By Pastor Ted N.C. Wilson
What makes you happy? What fills you with joy? While a feeling of happiness can be fleeting, joy—real joy—is deep and lasting. Not variable with present circumstances, real joy looks at the bigger picture and leads to a settled, lasting satisfaction.
Did you know the Bible is filled with joy, with nearly 200 verses scattered throughout the Old and New Testament? Of the many themes in the Bible, Scripture points out that joy often comes by trusting God and following His will, even when circumstances appear formidable.
The story of joy recorded in 2 Chronicles 20 reveals God’s power in fighting for His people when they:
- come together and “ask help from the Lord” (vss. 3,4).
- earnestly pray. In the beautiful prayer recorded in verses 6-12, Jehoshaphat acknowledges God’s greatness and power, recounts God’s past mercies to His people, and claims God’s promises for deliverance from their enemies. He acknowledges their own powerlessness and leaves judgment with God as he ends his prayer—“O our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do: but our eyes are upon You.”
- listen to God’s prophets and follow their instruction. In this story, God raised up a prophet named Jahaziel to speak to His people. “Thus says the Lord to you,” he proclaimed. “Be not afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s” (vs. 15). Jahazeil then gave specific instructions as to how Judah was to approach their enemies, again assuring them, “Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, for the Lord is with you” (vs. 17).
Determined to believe the message God gave to Jahaziel and to act upon it, Jehoshaphat declared, “Believe in the Lord your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper” (vs. 20). Then after consulting with the people, “he appointed singers unto the Lord, and that should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army . . . (vs. 21).
As God’s people moved forward in faith, He fulfilled His promises to them in a marvelous way and gave them victory! “Then they returned, every man of Judah and Jerusalem, and Jehoshaphat in front of them, to go back to Jerusalem with joy; for the Lord had made them to rejoice over their enemies” (vs. 27).
The Joy of the Lord
One of the most well-known statements of joy in the Bible is Nehemiah 8:10—“Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (emphasis supplied).
The circumstances surrounding this statement are not at all joyful in appearance. Many of the Israelites had returned to Jerusalem from captivity in Babylon to find a ruined city, temple, and torn-down walls.
The temple was restored under the leadership of Ezra the priest, but it wasn’t until Nehemiah came that the walls were rebuilt. Even then, much of the city still lay in ruin.
After the walls were finished and the gates put in place, “all of the people gathered together . . . in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded Israel” (vs. 1).
Standing on a high wooden platform, Ezra begin reading the Scriptures slowly and distinctly. In addition, Levites were dispersed among the people to help them understand what was being read to them.
As the people began to grasp the meaning of the Law of God, they began to weep. They realized how far they had fallen. Convicted of sin and with tears of repentance the people bowed down and worshipped God.
“For those who are convicted of sin and weighed down with a sense of their unworthiness, there are lessons of faith and encouragement in this record,” wrote Ellen White. “Every true turning to the Lord brings abiding joy into the life. When a sinner yields to the influence of the Holy Spirit, he sees his own guilt and defilement in contrast with the holiness of the great Searcher of hearts. He sees himself condemned as a transgressor. But he is not . . . to give way to despair; for his pardon has already been secured. He may rejoice in the sense of sins forgiven in the love of a pardoning heavenly Father. It is God’s glory to encircle sinful, repentant human beings in the arms of His love, to bind up their wounds, to cleanse them from sin, and to clothe them with the garments of salvation.”1
What a reason to rejoice! The joy of the Lord is indeed our strength! And what is the joy of the Lord? It is the promise of forgiveness, of cleansing, and of restoration. It is the way of bringing us back into alignment with God’s will for our lives. The joy of the Lord is something we can receive now and is filled with the hope of an eternity with Him.
By Beholding We Are Changed
We are told in The Great Controversy, “Through Jesus the fallen sons of Adam become ‘sons of God.’ . . . The Christian’s life should be one of faith, of victory, and joy in God. ‘Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.’ 1 John 5:4. . . .
“Such are the fruits of Bible conversion and sanctification; and it is because the great principles of righteousness set forth in the law of God are so indifferently regarded by the Christian world that these fruits are so rarely witnessed. . . .
“It is by beholding that we become changed. And as those sacred precepts in which God has opened to men the perfection and holiness of His character are neglected, and the minds of the people are attracted to human teachings and theories, what marvel that there has followed a decline of living piety in the church. . . .
“’Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly…. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in His law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” Psalm 1:1-3.
“It is only as the law of God is restored to its rightful position that there can be a revival of primitive faith and godliness among His professed people. ‘Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.’ Jeremiah 6:16.”2
The “rest” God puts into your soul as you daily connect with Him is what will produce your greatest joy—eternally—all because of Him!
Ted N.C. Wilson is president of the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church. Additional articles and commentaries are available from the president’s office on Twitter: @pastortedwilson and on Facebook: @Pastor Ted Wilson.