The Joy of Yahweh is Our Strength!

My dear family, when you find yourselves tumbling into various trials and temptations, learn to look at it with complete joy, because you know that, when your faith is put to the test, what comes out is patience. What's more, you must let patience have its complete effect, so that you may be complete and whole, not falling short in anything. (James 1:2-4 - KNT)

It could be tempting in the middle of a modern culture, oriented toward good feelings, to associate concepts like "joy" and "rejoicing" with happy circumstances or stress-free environments. Nevertheless, the Scriptures frequently connect these glad realities with situations of extreme adversity! Even though believers in their right minds do not seek out painful encounters, the Scriptures handily prepare Christians for appropriate responses toward inevitable conflicts in this world.

When Jesus taught the blessedness of being "poor in spirit" along with other associated virtues, he culminated the list in a startling way!

Blessed are those who are harassed for the sake of doing what God approves of, because they belong to the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and keep telling all kinds of terrible lies about you on account of me! Continue celebrating and being thrilled: your reward is great in heaven. Indeed, they did the same when they persecuted the prophets who lived before you.  (Matthew 5:10-12 - KNT)

The gospel narratives supply abundant evidence that Jesus himself practiced what he preached about maintaining a joyful response in the face of hostile opposition. Though he was relentlessly badgered by religious leaders, politicians, certain crowds, and even members of his own family, he flawlessly represented Yahweh's message with a heart full of rejoicing. He refused to be bummed out because of the strangely adversarial attitude of dominant religious rulers or to be depressed due to the senseless unbelief of misguided crowds, who were extremely fortunate to see many powerful results. In contrast to being in despair, Jesus, (after denouncing the unbelief of certain Galilean towns) praised God as his Father and LORD for doing particular things the way He had done! Yahweh had hidden these spiritual things, spoken and exhibited by Jesus, from the "wise and learned" people (Matthew 11) who chose to stay in unbelief. Instead, He revealed such vibrant truth about the Messiah and his teaching to humble, receptive "children!" Jesus was continually elated to witness the marvelous deliverance of Yahweh among "babes", despite aggressive currents in his society. At the end of his ministry, Jesus was enabled to endure the cross while making light of its shame because there was joy laid out in front of him!

Among the early events of the book of Acts, one can see how Jesus' followers had matured in light of the master's joyful teaching and example. After having been beaten and ordered not to speak in the name of Jesus, this is how the apostles responded:

They left the High Council rejoicing because they'd been considered worthy to suffer disgrace for the name. And every day, in the temple courts and in various houses, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming that Jesus was the Messiah. (Acts 5:41, 42 - KGV)

Years later, when Paul and Silas were in Philippi (Acts 16), they were involved in delivering a girl from a demon. The bizarre reaction of the violent crowd there led to Paul and Silas being beaten with rods, thrown in prison, and having their feet placed in stocks. The response of these two faithful men was to pray and sing hymns to God! God's miraculous intervention quickly ensued.

Shortly after these events (Acts 17), one can see how severe, riotous conditions filled Thessalonica after just two or three weeks of Paul and Silas explaining Jesus as the Messiah! Despite such hostility being stirred up in that city, a group of newly converted believers rose up to be faithful to the message.

And you learned how to copy us - and the Lord! When you received the word, you had a lot to suffer, but you also had the holy spirit's joy. As a result, you became a model for all the believers in both Macedonia and Achaea. For the word of the Lord has resonated out from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaea; your faith in God has gone out to people everywhere. (1 Thessalonians 1:6-8a - KNT)

In the above records (and many more) that demonstrate grace under pressure, it is noteworthy to realize that neither Jesus nor his followers were "supermen", untouched by human desires and inclinations to avoid pain and suffering. They were simply folks who chose the priority of loving the message and receiving it with deep spiritual joy, even if it meant being at odds with the flow of this world's dark currents. Thus, they were not intimidated from continuing to speak the truth with glad hearts, come what may! For them, the message was too great a treasure to keep its light hidden under a bushel basket. The perspective of such believers entailed embracing the truth of God's Word as it really is!

The prophet Jeremiah lived in the perilous times leading up to the destruction of his beloved nation: Judah. Even though the nation generally failed to heed his God-given prophecies and though he experienced continuous persecution for his faithful efforts, he could not restrain himself from speaking up (Jeremiah 20:8, 9). Despite the fact that proclaiming the word of YHWH had become the cause of "reproach" and "derision", that Word was in his heart "like a burning fire" shut up in his bones!

When your words came, I devoured them: your word was my delight and the joy of my heart; for I was called by your Name, Yahweh, God Sabaoth. (Jeremiah 15:16 - NJB)

After the destruction of Jerusalem and the seventy years of desolation (which were prophesied by the above-mentioned Jeremiah), a remnant of Judeans was allowed to begin rebuilding the beloved city of their ancestors. They became dramatically aware of their collective sins (plus the sins of their ancestors) and the need to take repentant actions, as seen in Nehemiah, chapter 9. Although their breakthrough in such awareness involved the deep mourning of repentant hearts, it was simultaneously the cause for exuberant, joyful celebration as they came to understand Scriptural solutions!

All the people gathered as one man in the square in front of the Water Gate and asked the scribe Ezra to bring the Book of the Law of Moses which Yahweh had prescribed for Israel... In the presence of the men and women, and of those old enough to understand, he read from the book from dawn till noon; all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.... Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God, translating and giving the sense; so the reading was understood. [Instructors] said to all the people, 'Today is sacred to Yahweh your God. Do not be mournful, do not weep.' For the people were all in tears as they listened to the words of the Law.

'For today is sacred to our Lord. Do not be sad: the joy of Yahweh is your stronghold.’... Then all the people went off to eat and drink and give helpings away and enjoy themselves to the full, since they had understood the meaning of what had been proclaimed to them. (Nehemiah 8:1, 3b, 8, 9b, 10b, 12 - NJB)

What caused that joyful experience, rooted in true understanding, was the fresh discovery (from the Law) of the upcoming requirement to celebrate the feast of booths (or shelters). That joyful celebration was accompanied by more public, daily reading of the Scriptures. Though this involved a tiny remnant of the descendants of the previously more populated nation, it was the most momentous celebration of shelters for several centuries!

Undoubtedly, the magnificent God who gives the blessings of rain and sunshine on thankful and unthankful alike will freely give us the occasional happy "oasis", so to speak. We and others definitely derive an abundance of provisional moments of "rejoicing" during a peaceful walk, a family reunion, a meaningful conversation, or another enjoyable situation that delights our hearts. Nevertheless, the godly reality of firmly-rooted joy is not dependent on such fleeting glimpses of gladness. The deepest joy possible is tethered to the final solution, the anchor of hope in God's coming Kingdom. This will be brought about in spite of the painful hurts of any present fiery trials! The "joy of Yahweh", rooted in Scriptural understanding of that ultimate goal, is certainly our strength!

Beloved, don't be surprised at the fiery ordeal which is coming upon you to test you, as though this were some strange thing that was happening to you. Rather, celebrate! You are sharing the sufferings of the Messiah. Then, when his glory is revealed, you will celebrate with real, exuberant joy. If you are abused because of the name of the Messiah, you are blessed by God, because the spirit of glory and of God is resting upon you. None of you, of course, should suffer as a murderer or thief or evildoer, or even as a busybody. But if you suffer as a Christian, don't be ashamed; rather give God the glory for that name! (1 Peter 4:12-16 - KNT)

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