There’s this story in the Old Testament about a huge party. In the book of Nehemiah, we find an account of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. The Babylonians had all but destroyed the city when they conquered Israel. Many of the Israelites had been taken back to Babylon to be slaves. But decades later, Nehemiah got permission to go back to Jerusalem and lead an effort to rebuild the walls of the city. It wasn’t a smooth process but eventually, the walls were rebuilt. People could live in Jerusalem without the constant fear of attack. The Temple could be rebuilt. Israel had a home once more. And right after the walls were completed, the people who had returned to Jerusalem got together and they had a party. There were thousands of people there. They feasted together and they read the Law out loud to the whole party. And all of it served as a reminder of what God had done for Israel. They still had plenty of work to do but they stopped for just a moment to celebrate God’s provision. At one point, Nehemiah stands up and says, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)
The joy of the Lord of the Lord is your strength. You’ve probably heard people say this before. It’s a good thought. It sounds comforting and reassuring. But what in the world does it mean? How exactly is the joy of the Lord our strength? The spiritual discipline of celebration is how the joy of the Lord becomes our strength.
We have all kinds of celebrations in our culture. There are holidays like Christmas, Easter, Valentines Day, Independence Day, and Thanksgiving. We celebrate birthdays, engagements, anniversaries, and retirements. It’s not like we don’t have celebrations. It’s just that we’re lousy at celebrating. We observe these holidays and occasions but we don’t really celebrate. When these holidays and occasions come around, often they simply serve as an excuse to get together with family and friends, share a meal, give and receive presents, and maybe shoot off a bottle rocket or two. Those are all good things (except in certain states where bottle rockets are illegal). But that’s not the kind of celebration that will allow the joy of the Lord to be our strength.
When we practice the spiritual discipline of celebration, we focus our thoughts on God’s goodness toward us. How have we seen God move in our lives? What have we seen God provide for us? What prayers has God answered? How has God’s Kingdom been expanding around us? As we consistently come back to these questions and rejoice in the Lord’s goodness toward us, our faith grows. We’re more aware of the fact that God is walking with us day by day. Whatever we’re dealing with, we know God is in it with us. We feel more confident as we take steps of faith because we’ve seen God use us in the past. When storms come, we have a strong foundation. We know the goodness of the Lord. We’ve experienced the joy of walking through life with Him and seeing Him move. We can go back to times when He has provided for us. The joy of the Lord has become the thing that we rely on and trust when difficulties come. We’re not swayed by the storms because we have a strong foundation, a foundation built on God’s goodness toward us in the past.
So what are some ways we can engage in the discipline of celebration? A great place to start is with some weekly reflection. Set aside some time each week to ask yourself how you’ve seen God moving in your life that week. How has God answered your prayers? How has God used you? Consider writing those things down. When we write things like that out on a weekly basis, we’re more likely to remember them and they’re available for us when we need a boost of joy and/or faith.
In the Old Testament, God often told the Israelites to build a monument or rename a landmark to help them remember what He had done for them. Every time they would pass by that place, they would retell the story that led to the renaming or building of the monument. That’s a helpful practice for us as well. When he got back from raising support to go on staff, David McCann claimed Lane Stadium as his monument to how God had provided for him. When he goes there or he passes by it, it causes him to reflect on God’s faithfulness and provision. Pick a place and claim it as your monument to what God has done in your life. Go there or pass by it regularly and reflect on God’s goodness toward you. If you go to that place with other people, share the story of how God moved in your life.
One of the easiest things we can do to practice this discipline is to take advantage of the celebratory occasions we already have. At Christmas, the season that’s based on celebrating Jesus’s coming, take some time and consider how you’ve seen Jesus come or show up in your life throughout the year. When your mom’s birthday rolls around, don’t just post Happy Birthday on her Facebook profile. Share with her how God has used her in your life. When your anniversary comes, use it as an opportunity to reflect on how God has used you and your spouse/significant other over the last year. When your friend gets a job or internship, go have a good time. Thank the Lord for His provision. When you make a good grade on a test or you have a Gospel conversation with a classmate, stop and celebrate! Share it with friends. We are constantly missing out on opportunities to celebrate what God is doing in and around us simply because we don’t take the time to stop and savor it. Become a person who stops and revels in the moments of God’s provision both big and small. Become a person who your friends can’t wait to share their victories with because they know that you will celebrate well with them.
If we will give ourselves to consistently celebrating what the Lord is doing in our lives, the joy of the Lord will become our strength. Our lives will be marked by joy. We will be strong, trusting in the Lord, and drawing close to Him both in difficult seasons and in exciting seasons. We will have that solid foundation in the Lord when the storms of life come. Our faith in God will grow and we’ll be more available for Him to use us. So who wants to party?
~Christian Hearl, NLCF Staff