Writer Philip Yancey says this about endurance. “Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory.”
By the time we reach chapter 8 of Nehemiah, our main character has faced all manner of obstacles to the goal to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem. Nehemiah had been made aware of the desolation of the Jews, his people, and the great Holy City of Jerusalem. With no wall, or gates, the city would be unable to protect itself from enemies, or establish any stability for the people. The walls and gates lay in ruin; the people’s ability to endure was in survival mode.
But Nehemiah had been placed in a position at the King’s Court, and after humble and repentant prayers to God, He opened the King’s heart to hear Nehemiah’s request for help. Even after the King’s help, and his stamp of approval, Nehemiah’s work continued to be challenged by others. Nehemiah’s plan to rebuild the wall was laughed at, undermined, mocked by friends, and attacked by enemies. Many questioned his legitimate position of authority. He was required to motivate others, while fending off the negative influence of his own people.
Even with the great treachery of man, the attempted undermining of Nehemiah’s authority, and the attacks of the neighboring enemies, God’s plan for his people prevailed, and the wall was completed!
Now it came to pass on the first day of the seventh month, there was a special celebration called the Feast of Trumpets. The people had much to celebrate with the completion of the wall, but given the nature of the holiday, they joined together in the square to worship and listen to the reading of the law. They recognized the great things God had done for them and their hearts were tender and soft for His message. As the Word is read by Ezra the scribe, it pierces the hearts of the people and convicts them of their ways. They fall to their knees weeping and repenting before the Lord.
It is now in chapter 8, verse 10 we read the wonderful words, “For the joy of the LORD is your strength.” But I want you to also remember the three words before, “Do not sorrow.”
For many this year has been emotionally challenging. Some people have experienced disappointments, including divorce, death of loved ones, illness or disease, pain and suffering, financial hardship, and issues in relationships, just to mention a few. You could be in the middle of a downward spiral from guilt or hopelessness. It may seem to you like every external force imaginable is out to wreck your happiness. And now, it’s Christmas?
Here’s the problem, happiness is external; It is impacted by all of these earthly challenges. We need to go deeper; we need to find the joy. Luke 2: 10-11 tells us where to find the joy, Then the angel said to them “Do not be afraid, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
Just as it was in the time of Nehemiah, there are certain times to celebrate the great things God has done. He commands us “Do not sorrow,” in fact His word tells us to celebrate His greatness, His faithfulness, and His mercy. Probably the greatest reason for celebration is Jesus coming to earth to live like man. The blood He shed built a bridge over the wall of sin that separates man from God. “Do not sorrow,” for God has provided a way back to Him!
So, for whatever reason you find it difficult to celebrate this wonderful season, I ask you to take your eyes off yourself and look around you. Do you see someone lonelier than you? Do you see someone with less than you? Do you see someone who seems to be hurting more than you? Perhaps it is time to plant the seeds of joy that live inside you. The fields are ready but the workers are few.
As C.S. Lewis said many years ago, “Joy is the serious business of Heaven.” Let’s not just endure life, let’s turn it into God’s glory!