Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Terrifying, exhilarating joy

When the people of God finally heard the scriptures read out loud to them, they wept and were grieved. It had been seventy years of exile in Babylon and then Persia before they had been allowed to return to the devastated land of Judea to start all over again from scratch. The word of God hadn’t been read to them for decades, and so much of His word had been ignored and disrespected for years leading up to their captivity. To hear God speak to them once again was so overwhelming that they could only respond with tears of remorse and shame.  

It was understandable, but that was not what God wanted from them. It wasn’t time to mourn over the past, it was the time to grab ahold of the present and have faith for all the blessings and battles that were yet to come. Ezra, Nehemiah and the Levite priests told the people to stop crying, because that day was supposed to be holy. Lamenting their mistakes didn’t honor God, and pity kept their focus on themselves and not on God. Emotionalism is not the correct response to a time of holiness - joyful determination in faith is.  

The word “holy” usually creates a very negative reaction in most people. It gives off a sense of stuffiness and proud superiority. We get mental images of dull people in drab clothing and sour faces talking in preachy monotone voices, and the last thing we want is to be like them. I’m sure the devil has had a lot to do with that false impression of holiness, because it’s nothing like what we see in the Bible. Holiness was recognizing the power, love and protection of a mighty God – a God you can’t impress and a God you dare not mess around with.  For those who were humble, holiness was terrifying and exhilaratingly joyful all at once. For those who were proud, holiness was just plain terrifying because it revealed all the depravity of their soul.  

There was a man in King David’s time who casually touched the ark of the covenant with his hands to steady it, and his prideful disrespect coming in contact with God’s holiness killed him on the spot. To treat holy things as common is playing with fire. Self-pity and self-centeredness on a day of holiness is disrespectful to God too. The only correct response to a day of holiness was to celebrate with both joy and respect, with awe, humility and amazement that our Creator and Savior would grant us such abundant love and mercy, and then to embrace it with all we’ve got.  

Human nature is happy with parties or shopping sprees, and most people get more excited about those shallow experiences than time spent with the God who gave them life. Honoring His holiness means determining that God’s love and power is flooding over us in the middle of problems. It’s a supernatural power that’s not dependent on physical circumstances. Joy is chosen by faith. It triggers miracles to happen. It’s a crazy joy that celebrates victory before any victory is in sight. It pulls the power of heaven down to earth. Holiness means joy, and that joy is your strength.

Then he said to them, “Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”  (Nehemiah 8:10 NASB)

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