May the mountains bring prosperity to the people, the hills the fruit of righteousness. May he defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; may he crush the oppressor... For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death.
Psalm 72 3-4, 12-13
Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Devotional Reflection: A Joy that Gives Strength to Keep Going
It can often be hard to find joy today, especially when we allow the reality of the role our actions play in our changing climate to truly sink in. This realization can fill us with the opposite of joy: grief.
The Israelites in Nehemiah’s age experienced something similar.
With the favor of King Cyrus of Persia, a remnant of the exiled Israelites returned to rebuild the Temple and a ruined Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1-5). To provide safety for the returning exiles, Nehemiah rallied the Israelites to restore the city walls in a miraculous 52 days (Nehemiah 6). With the walls rebuilt, the first order of business was to celebrate and gather the people to hear the Law together so they could truly understand what God desired of them.
As the people listened, the scales fell off their eyes. They began to understand – to truly understand – how their failure to keep God’s covenant, how their rejection of the Lord their God who loved them and saved them time and time again, had led to their own exile and destruction of their holy city. With this realization, they wept bitterly. In seeing the grief and distress of the people, Nehemiah comforted the crowd saying, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Today, as we realize our role in climate change, it can bring up feelings of great grief, remorse, and lament. And rightly so. But God doesn’t want us to stay stuck in our grief. Quite the opposite. As Nehemiah encourages the returned Israelites – don’t remain in your grief but be strengthened by the joy of the Lord. Be strengthened by the joy of a good Father who says “I love you no matter what.” “I delight in you no matter what.” “I will do anything to bring you back to me and restore what is broken.”
The rebuilding of Jerusalem and the return of the exiles in Nehemiah is a prophetic picture of the restoration work of Jesus – a work that is cosmic in scale, that is for all of God’s creation, and that Jesus invites us to partner with him in accomplishing (Romans 8:19).
As we turn our hearts and minds toward Jesus in this third week of Advent, I am filled with joy as I imagine the joy it gives God to see his people rediscovering and reclaiming His mandate and commission us to care for all he has created. I imagine the joy He has as others see us operating in joy – in spite of the circumstances – and see the face of Jesus shining through us. This is a joy that gives me strength to keep going.
Jesus Emmanuel, thank you for coming to rescue us. Thank you for your reconciling work on the cross and that you invite us to partner with you in your mission to restore and renew all things. Help us to not remain stuck in on our own failures, but to lift our eyes to you, to receive your mercy and grace and rejoice in your goodness. Fill us and strengthen us with your never-ending wellspring of joy, so that we may never grow weary in doing the good works that you have set before for us and that we may share your life-restoring joy with those around us.