In one of her most powerful messages, Going for the Prize, Martha said, “Every step you take toward Jesus Christ is rewarded.” I bear witness to this truth every day in my life with the Lord. Carrots FAR outnumber sticks in my walk with Him. Joy is often the reward of work. That’s illustrated amply in the passage of Nehemiah that I’ve been on for weeks now.
And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all of them, This day is holy to the Lord your God; mourn not nor weep. For all the people wept when they heard the words of the Law.
Then [Ezra] told them, Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet drink, and send portions to him for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. And be not grieved and depressed, for the joy of the Lord is your strength and stronghold.
So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, Be still, for the day is holy. And do not be grieved and sad.
And all the people went their way to eat, drink, send portions, and make great rejoicing, for they had understood the words that were declared to them.
Nehemiah 8:9-12 AMPC
All morning Ezra and the Levites had been reading God’s Word to His people. They read it and explained it so that all the people could understand it. In response the people wept and mourned. They repented, and repentance is one of the hardest spiritual works there is. That work was rewarded with great joy and feasting, a celebration that lasted the rest of the day.
The Reward of Work is Lavish Joy
This pattern continued for the next seven days: work the first half of the day and rejoice the second. Why? “For this day is holy to our Lord.” In each of these holy days, days literally set apart unto the Lord, joy was equal to work in the allotment of time. As important as the reading of God’s Word and the repentance that accompanied it was, the reward of work – a joyous feast and celebration – was equally important. Is that something that we know about God?
When God tells you, “Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!” (NLT), do you do it? Or do you assume that it’s godly for feasting and great joy to be a very rare indulgence? I’m ashamed to say that such a skewed view of God is the one I’ve had.
The Reward of Work is God’s to Determine
Our lives will be filled with work and responsibility; that’s a simple, inescapable fact. But we malign God’s very nature and ways when we relegate joyful celebrations to a handful of days every year and call it godly. Now I’m not saying that every day is to be equally split between work and joy; I don’t propose making a law out of joy as the solution to a law of joylessness. The Holy Spirit is simply challenging me to follow Him as willingly into joy as into responsibility.
God’s will is what matters above all else. And if I’ve decided that certain ways could not possibly be His will, then I’m out of order in a big way. His ways are NOT my ways! Satan had a big win when he convinced so many people that God was joyless and His ways were unrelentingly hard and mundane. I have no desire to perpetuate such evil. I don’t want to miss meeting God in the trenches, but I also don’t want to stay there when He calls me to join Him on the mountaintop. Do you?
You reveal the path of life to me; in Your presence is abundant joy; in Your right hand are eternal pleasures.
Psalm 16:11 HCSB