THE JOY OF THE LORD

“Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
Nehemiah 8:10

Nehemiah and his company had reason to rejoice. He had been authorized to lead an expedition from the place of the Jews’ captivity to their homeland, in Jerusalem. There he would organize and supervise the rebuilding of the city walls. In spite of numerous delays and continued opposition, the walls were now completed. It was an occasion that called for joy, and he spoke of the “joy of the Lord” being the strength of God’s people.

It is such a simple and yet transforming thought: God wants us, His children, to experience an abundant life. He wants us to be a joyful people. He gives us joy. One evidence of the Holy Spirit’s filling is the presence is joy. We should be, and can be, a rejoicing people. We have abundant reasons to have joy. There is joy in knowing our sins are forgiven. When the Samaritans received the Gospel and were saved, the Bible describes their disposition as having great joy in their city.

There is fulfillment in knowing our lives have purpose. There is joy in knowing our Father is in control. There is joy in serving the Lord and others. Some have used the following acronym for the word joy: Jesus, Others, You. There is joy when God’s people gather together for worship. Psalm 122:1 says, “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD.”

Joy is good for us, and it is good for others. Proverbs 17:22 tells us, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” Happiness and laughter are good for us. An optimistic outlook is healthy. Very few of us want to be around a complainer or critic. A person’s attitude can be contagious, and our position in God’s grace gives us reason to rejoice.

It would be wise for us to think about the kinds of things that can hinder our joy. For instance, we know that unconfessed sin in our lives can steal our joy. David said, “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation” (Psalm 51:12). Other things can also affect our joy such as worry, fear, bitterness, self-centered living, etc. Satan wants to steal our joy because there is strength and power in “the joy of the LORD.”

TRIALS HAVE THEIR PURPOSE

“Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word. It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes. I know, O LORD, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me.”
Psalm 119: 67, 71, 75

One of the most important lessons in the Christian life is learning to relate to the tests, adversities, and difficulties of life. We are taught by the Scripture that when our Heavenly Father permits trials in our lives, they are not without value or purpose. Sometimes trials are a test of our faith. Sometimes they can be attributed to spiritual warfare. Trials can also be the result of unwise decisions we have made, as we are reaping what we have sown. However, in all cases, God is able to use our trials to benefit us and glorify Himself.

In this text, we see that David saw his being “afflicted” as part of God’s correction. He confessed he “went astray,” and acknowledged that the afflictions that God allowed in his life helped correct this wayward inclination. In the great hymn, “Come, Thou Fount Of Every Blessing,” the songwriter penned these words in the third stanza: “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it.” We all need correction because it helps keep us from going astray, just as loving instruction and proper correction helps our children avoid going astray. When we realize that problems are sometimes warnings of reproof to lead us back to God, we see the benefits of those difficulties.

Most of us could testify that we have learned valuable lessons in times of affliction. David was no exception to this. He stated that it was good for him that he had been corrected. Correction is good for us. Proverbs 3:11, 12 tells us, ” My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction: For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.” God corrects us because He loves us. Sometimes as parents, we may be inconsistent in our correction, but God is faithful to discipline His children.

It is for our benefit, both in this life and in eternity, that we obey the Lord and keep His Word. David said the benefits of his afflictions were “that I might learn thy statutes.” It is wise for us to realize and accept the fact that God’s way is best. When we fail to walk in obedience to His Word, our Heavenly Father sometimes uses afflictions to direct us back into the right path.

SERVING OUR GENERATION

“For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption.”
Acts 13:36

The Word of God refers to David as having “served his own generation by the will of God.” This phrase could accurately describe our own great purpose in life. We are saved to serve the Lord and others. David “served his own generation.” Every generation has its own challenges and opportunities, and God commands us and equips us to serve our generation. How contrary this is to the message of the world, which emphasizes letting others do for us rather than our doing for others. Like our Master, we are to be faithful servants. Jesus, speaking of Himself, said, “the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). By example and by His words, Jesus teaches us that we are placed here in this life to serve.

