In the previous post, we found out that joy suspends sorrow and finds a reason for celebration. In Nehemiah 8, Nehemiah calls an end to mourning and commands the people to observe a festival. Why? Because “the joy of the Lord is your strength (Neh. 8:10).” Joy is like a surprise party in the midst of sorrow. A great party needs a happy host.
God, Our Happy Host
I have never been to a good party where the host is angry. That would be awkward. It is hard to enjoy a party if you get a sense that the host doesn’t want you to be there. That’s extremely awkward. A great party host is someone who is happy for the gathering.
Notice that Nehemiah says that it is “the joy of the Lord” that is your strength. That statement reveals one of the most profound truths of Scripture. If you grab onto this simple statement about God, it will revolutionize your faith. Are you ready for it? Here it is.
It is His joy that strengthens us. It is His joy that we run into quickly as a safe refuge from our sorrow. He is happy to invite us to enjoy Him, especially during difficulty. It is God’s joy that creates the surprise party in the midst of our sorrow.
But God Seems Angry
Despite the Bible’s revelation that we have a happy God, many people feel that God is temperamental and angry. This may be true for two reasons.
1) We misunderstand God’s anger.
Yes, there are indeed passages in the Bible where God pours out His wrath. In Genesis 19, God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah by sending down fire and sulfur from heaven. Someone who would send down fiery sulfur bombs from heaven certainly doesn’t sound like a happy host. But even God’s wrath is motivated by his joy.
If you are a parent, then you know what it is like to love a child. You also know what it is to be angry. A parent can have moments in which they could not be more proud of their child. There are also moments in which the parent could not be more angry with the child. But at the center of both places, both in pride and anger, the motive is joy.
A parent is proud of their child as they witness their growth and maturity. Each incremental accomplishment, the first step, the first word, the first win; each one brings joy. That dress she wears, his kindness to others, an award at graduation; the beauty of maturity also brings joy.
And nothing brings more joy to a parent than when a child obeys righteous instruction. A parent who has a sense of stewardship from God over his or her child’s life seeks to impart godly wisdom both from experience and from God’s Word. The parent has roughly a 20-30 year head start on the child and can see where decisions lead. So it brings great joy when the child responds positively to that instruction. Obedience brings joy.
But there are times when the child strays. When the child is very young, it may be their curiosity of a hot stove, but then later, the stakes grow higher. Perhaps it is a person, a place, or a path the child wants to explore, but the parent knows that it is a path that could be as harmful and painful to the child as him or her touching the hot stove.
When the child is young, if his mother turns around to see the chid’s hand reaching upwards toward a hot skillet full of steaming grease, she screams, “No!” “Don’t touch that!” And if the child insists and tries to reach up again, what does she do? She may go so far as to strike the hand. Sure it inflicts pain, but that pain pales in comparison to what could have happened had the child pulled down upon themselves hot grease from the stove.
And then the child is older. Insistent on going with those people to that place to do those things. And the father argues his case. He uses the deterrent of punishment to try to curb his child’s choices. Why? Because in both cases, the father knows not only the pain of poor choices but the joy of good ones. A parent fears the consequence of a scalding burn just as much as that of following unscrupulous friends. She’s seen it. Perhaps she’s lived it. But she knows it. But she also knows the joy of health and of success. A good parent is ever motivated by a happy vision for their child.
Even in Punishment, There is Joy
Even in punishment, the parent is motivated, not by anger, but by joy. It is joy that explains the passion. Joy, not anger, makes the parent scream across the room, lunge for the hand, and strike it if need be, “Don’t touch that!” It would be inaccurate to say that all the parent is, is angry. Ultimately, a parent is not moved by anger, but motivated by joy. That is a father or a mother who desires the fruits of obedience to become abundant in their child.
And the Lord speaks to this in Hebrews 12.
“Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:9-11
Sure, God gets angry. But He is not bitter. God is happy. The joy of the Lord explains His passion for His people, even in punishment. He knows the harm of sin and the paths of righteousness perfectly. He will strike out righteously to eradicate sin, not because He is always angry, but because He is ever joyful.
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2) You were raised by an abusive parent.
We are prone to bring our experience with our parents into our vision of God. I think this is natural since it is the trust of God that a parent would raise a child in the fear and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). The Lord’s desire is that a parent would take who He is and convey that vision of righteous love and protection into the child’s life (Deut. 6:4-9).
But sadly, as sinners, many parents do not share that same vision. Some parents may be absent or even abusive. Abuse may include anything from physical to sexual, to emotion, even religious abuse. A parent can warp a child sexually as well as religiously. He can abuse a child physically because he or she has superior strength. A parent can harm a child religiously through harsh and unrealistic legalism.
Whatever the abuse, it leaves an imprint. Unfortunately, that broken trust between God and a parent becomes an imprint in the child that they bring into their vision of God. Perhaps your parents did not know the Lord. Maybe they were not in the least bit interested in the Lord. Does this mean that you can never know the Lord as He is? Absolutely not.
Is there healing?
If I could encourage anything in your healing, it would be for you to deeply meditate on the truth that we have a happy God. You already have the statement on the joy of the Lord as our strength from Nehemiah 8. But I also want to introduce two other statements that point us to God’s happiness. Both of these were spoken by Jesus.
“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” – John 15:11
“But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” – John 17:13
I would encourage you to meditate on these verses as well as any verse in the Bible (and it is full of them) that speak of the Lord’s delights and joy. Think deeply about these revelations of His happiness and it will begin to transform your vision of Him and your relationship with Him.
We Have a Happy Host Who Wants You At His Party
If you are going to have a great party, you must have a happy host. The Bible states repeatedly that we have a happy God. But notice, especially John 15:11 and John 17:13. Not only do we have a happy host, but He issues an open invitation. God wants you to experience His joy. He is generous with His joy. He is an excellent host.
God’s desire is that His joy would become our joy. I will share more about this In my next post, but joy is a surprise party in the midst of your sorrow. And our happy host extends an open invitation to you.
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Read John 15:1-11
- Write the commands that are to be obeyed.
- Write the promises that are to be believed.
- Write the principles that are to be applied.
Take some time today to find verses and meditate on the joy of God. Where have you gotten it wrong? How do these verses change your relationship with God?