Nehemiah 8:9-12. 9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. 10 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.” 11 So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” 12 And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.
Do you believe that God wants you to be happy? That more than anything God wants you to enjoy him? Maybe this idea surprises you, especially when life can seem so sad and hard.
Sometimes I think Christians believe they’re not allowed to be happy. And so they try to do this thing where they distinguish between joy and happiness. “Joy is not an emotion, it’s a state of being.” “Joy is a deep contentment, but happiness if frivolous and fleeting.” But the truth is that the Bible makes no distinction between joy and happiness. There are over 100 Bible verses that place joy and happiness side by side. The truth is that God wants us to have joy, AND God wants us to be happy. God wants us to feel both inner peace and contentment and he wants us to experience deep pleasure from the gifts of this life. Or sometimes Christians argue, “God wants us to be holy not happy.” No, God wants both. And, as we see in Nehemiah 8, God’s holiness produces our happiness.
In Nehemiah 8, the people have returned from exile in Babylon to rebuild their holy city. As they are gathered at the wall in Jerusalem to hear the reading of the Law of God, they begin to cry – For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. They are grieved knowing that they have fallen short of what is required of them. They haven’t worshiped God as he intended, or loved him with their whole hearts. The Law reveals their failures. And so they weep.
This is the job of the Law – to produce grief in our hearts. Law can only point out our failings. It can only reveal our weakness. Law (God’s or our own) can never produce true lasting joy.
But too often we think it can.
Have you ever thought “I’ll be happy when ____”? We all have. This is because we have the whole process of being happy backwards. We believe that we will find happiness when we achieve. When we reach a goal. When we overcome a weakness. We believe that strength produces joy, but God says the opposite – that joy produces strength.
This is life changing. If joy doesn’t come from strength, then we can be happy even when we’re weak. We can find joy even when we’ve failed and fallen short. This means happiness is not something we must pursue or achieve (sorry Thomas Jefferson). And neither joy nor happiness is something we have to wait for until our circumstances change. We can be happy right now. We can experience joy on any given day.
How? Because the joy of the LORD (Yahweh) is your strength.
Our covenant God, Yahweh, has covered over every one of our failures, every sin, every weakness, every shortcoming with his own holiness, given to us in Christ. The same holiness of God that produces our grief over sin also produces our happiness over grace – for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved. Nehemiah first declares God’s holiness, and then he sends the people home to celebrate with great rejoicing!
Union with Christ changes our whole paradigm of happiness. Joy is now an act of faith. It is believing that we are holy – forgiven, free, innocent, and cleansed. And it is this joy found in trusting God’s grace that produces strength in our lives. No fear of failing or falling. Just the joy of the Lord’s grace propelling us forward each day in the strength of his love.
“To live is Christ” has brought us into the joy of the Lord. Yes, weep over your sin, this is right and good. But then rejoice over your Savior, for he rejoices over you. Let your mourning be turned to dancing and your sorrow to gladness. Let your cross become your resurrection. Let the imputed holiness of Christ cause you to delight in him. Let his gracious gifts make you happy (it’s okay, you’re allowed), and find your strength in the joy of the Lord.
Are you happy? Why or why not?
You in Christ
How can knowing you are in Christ give you joy even in the trials and temptations of life?
Christ in you
Where can the joy of the LORD give you strength today?
Playlist: Joy and Happiness
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