We live in an exciting time to serve the Lord. It would be vain to wish for the good old days, or deceive ourselves into thinking that a better day to serve the Lord will one day come. What is wrong with today? Our day is full of unique opportunities. Fruitful believers have always seized their individual moment for service. As Mordecai said to Esther, “who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14) The best time for serving the Lord is now. The needs in every generation have been great. God has placed us here, at this time and in the place of our service, uniquely qualified to touch our generation with God’s Word and His love.

Undoubtedly, there will always be those who doubt their ability to significantly impact their generation for Christ. What would be the greatest contribution we could make to our generation and our world? David served his own generation “by the will of God.” The best thing we can hope to do with our lives, and the most beneficial manner for us to help others, is to live in the will of God. It is a mistake to try to be what God wants someone else to be. We are to find the will of God and live in it. No one can do for this generation exactly what God wants done through you. When we can truthfully say that we are living in God’s will, and serving our own generation, we are fulfilling our greatest purpose in life.

ABBA FATHER

“For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.”
Romans 8:15

The word bondage describes our spiritual position and condition before we were saved. We were bound by sin, without hope and without God in this world. Not only were we in bondage, we had no means of being delivered from our pitiful state. At the moment we received Christ as Savior, we were translated from the kingdom of darkness into God’s family. The Holy Spirit immediately indwelt us and sealed us until the day of our redemption. The Holy Spirit leads us in the way He would have us go, assures our hearts before God, and enables us to live victoriously over sin.

The Scripture tells us also that we have received the “Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” At the time of our spiritual birth, we were placed in the family of God. This is a great realization, to know that God is our Heavenly Father. We are not outsiders looking in and observing God’s family; we are members of His family. God wants us to understand and enjoy that blessed privilege. It is a wonderful thing to consider that God is our loving Father. Evidence of this relationship is the glorious privilege of personal communion with God in prayer. We cry “Abba, Father.” Abba is a word that describes affection toward our Father. This is something that accompanies salvation.

Our relationship with God has changed. Galatians 4:6 records, “Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” We converse with God in prayer the way Jesus spoke with His Father. This intimacy with God is not just something we learn. The Holy Spirit brings this into our lives at the time of salvation. However, it can certainly be developed as we become more secure in our identity as children of God. Sometimes, because of the guilt of past sin, or because one has experienced less than ideal family models in childhood, new believers struggle with the love and acceptance we find with God as our Father. He wants us to know that He loves us deeply and that we are able to come to Him and converse with Him as a child to his Heavenly Father. The spirit of bondage to fear has been replaced with the “Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.”

GODLINESS IS PROFITABLE

“But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.”
I Timothy 4:7, 8

This wonderful passage of Scripture presents a truth that many in our world cannot relate to. It makes the declaration that “godliness is profitable unto all things.” This contradicts the popular notion, even among some professors of Christ, that godliness or spirituality has its place, but does not relate to all of life. It is not unusual to find those who believe that religion is certainly appropriate on Sunday or in church, but it is not welcome or necessary in the classroom, courtroom, workplace, or in politics. However, God says that godliness is profitable in every part of life.

Godliness is piety, holiness, or true spirituality. It is becoming more Christ-like in our personal lives. We are told in our text to “exercise thyself rather unto godliness.” Godliness begins at the time of our salvation, but it continues through spiritual exercise. This implies discipline, training, and spiritual growth. Godliness progresses as the result of removing things from our lives that are not spiritually profitable and bringing into our lives principles and practices that further our spiritual growth. Godliness is formed through Bible reading, prayer, faithful church attendance, and Christian service.

There is merit to bodily exercise, but it is only for a short time. Spiritual exercise is superior to physical exercise and benefits every area of our lives. Godliness will positively influence us in all aspects of our spiritual journey. It will make us better family members, citizens, students, employees, and friends. Godliness will have a desirable affect on every area of our lives. Because this is true, the opposite can be said about the absence of godliness. If we are not exercising ourselves spiritually, we will not be experiencing God’s best and blessing in all areas of our lives. Our Christian experience will be less than what God intends for it to be. Godliness will also benefit us in eternity, “having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” The benefits of physical exercise are only temporary, while the results of spiritual exercise and godliness are abundant both in this life and throughout all eternity.

