STARTING WITH JOY // Michele Mitchell

As I stepped into the Music Hall of Williamsburg on Sunday, I had the visual of a kind-hearted, nurturing and faithful mother hosting a dinner party. She sets the table and makes sure that everything is ready for her guests’ arrival. As a mother welcomes guests into her house, the Spirit of the Lord filled the room with love and freedom, welcoming every person who walked through the doors. It was then that I knew something amazing was going to take place. And it did.

Pastor Josh shared a passage from Nehemiah 8, when the people were listening to the Book of the Law of God being read aloud and interpreted for their understanding. As they absorbed the words, they began to weep. But then, Nehemiah (the governor at the time), Ezra (priest and teacher of the Law), and the Levites told the people, “This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (verse 10).  In fact, they told the people to celebrate with a feast of “choice food and drinks,” and to share with those that didn’t have anything. And the people did just that: they celebrated with great joy.

Often times we get so caught up with the grieving part of understanding our sins, shortcomings and failures that we forget to enter into the joy that has been freely given to us through Jesus Christ. Yes, it is good that we take time to acknowledge our sins and recognize our weaknesses, but we can’t stay long in that place. If we do, the door is opened up to self-pity, depression, anger, and discontentment. All of these things only make us weaker, but the Bible says that the joy of the Lord gives us strength. 

Before Sunday’s service, I don’t think I even fully understood how to genuinely receive this joy in all situations and circumstances. If I didn’t meet an important goal, keep my word to God, or was stuck in a situation I couldn’t see relief from, I allowed much room for sorrow and frustration to come in and sit at my table. But my table wasn’t made for them, it was made for the joy of the Lord to dwell. This joy creates a fortified wall around my heart, protecting me from discontentment in any season—and from the things that would try to break me down. This joy changes my perspective on challenging situations even before I encounter them. This joy keeps me from wanting to wallow in self-pity or condemnation, and it frees me from feeling like I have to figure this “life thing” out on my own.

Pastor Josh said something on Sunday that particularly struck me. He said that the more I highlight and magnify God in my life, the smaller my problems become in comparison to Him. He also said that people and situations will steal your joy if you allow them, and that no substance, bottle or person will ever satisfy my soul. 

I can still hear Pastor Josh’s emphatic cry, “This world has nothing on Jesus!

So like the prodigal son returning to his father’s house, grieving and preparing his speech, we turn to Jesus. And as the welcoming father, filled with joy over his son’s return, called for a great celebration and feast, Christ welcomes us to celebrate our joy and freedom in Him. No speeches needed.