by C. Harmon
The crowd wept in repentance after realizing their disobedience to God’s commands. “Don’t mourn or weep on such a day as this,” declared both Nehemiah the governor and Ezra the priest, “for today is a sacred day before the LORD your God.” (Neh 8:9).
Nehemiah was one of many Jews who had been exiled from Israel and eventually allowed to return to Jerusalem. He had the honor and responsibility of supervising the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s demolished walls, governing the Israeli returnees, and bringing a spiritual awakening among them. 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!” (Neh 8:10).
That was many hundreds of years ago. Today we continue the feasting tradition with church potlucks, gladly sharing our food with those who have nothing prepared. And we, too, need to be reminded to rejoice in the Lord despite hard times, disappointment, or regrets.
In Margaret Jensen’s book, Lena, the author was mourning over her prodigal son, Ralph. It was the 1970s, and Ralph had gone the way of the hippie movement, embracing that lifestyle of letting his hair grow long, using harmful drugs, and rebelling against society. Margaret’s beautiful black friend, Lena, prodded her with, “Now I asks you, where is your joy?”
“But Lena, I want my son saved!” Margaret replied.
“Your joy got nothin’ to do with what you wants,” Lena shot back. “Your joy am Jesus, child! You got Him, you got peace. You got Him, you got it all! Ralph not your business. He is God’s business. Now I ask you, did the prodigal son’s father call in the FBI or the police? No. He trusted God, and he waited. Now, Sister Jensen, you must unclog the channel. You get the long hair, bare feet, drugs, and that mess out that channel so you can see God. God’s getting tired of hearing how bad the boy looks. He’s lookin’ in the heart. Now today we get the joy! . . . We begins to praise the
Lord till the joy comes.”
For two hours Lena marched Margaret around as they sang praise hymns and kneeled in prayers. She urged Margaret to just see Jesus, not the problem. “Let the joy of the Lord be your strength,” she insisted. Margaret got it—she chose the joy of the Lord! Later, she wrote in her diary, “I won’t be any happier the day Ralph comes home than I am today receiving the answer in my spirit, by my faith.” ?
1 Thessalonians 5:18 commands, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” We will find peace and greater blessing if we thank God for allowing only circumstances we can handle in His strength, praising Him for His constant presence, comfort, and help. In faith, we can claim Romans 8:28, praising God that He is working all things together for our good, as long as we show our love for Him. How do we show our love? Jesus said it is by obeying His commands (John 14:15, 23).
We may be tempted to ask God why He is allowing us to go through this very difficult situation or heartache. Perhaps a better question would be, “What do you want me to learn from this, God?” or, “What changes do You want me to make as a result of this horrible experience?”
From real-life current stories of people around the world who are being persecuted for their faith, we find many who still praise God and find their courage in their personal relationship with Him. For example, Voice of the Martyrs reported in their monthly newsletter of August, 2015, that a 13-year-old Nigerian boy named Danjuma
was brutally attacked by Islamic terrorists in January, 2015. He remembers the pain caused by a machete slicing through the left side of his head. Thankfully, he doesn’t remember his left arm being hacked by the machete, nor the other assaults. Remarkably, though he lost a lot of blood, he survived, and even more amazing is his forgiveness for the attackers.
“I forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing,” Danjuma said. And while the attackers injured him severely, they couldn’t take his joy; it is evident in his smile and his voice. “The joy comes from the Lord,” he said. He asks that believers who hear his story will pray that his faith will continue to grow.
Danjuma and Margaret Jensen chose joy in God despite their circumstances.
Can we do the same?