GOD IS THE JUDGE

“Lift not up your horn on high: speak not with a stiff neck. For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.”
Psalm 75:5-7

In these verses, God warns against the sin of pride and self-promotion, and declares that He ultimately has the power to put one into a position or remove another. Although we clearly see and appreciate our privilege and duty as Christian citizens to pray and vote, we also realize that God’s will and ways may not always be apparent to us. As always, our responsibility and God’s sovereignty should not be seen as conflicting truths.

God has sometimes raised up leaders as a form of judgment upon or correction of a people. We see this truth in the way that God strengthened the mighty Babylonian Empire. The Lord even ordained that the reign of heathen leaders be a source of blessing to His people and an instrument to carry out His will. Such was the case of Cyrus, King of Persia. God raised him up to commission rebuilding efforts in Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity. The Bible tells us that God has such power and authority that He can just speak and raise up or put down entire nations. The Bible also teaches us that repentance, or lack of it, can absolutely influence the way God blesses or judges a nation or kingdom. In our lifetime, we have seen mighty nations weakened and others strengthened.

We certainly ought to do what we can to see godly leaders elected, but we must also trust God to work in and through governing officials to accomplish His will. Proverbs 21:1 tells us, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersover he will.” God can influence the hearts of leaders according to His will. For this reason, we must consistently pray for our elected officials, trusting the Lord to guide them and use them. Romans 13:4 tells us that “he is the minister of God to thee for good” and I Timothy 2:2 instructs us to pray for those in authority “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” We can influence those who govern us by informing them of our positions and holding them accountable for their decisions and actions. We also can trust the Lord to work through those whom He has permitted to be in positions of authority.

KINGS AND PRIESTS

“And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”
Revelation 1:5, 6

John the Beloved was exiled to the Isle of Patmos. There, God showed him things that would occur in the future. In this Scripture, John speaks of things that Christ has done and is going to do in the lives of His children. We can relate to these benefits and privileges John wrote about. He spoke of “him that loved us.” This is where our story begins, with the love of God.

What a reassuring fact it is, that the Lord loves us immensely and unconditionally! He loved us when we did not love Him. As only He could, God in His great love looked beyond the guilty sinners that we were and saw souls worth dying for. He loves us when we behave and when we misbehave. He loved us when we were lost and undone, and He loves us now as His children. He showed His love for us when He died for us on the cross. He drew us to Himself by this great love; and when by faith we received Him as our Savior, He “washed us from our sins in his own blood.”

Nothing could cleanse us from our sin except the perfect and sinless blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. God loves us so much that He became the sacrifice for sin so that we could be forgiven. The blood of bulls and goats could never take away sin, but He became the sinless and spotless Lamb. His blood continues to wash us and cleanse us. By the grace of God and the gift of salvation, we have been reconciled to God and redeemed.

Because He loves us and has cleansed us, He has made us fit to serve Him with our lives. He has made us “kings and priests unto God.” As kings, we reign in life through Jesus Christ. We will one day reign with Him in His kingdom. As priests, we offer sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving and have access into the very presence of God.

There is an obvious progression in these three distinct blessings. It starts with God’s love. His love for us was the reason Jesus came from Heaven to die on the cross of Calvary. It was His love that sought us and bought us. After we are saved, we see that He has a plan for us and wants to include us in service for Him, all for His glory.

HONORING VETERANS

“Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.”
II Timothy 2:3, 4

The life of a soldier is not an easy one. The sacrifices that are made are real and should be appreciated. Our nation would not be what it is, were it not for the brave men and women who have courageously served their country. We should be grateful for our veterans, including those who presently serve, and for their families who have known the price of defending our freedoms.

It is fitting to honor veterans for their patriotism and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the cause of freedom. However, it is also important to recognize those who have sacrificed for the service of the Lord Jesus Christ. So many faithful servants of God, some with familiar names but many more who were virtually unknown, have enlisted in the fight for what is right. Paul often used the matter of warfare to describe the conflicts of the Christian life. We are indeed in a spiritual battle, not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual wickedness and dangerous error. This war has resulted in many casualties, sometimes because God’s people forget that there is a battle raging.

