There is something inviting about joy. Whether joy is evident through loud celebration or is quietly courageous and hopeful in the face of adversity, it piques our curiosity and draws us to discover the source.
The Israelites were in a loud, joyful mood. On this special day, the people were dedicating the newly rebuilt wall surrounding Jerusalem. For ninety years, the proof of their leaders’ apathy and their enemies’ opposition had been right before their eyes, for there had been no city wall to proclaim that Jerusalem was a city worthy of protection. For ninety years, the Israelites had coped with and been shaped by the unfair actions of others, the intimidating circumstances, their own apprehension, and their discouragement. They had not forgotten God, but their burdens turned their focus from Him, and their joy was smothered.
But Nehemiah stepped into this picture of fear and indifference, and in fifty-two days the wall was built! The circumstances did not change when Nehemiah came onto the scene. In fact they worsened, but Nehemiah helped bring the Israelites’ focus back to their source of help, hope, and joy—God.
Now that the wall was complete, “the joy of the people of Jerusalem could be heard far away” (Neh. 12:43). This is not surprising because the people wanted to declare the goodness of God and the difference He had made in their lives.
And they had a plan to do exactly that. They divided into two groups and up on the wall they went, marching around Jerusalem. And they didn’t merely march. They sang songs of happy thanksgiving as they were led by priests and Levites playing trumpets, cymbals, lyres, and harps. Their joy was the kind that could not be restrained, so “they played and sang loudly and clearly” (Neh. 12:42).
The people were not embarrassed or shy about their joyful proclamation of praise to the God who loved them, provided for them, and protected them. To those who heard and worshiped the same God, the marchers’ joy would have increased their own joy. To those who heard but did not worship God, the joy of the Israelites would have drawn them to investigate, for it is hard to ignore genuine joy. And to those who were the Israelites’ enemies, this loud and clear expression of joy would have been salt in the wounds. But salt is both painful and healing. Knowing full well what this joy represented, these enemies would need to decide if they would continue to dismiss God or begin to rethink their relationship with Him.
It is easy enough to display our joy in being a child of God when we feel we have something to rejoice over. But life does not hold only those things. The joy that comes with trusting God in the midst of things that cause us pain speaks loudly and clearly to our belief in God’s goodness.
We see this type of joy in Jesus’ life as He traveled from Galilee toward Jerusalem to His eventual death. Jesus knew what was coming: His physical suffering, the rejection by those whom He loved, His death, and His painful separation from God as our sin became a barrier between them. In spite of all of this, “Jesus was filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit” as He taught His followers and the curious crowds (Luke 10:21). Genuine joy during difficult times was not a natural reaction for Jesus, and it is not for us. But it is possible with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Joy can be more than something that triggers curiosity or is inviting. It can be life-changing if it allows us to share with others what it is about our relationship with Jesus that makes us joyful. As believers, we have been given a great gift: the possibility of experiencing joy in all circumstances. Our joy may be linked to a happy occasion like the Israelites’ and shared with enthusiasm. Or it may be like Jesus’ joy, existing in spite of a difficult situation and shared quietly. Either way it will be compelling.
© 2010 Arlina Yates