With the Coronavirus pandemic that has not shown any sign of slowing down, there is a palpable fear in almost every country around the world now. Italy, a country of about 60 million people is on lock down today. Airlines are cancelling thousands of flights, workers are being asked to work from home, and students are being asked to go on an unscheduled vacation. The stock market is responding wildly to the uncertainty that pervades every facet of life. Am I going to be sick? Will I survive if I get sick? Will I still have a job when this is all said and done? Will my retirement fund make it back on time for my retirement? All kinds of questions are going through people’s minds. Yet, the word of God says “Rejoice always” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16. How can one rejoice within the uncertainty that is going on now? The word of God in Philippians 4:4 makes it a little clearer. We are not supposed to rejoice by our own strength. Circumstances and vagaries of life often overpower strength and they have the tendency to take away joy. But the word of God says “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). The idea is to rejoice in the Lord, because the joy of the Lord often gives strength that we cannot summon on our own accord.
When the word of God was read by Ezra in Nehemiah 8, the exiles who returned listened to it, became convicted by the word and broke down weeping. They wept profusely because they realized where they had gone wrong. They were obviously in despair, but Nehemiah encouraged them and said to them, “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.” – Nehemiah 8:10. It takes the grace of God for one in despair to go and enjoy food, not to talk of enjoying the food and then having the heart to be kind towards others. That grace comes from the joy of the Lord. And he told them “for the joy of the Lord is your strength”. The joy of the Lord produces inner strength. The joy of the Lord gives an inward disposition that says I know this is not the end of the story, I know my God is in control, and I know tomorrow will be better. Realizing that the Joy of the Lord is their strength, they moved on from being people in despair to folks who built shelters for all of them that returned from captivity. Nehemiah 8:17 tells us that “their joy was very great”.
How can we experience the Joy of the Lord in our lives like these exile returnees did? Our faith and relationship with God is key. There is a kind of joy that emanates from making God a friend. Everything about Him becomes personal. His word becomes personal. Serving Him becomes personal. Worshipping Him becomes personal. In fact, loving Him also become personal. That personal relationship with Him is what oils our joy in Him. “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, Lord God Almighty” – Jeremiah 15:16. Just imagine the kind of joy you feel in your hearts when you fall in love. Seeing that person gives you joy. Talking to that person gives you joy. Hearing from that person gives you joy. The relationship becomes so personal that everything about that person gives you joy. The joy you feel sometimes reaches a level where you think you are ready to take on the world with that person by your side. That is how it is with the Joy of the Lord, only even more so at a higher level.
This personal relationship with God leads to a lot of other things. It leads us to serve God with all of our hearts, which now results in even more Joy in the Lord (1 Chronicles 29:9 – the people rejoiced because of the service and the gifts they had given God willingly from their hearts). Taking time to be in His presence in Spirit and in truth also leads to further Joy in the Lord (in His presence there is fullness of Joy – Psalm 16:11). Above all of these, never cease to pray that His joy should always encompass you. “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete” – John 16:24. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, so only the Spirit of God can cause it to develop in us. When we have His joy it transforms our weakness into strength. That is the amazing God we serve. May His name always be praised!!! – By Pastor Simbo Odunaiya