It's been a hard couple of months for me spiritually. I feel like one of those wind-up toys relentlessly marching away with my head against a corner, moving but going nowhere. I know that God is calling me to rise above the distractions and seek him first but to my embarrassment, I consistently choose Netflix over the King of Kings and I have prioritized scrolling over the creator of the universe. It's such a silly thing really and utterly frustrating that I continue to worship the created over the creator. This battle of the will has left me spiritually dry and utterly devastated. I can't declare another social media fast only to break it, so at times I just stop trying. I let the sin of misappropriation encompass me and try to tell myself that I enjoy the feeling, that I may as well stay here rather than fail again.
Lying to yourself is an exhausting practice. When I get weak enough to reach out for God's redemptive hand I almost shy away from it because I hate my sin and I don't want him to see it. I mourn it and I grieve it and I keep it close.
Ezra was the liturgical scribe in the day of the great restoration of Jerusalem under the instruction of Nehemiah. It was a time of revival and change as the people had returned to their homeland after a period of exile. Their exile was the result of God's judgment and they knew it. In exile, they had time to wallow in their sins and think about the price of letting down the almighty God. But just because God is always this good, he allowed the sun to peek out from behind the clouds and began drawing his people back to their first love. As they picked up the wreckage of their physical and spiritual lives they ran back to the only thing that had unwavering staying power: the very word of God.
"So on the first day of the seventh month, Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men and women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law." Nehemiah 8:2-3
Imagine holding an ice cold coke on a hottest of days. Not the one in the can, but the real deal, the glass bottle made just for your hand. There is something about the desperation you experience as you hear the sound of that fresh fizzle rising to the top. I'd imagine this is the scene of anticipation unfolding as God's people had returned from a spiritual drought only to find God's word pouring out like a fountain head in the middle of the desert. They sat and the drank up the sweetness of God's word, fulfilling a need they had almost forgotten.
Yet it is possible for sweetness to turn sour in one's mouth before one has even had the chance to savor it. When the devastation of your disparity sets in and you realize how trivial your own lustful desires have been in light of our Great God. All of a sudden the exhilaration of drinking from the fountain of living water turns to shame. This is exactly what happened to the Israelites that day as they realized just how low they had fallen .
"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 or weep.' For all the people had been weeping and they listened to the words of the Law. 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 8:9-10
Have you ever observed the exact moment when you have broken someone's trust? It's a gradual change that begins with their eyes and slowly takes over their entire body. Joy turns into sadness and what was once sacred becomes broken, what was once delightful becomes scorned and your relationship is left hanging in the balance. It's a gut wrenching and devastating feeling. And it's the feeling we all bear when the Holy God looks upon our sins.
But this is what blows my mind about the grace of our God. In a time of mourning and despair, as the Israelite come to terms with what they have down, in walks the Lord, full of grace. He lavishes on us mercy as he gives us chance after chance after chance. He doesn't tire of our failure and in the midst of the Israelites' grief the Lord speaks through his prophet, "Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength." Do not grieve! Not only that, but in the wake of your sin, celebrate and throw a party! Eat choice foods and sweet drinks! Can you feel the tension of their fear and dread breaking? In the midst of their chastening the people respond to God appropriately by grieving their sin and the Lord steps in as a Father scoops up his crying child, and says no, don't cry, celebrate.
We serve a good God, one who is long suffering, and ever so patient. One who is full of good gifts that we don't deserve and one who would rather anoint our wounds and rejoice in our dependence on him, then brandish the punishment we so justly deserve.
The Lord is telling us in light of our brokenness, in light of our sadness, in light of us having fallen short that we are not to grieve. Why? Because he cloaks us in his own joy to strengthen us. "Do not grieve… For the joy of the Lord is your strength." The joy of the Lord, as in the joy that belongs to the Lord, is the substance in which we find the wherewithal to look at our sin bearer in the face, knowing full well that we have disappointed our savior, yet we dare to dance instead of grieve, we dare to worship instead of weep, and we dare to be strengthened rather than defeated.
I walked in service last night with my tail between my legs as the old folks would say. Weary of my own lack of desire to align myself with the Lord and aware of the triviality of my sins I waited expecting to mourn, yet the Lord lifted my head and said, No, here, take my joy–be strengthened by it and savor it because when a sinner returns home we slaughter the fated calf, we pull out choice drink and we celebrate!