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If I were to tell you that I loved waking up before sunrise, running at 5:30 a.m., or doing ten pushups a day, I would be lying. Though I love being an early bird rather than a night owl and staying active and fit, arising in the wee hours of the morning or getting in a workout takes hard work, discipline, and motivation. These specific tasks require a conscious effort to invest our performance in something that matters to us and could potentially transform our lives.
While eating one piece of broccoli a day won’t satisfy your daily needed serving of vegetables, neither will one pushup do squat for your biceps. Similarly, attempting to dedicate our lives to holiness must happen more effectively than these simplistic examples.
When it comes to serious commitment, self-discipline, and motive in our walk with Christ, one habit I struggle to possess often is the posture of gratitude or joy.
By definition, Nehemiah 8:10b defines joy as something that comes from the strength of the Lord. The Hebrew translation writes joy as ḥeḏvâ, meaning gladness or rejoicing in the presence of the Lord. But here on earth, I think we tend to define joy a bit differently.
On this side of Heaven, our joy tends to be measured by how much money we make, how many adventures we sail across the sea, or how content we are in any given circumstance. I might go even further to say that our joy often becomes contingent on those situations, even when we know deep down there is still much to be thankful for through grace.
In Nehemiah chapter 12, an extensive list of Priests and Levites are listed by our author, in conjunction with their assigned roles. As the people resettled to a new land, these duties included singers of thanksgiving and gatekeepers who guarded the storerooms at the gates. While that might sound a bit boring, what is impressive about these designated jobs, is that after the people were allotted their duties, the Levites then hosted the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem (a big party!). Celebrating the completed work, the leaders went to the top of the wall to give thanks, praise, and play music before the Lord, followed by two choirs. Yes, they had worked hard, but their rest came at the end of their perseverance, hardship, and questioning.
Directly out of this series of events, Nehemiah 12:43 of the New International Version writes: “And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away” (Nehemiah 12:43, NIV).
Sometimes in life, I think we tend to ignore verses like Nehemiah 12:43 because we believe they don’t apply to us. We accept the lie that we can’t have joy heard far away because our conditions are too crippling, our circumstances too detrimental, our situations too unreachable. We affirm the deception that in a place of brokenness and despair, there indeed isn’t a wellspring of joy left within us.
But friends, let me tell you something that has changed my life: I have walked through Heaven and Hell on Earth, but I serve a never-changing God despite my changing circumstances. And amid my most tremendous pain, questionable trials, gnaw-ending torture, anxiety attack heartbreaks, I have tried my best to say, “Blessed be the God who gives and takes away” (Job 1:21). I credit this habit to my mom, who has walked far greater storms than I know but is constantly singing praises to His name.
While I do not do this perfectly, measure up to the heart my mom has, and often feel like crap pouring my emotions out to God, giving praise in the middle of my storm breaks the evasion of myths Satan tries to convince me are true.
In Nehemiah 12:43 noted above, the word joy comes from the Hebrew transliteration śimḥâ. Meaning blithesomeness or glee, (religious or festival), exceeding(-ly), gladness, joy(-fulness), mirth (glee or delight), pleasure, and rejoice(-ing), śimḥâ, is the joy of heart and God, found in Jeremiah 7:34, 16:9, 25:10, and 33:11. The joy that these people were given from God was God Himself.
“The voice of joy, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride, the voice of them that shall say, Praise the LORD of hosts: for the LORD is good; for his mercy endureth for ever: and of them that shall bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the LORD. For I will cause to return the captivity of the land, as at the first, saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 33:11, KJV).
Because despite what our diagnoses, stress, and feelings try to persuade us of, joy, thankfulness, or gratitude are not conditions; they are choices. Joy is not merely a feeling or emotion but a reflection of gratitude within us, despite our external circumstances. And now, I am choosing joy.
Today, I wonder if our joy can be heard far away or if melancholy thwarts our souls. I ponder if the delight living within us gets to make His appearance or if all the other pressures of this life supersede Him to the place that we can no longer hear His voice.
In confession, I struggle with joy. I have written about this often. But God, I am asking for more pleasure in you. I long to believe the truth that despite our failures, flaws, and outcomes, this spirit is not a condition but an infinite choice to rejoice in thanksgiving in you. Lord, we long for more of your pure joy as we rejoice in your faithfulness. Even in the sorrow and doubt, I will praise. For praise is the password to joy.
“You can pass through his open gates with the password of praise. Come right into his presence with thanksgiving. Come bring your thank offering to him and affectionately bless his beautiful name” (Psalm 100:4, TPT).