The book of Nehemiah is one of those books in the Old Testament I don't turn to very often. But, I spent a little time there this morning and I was touched by what I read. The book of Nehemiah recounts the third return to Jerusalem after captivity and tells of the rebuilding of the city walls. Chapter 8 brings us to a gathering of the people where Ezra, the scribe is reading to them from the Book of the Law. Verse 9 says, "Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, 'This day is sacred to the Lord your God. Do not mourn and weep.' For the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law."
I can symapathize with their weeping. I can imagine what they were feeling. Here they are, listening to God's word, God's law and they had not been living up to it. Have you ever been there? Have you ever been confronted with God's perfect standard only to realize you come up short, very short? Doesn't it make you want to weep at times? Have you felt that conviction deep in your soul and felt ashamed? I have.
But Nehemiah tells them it is not a time for mourning and weeping, this is a sacred day. He tells them to "Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks." He says, "Do not grieve for the joy of the Lord is your strength." He speaks of joy when they are reeling with guilt. It's a good lesson.
Guilt is such a powerful tool of satan. He loves to take that conviction, that prompting from the Holy Spirit to make a positive change, and turn it into something which cripples us. He wants us to dwell on the thing we've done wrong, reminding us how awful we are, what terrible sinners we are. Maybe if he gets us thinking all those negative thoughts we won't have the time or the inclination to work on the change part.
But Nehemiah reminds us the joy of the Lord is our strength. We don't have to weep and mourn because God provides the way to salvation. And we have it so much easier than these Old Testament Jews because we have the rest of the story, we have Jesus. Romans 8:1 tells us "there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ." We have freedom from the law and freedom from our sinful nature. Does that mean we no longer sin? Of course not, but our sin should not be our focus, our relationship with God should be and in Him is forgiveness and love and joy.
So the next time you feel that tug on your heart, that conviction from the Holy Spirit urging you to change in some area of your life, I want to encourage you to find the joy in that. Don't turn to the guilt satan will try to fill you with. Be joyful that you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. It is a sacred day. Let the joy of the Lord be your strength.