December 16, 2019

Advent 2019 - Joy

Devotion for the Week...

It's week three of Advent already! So far we have considered the hope and peace Jesus brought when He came to the earth to live as one of us. This week we look at the joy He gives. I have to start this week's devotion with a prologue, though.

If you've been reading these devotions long enough, you may remember that I've said before that I struggle with writing about joy because there are people in the church suffering from depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. These illnesses rob people of the joy that should be theirs. The church, unfortunately, sometimes compounds this by claiming that 'true Christians' don't need medication or counseling to manage their depression or other mental illness, they just need more faith. Even worse, I once sat through a sermon during which the pastor claimed mental illness was caused by demonic influence, which had me practically grinding my teeth because I knew there were people sitting in the congregation that day who deal with mental illness.

Mental illness is just that - an illness. It is not caused by demonic influence or by a lack of faith. There is no cause for shame or condemnation. Please, please, if you suffer from depression or anxiety or any other mental illness, please speak to your doctor. There is help available and you deserve that help.

Having said that, let's have a look at what the Bible says about joy.

In the Old Testament, before Nehemiah's time, the people had been exiled because they had turned away from God. They had been taken captive and lived in exile for decades, but in Nehemiah's day they were allowed to return to Israel. During the restoration of the temple, the Book of the Law of God had been found and they gathered all the people together to hear it read. Hearing it was a shock to the people, as they understood how very far they had fallen from the standard God had set for them. But Nehemiah told the people of Israel, "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!" (Nehemiah 8:10).

Now, this might sound odd. The people were crying in their distress, but Nehemiah told them to celebrate! Why? Why would they celebrate when they just learned that God wanted so much more from them and for them?

Even today, this same sadness is often how people react when they first learn about God and how He wants us to live. They feel miserable because they know how they have lived and how far that is from the holy lives God wants us to live. People feel like it's impossible for God to love them because they have been too bad.

In His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, though, Jesus prayed, "I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy" (John 17:13). Jesus taught His disciples about living the way God wants, both through the things He said and through what He modeled for them. But none of that was meant to bring them sadness. In fact, it was to bring them joy.

God is not standing over us, waiting gleefully to punish us for our sins. Rather, He is waiting expectantly, longing for us to turn to Him for forgiveness. If we now understand that "everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard" (Romans 3:23), then we are free to "repent and turn away from [our] idols, and stop all [our] detestable sins" (Ezekial 14:6). In other words, now that we know we are not right with God, we can change our direction and become right with Him, which is certainly cause for joy!

Nehemiah could tell the people that the joy of the Lord was their strength because now that they knew God's standard, they could begin to follow it and to live as He wanted His people to live. The same is true for us now. Once we trust in Jesus as our Savior, we are filled with joy that has nothing to do with our circumstances. It is the joy of knowing our relationship with God is secure and our sins have been forgiven.
Our repentance brings joy to God and to us, and it was made possible by Jesus coming to save us. That is the joy that comes from Christmas |
Jesus said, "There is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!" (Luke 15:7). Our repentance brings joy to God and to us, and it was made possible by Jesus coming to save us. That is the joy that comes from Christmas.

1 comment:

  1. Another very meaningful devotional - thank you!
    I echo your frustration about how some churches see illness - no one thinks that a broken leg is a result of demonic influence, and a psychiatric disorder is just as much a physical illness (brain chemical) disorder! Also, to deal with a chronic illness, and to pray daily for release, only to be told that you're not healed because you don't have a strong enough faith is SO hurtful and wrong! (Getting off my soapbox now...) Thanks for letting me vent!


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