Why is God so concerned about our joy?
Something happens in Nehemiah 8 that catches me by surprise. God commands the people to stop weeping and to go enjoy life instead.
We seem to grow up with the idea that God wants us to be miserable. Indeed, we seem to think that the more miserable a person is, the closer to God they are, and that the happier a person is, the farther from God they must be. But in Nehemiah 8, when the people weep while listening to “the words of the Law” (verse 9), they are instructed to stop weeping, not to mourn, and to “go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared” (verse 10). Indeed, they are commanded, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (verse 10).
Why is God so concerned about His people being filled with joy?
Three reasons come to my mind:
1: Joy is the nature of God. To turn to God is to turn to His joy. God wants us to come into joy because God wants us to come to Him.
Joy did not come into this world by accident, nor is it an invention of the devil. Joy comes from the character of God. That’s why joy is listed among the fruit of the Spirit. And it’s why Jesus could say to His disciples, “I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). Yes, there will be times in the Christian life when we will be filled with sorrow or grief, but at its very core, God’s call to us to come into deeper intimacy with Himself, is a call to us deeper joy.
2: Joy motivates us. God invites us into the joy that will keep motivating us in the right direction He wants us to go.
Some disciplinarians think that guilt or threats or punishment will knock a person into moving in the right direction. But those tactics never work for long. Larry Crabb points out, “Whatever brings me the most joy will prove irresistible. That’s just the way we’re built. We were designed to enjoy joy. When nothing brings me joy, I experience despair. When something bring me joy, I go after it. That makes it important to know what is the source of real joy, joy that’s deep and lasting, without bad side effects that show up years later.” (The PAPA Prayer, p. 142)
3: Joy and compassion are deeply connected.
When we talk about God moving us in “the right direction,” one of the key things this involves is compassion toward others. God’s direction always seems to correspond with compassion toward others.
Rich Mullins observes, “I think there is great joy in compassion. I don’t think that you can know joy apart from caring deeply about people—caring enough to actually do something.” No wonder Nehemiah 8:10 links together joy and kindness to others: “Go and enjoy choice foods and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared.”
God’s call to love one another is an invitation to us to live within His joy, and God’s invitation to joy is a call to us to love one another.