The Joy of the Lord
This weekend’s sermon really broke my heart. I’ll commend it to you here in its entirety. In briefest summary, we see from John 18:12-27 the account of the split screen drama of Peter’s unfaithfulness and three time denial of Jesus, all the while Jesus is standing as the faithful groom to his bride. If Peter, Jesus’ special disciple, can do this, how much worse am I? In our application, Pastor Josh had words to say to both the self-righteous and the doubting heart, but I am not either one of those, I am both. I feel like the person in James 1:8: double minded and unstable in all her ways.
I am this way in all contexts of my life, but to give you a glimpse of the conversations that go on inside my head throughout any given day, I’ll apply it here to parenting:
Self-righteous Self: I am so frustrated with my children. They are not listening, they are not obeying. Why are they are interrupting me again? Why are they arguing again? Why do I have to have the same conversations with them over and over and over?
Doubting Self: Why can’t have I have self-control with my children? I have to apologize to them so frequently, they’ll think I’m such a hypocrite. They’ll never come to know the Lord. Why would anyone want to know the Jesus I say is so wonderful when I don’t demonstrate any amount of joy in Christ to them?
From one extreme to the other I go, back and forth, from wake to sleep. But these two selves do have a common thread. Both of these put me at the center. All day long I am in the center of my own world. No wonder I am double-minded! No wonder I lack joy!
“...for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10
This verse in Nehemiah is stuck in the middle of this amazing chapter where God’s people are begging to hear His Word preached to them. “Read the Law!” they proclaim. They understand it, they believe it, and they are moved by it. They see God through His Word and they worship him. They receive the joy of the Lord, and they are strengthened.
But not me.
What I see actually played out in my life is that the joy of my children obeying is my strength, the joy of my husband leading me in the way I want to go is my strength, the joy of people telling me how great I am is my strength. When those things don’t happen, I have no joy and no strength.
What I know in my head is what Scripture tells me: I am created to love and enjoy God supremely. When I replace Him with something else, something else that will most certainly disappoint at some point or another, then I am making idols. I am setting myself up for a temporary pleasure I convince myself is true joy and it will leave me hurting and weak.
But getting that to translate to my heart is another story.
My heart wants TV over Bible reading. My heart wants entertainment over prayer. My heart wants human friends over communion with the Lord. My heart wants idle conversation over Bible study. My heart wants human accolades over the love of Jesus.
I am Peter. I am worse than Peter. And this is the reason the sermon was so heartbreaking.
Because while I am worse than Peter, denying my Jesus all over the place from one minute to the next, there HE stands for me. Taking the accusation, punishment, beating, and death that I deserve. While I often want heaven to avoid hell, I can see clearly in this moment is that hell is not God’s scare tactic to entice me to go another direction. It is just punishment for sinners. Just punishment for the Jesus-denying, self-living, self-loathing, and self-loving life I live minute to minute. And yet, he stands there not compelled, but lovingly, quietly, humbly taking it all on my behalf. But there’s more. Jesus didn’t stop with simply taking my place. He also shares his place with me. He JOYFULLY gives me his righteousness. And herein lies my true strength.
I imagine while in this flesh none of us will fully grasp what it means that God is (or should be) our ultimate happiness, but the fact that we wrestle with it should give us hope. Non-believers don’t care about such matters. And there are moments that give us glimpses. Standing at the Reformation 500 conference and hearing that first note when the voices of many churches sang How Great Thou Art together, a funeral service displaying the faithful life of a Christian woman, children understanding and applying the gospel to their own lives, the encouragement of a Christian sister as we share what God is revealing to us in His Word, and brokenness at a Sunday sermon… All of these invoke something in me that confirms that there is a greater happiness than what this world has to offer. They are little pictures of heaven: a place where the joy of the Lord, Jesus, will forever, without blemish, be my strength.
More in The Well Blog
December 13, 2018In Preparation
February 20, 2018A Biblical Theology of the Temple: The Presence of God in the Babylonian Exile (Part 4)
February 6, 2018My Pastor Calls Me a Failure