According to the Scripture, we are to be a “good soldier of Jesus Christ.” He has chosen us to serve under His command. Because we are serving the Savior, we want to be good soldiers. We want to be loyal and obedient to our Commander in Chief and always seeking to please Him. In order to be a good soldier, we must take care not to become entangled with “the affairs of this life.” A soldier must keep his mind focused on the war. Soldiers cannot afford to forget the dangers of battle and the consequences of negligence. One of the chief reasons we have seen many past, or potential, soldiers removed or disqualified from active duty is because they got entangled with the affairs of this present, evil world.

There will be difficulties and hardships as we serve the Lord Jesus Christ. As good soldiers, we are to endure through times of adversity. We must recognize and resist temptations to be distracted from our cause, which is to honor and obey the Lord. We honor the veterans who have served our nation well, but also the veterans of the faith who have given their lives in service to Christ.

CHOSEN VESSELS

“But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.”
Acts 9:15

Paul had been traveling to Damascus to continue his persecution of Christians when he met the Lord and was converted to faith in Christ. God instructed Ananias to go to Paul and, among other things, to let Paul know that He had a very special place for him in His work. The Lord said of Paul, “he is a chosen vessel unto me.” What a testimony this is to the grace of God, that someone as contrary to the Christian faith as Paul, was chosen to be a vessel for God. It is equally true to say that we are vessels for the Master’s use. God has a purpose for each of our lives. He desires to use each of us in His service.

It is such an uplifting truth to know that God has a specific will for us. This is especially encouraging when we realize that, like Paul, we all have been guilty of rejecting Christ or His will. This is a great boost to our sense of personal significance and purpose. Every person needs the assurance that his life matters for good. God has chosen us to serve Him. Of course, we understand that God’s will is not the same for everyone. We should also understand that our greatest satisfaction or fulfillment comes from knowing that we are doing that which God wants us to do. We have also been chosen to serve the King.

Ananias informed Paul that God had chosen him to “bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.” Paul was a great missionary to the Gentiles. He took the message of salvation through Jesus’ death and the grace of God to those who had never heard. God used Paul, as He had used few others, to impact cities and continents with the story of God’s grace. None of us would compare ourselves to the Apostle Paul, but we have the same God and the same promises. He wants to use us as well. We are not all called to go to other nations, but we are all chosen and commanded to witness and tell others of salvation.

We should keep in mind that the most important thing about the vessel is not the vessel itself, but that which the vessel contains. As God’s vessels, we contain the Spirit of God, Who indwells us and transforms us, as well as the Word of God that teaches us. It is our privilege and responsibility to faithfully carry the Gospel of grace to others.

DON’T LISTEN TO EVERYTHING YOU HEAR

“Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee: For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others.”
Ecclesiastes 7:21, 22

We have heard children sing the chorus, “Oh, be careful, little ears, what you hear.” The truth in this simple song is most important. The Scripture warns us about the danger of believing everything we hear. The information we hear and the things we believe can have a tremendous effect on our lives, emotionally as well as spiritually. We need to exercise keen discernment in how we listen. Some things we hear may hurt us. The text says, “lest thou hear thy servant curse thee.” Sometimes we would be better off not hearing certain things.

Just as importantly, we need to realize that everything we hear is not true, accurate, or to be taken seriously. Some of what we hear may be exaggerated or completely false. These verses remind us that we, too, have been guilty of saying things that should not have been said. “For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others.” This is one reason the Bible speaks so strongly against talebearing and slander. The effect of what we hear, or what we say, should not be underestimated.

On the positive side, faith comes by hearing God’s Word; and encouragement can come from edifying words. Truth has the power to bolster our faith, but negative reports can diminish our confidence in God. We are benefited by accurate words and sound wisdom, but we should not take heed to “all words that are spoken.” Jesus warned Jairus not to believe the report that had been given unto him concerning the health of his daughter, but rather to believe God. How many people have been discouraged and offended by a confession that is contrary to the Word or will of God?

We need to be careful about what we hear. We can hear and believe something and thus form an opinion, only to find out later that what we had believed was not true. God instructs us about the danger of being careless listeners. Proverbs 14:15 tells us, “The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going.” It is very naive to take to heart everything we hear. Above all, we need to listen to the truth of the Word of God and godly counsel. God very clearly cautions about taking into our hearts and minds everything that we hear.