
Although the situation may appear to be desperate, God remains in control. Trust in the Lord, put yourself in His arms. He will heal your grief and make the joy of the Lord your strength (Eph. 6:10).