By: Dr. Adrian Gammon
Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” -Nehemiah 8:10 NIV
I’ve often thought of God’s power being my strength, or His wisdom, but have often struggled to understand His joy as being my strength too. I keep thinking of the song “The Joy of the Lord is my strength” – which repeats that line somewhere around a million times. It’s repetitive, but it does stick in my head as well. Which is what I need when I don’t feel like being joyful. But there is strength found in God’s joy.
We are Creatures prone to either fixating on the good and forgetting the bad (the good ol’ days) or focusing on the bad and entirely forgetting the good – in our case – the big picture. The big picture is that we have an eternity guaranteed to be amazing – an eternity that starts now. Death will just be a door and passage into a much better place spent with the One Lord God who made us and loves us in a squeeze-you-so-tight-in-a-bearhug-that-your-breath-is-knocked-out sort of way. Jesus’ death for us, is, in a much bigger, more encompassing sort of way, as if someone who received the perfect 100% score on their finals/boards instead willingly exchanged their score for a complete failure. The failure was granted that status as graduate/veterinarian/doctor and proceeded with dignity, respect, honor, the same intelligence, into their new life, while the one who had received the perfect score was scorned and stamped as the failure with big red letters.
This illustration is, of course, imperfect. But imagine the relief of having the failing grade be substituted and accepted as pure brilliance. How undeserved the exchange! But when we are accepted as daughters and sons of God what joy that realization brings! What relief! We’re counted as righteous, as loving, as holy as our perfect Jesus. I digress. But only a little:
We are told to fix our hearts on things above, where Christ is seated in power, not on earthly things (see Colossians 3:1-4). Why do you think that is?
I think it’s because we tend to forget the hope we have, and instead fear that the desperate circumstances we are in are the final and real deal. Actually, they are only part of the story. God is, and always has been, the One in control. These other stories are allowed to play out for a while so that we might grow in character, be strengthened as we run to Him, build perseverance, rely on God and not on ourselves, so that others might be saved, etc.
When I was in vet school it was difficult to remember that my worth was not in my performance or various failures there. It was encouraging to find the few other Believers in my school. Meeting together helped to remind us to put our focus on what was true – i.e. in our powerful God who loved us and found us intrinsically worthy because of Jesus. I had heard of CVM once before, and having grown up overseas with parents who were spending their lives being intentional in an international setting, it seemed a natural thing for me. I wanted to be a vet so I could help people, and I loved working with animals so that seemed like a God-given progression. The difficulty came when I wasn’t as ‘good at it’ as I wanted to be. Why could I not be the brilliant, all-knowing, all-wise veterinarian/student with the best communication skills in the entire world that I wanted to be??
Last week, I made a big clinical mistake, which was fortunately caught and treated by the local emergency clinic when I referred the clients there for overnight monitoring. My mistake was devastating to me. But the Holy Spirit prompted me to turn to Him instead of wallowing and turning it over and over and over in my mind. Praying, finding in that moment songs bubbling up to my head and choosing to sing them, turned my heart to His eternal, joyful perspective.
God was, and is, in control. It was His job to use me as He would, it was my job to be willing, and to trust Him with the outcome.
How is God asking YOU to be willing? Is there someone He’s calling you to share His hope and joy with? A short-term or long-term CVM trip? Being more vulnerable and open in your struggles so that others can pray for you?
Check out Acts 16:16-34. I am always struck by what Paul and Silas were doing when they were in prison (which honestly seems like a failure – crowds of people weren’t repenting as soon as Paul and Silas preached; instead, they were accused, beaten and just chillin’ in prison). They were praying and singing hymns to God – in other words they were joyful! And what happened??
We are told countless times to sing for joy to God, make music to God, sing songs, hymns and spiritual songs, dance, praise, give thanks. Many times the praise and singing comes after God has rescued us – and at other times, David frequently in the psalms for example, would pour out his heart of sorrow, fear, earnest prayers to God for help, but would remind himself in the midst of those circumstances who God was.
What is a difficulty you are facing now that you need strength for?
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. -Colossians 3:15-17