We were high schoolers that camped out in the back pew of a small denominational church in Northern Indiana. Our immaturity coupled with passion filled the entire back pew. Congregational prayers would turn into my friend’s cat naps as you’d start to hear quiet snoring halfway through the service but the last hymn, taken from Isaiah 55, would always wake him up. There was a lot of joy in our ridiculous and free spirited worship. We loved God. We sang loud. We danced in the back pew which also meant that we were the closest to the refreshments in the lobby. And this final song of every service was always my favorite :
“You shall go out with joy and be led forth with peace;
the mountains and the hills will break forth before you;
there’ll be shouts of joy, and all the trees of the field
will clap, will clap their hands!
And all the trees of the field will clap their hands,
the trees of the field will clap their hands,
the trees of the field will clap their hands
while you go out with joy.”
I’m learning that it’s often something you have to choose, fight for, pursue wholeheartedly, and/or accept as a gift. Lately, I have felt such a deep joy that can only explained by God’s gracious provision. He has been lavishing sweet reminders of his faithfulness over my days. It’s a beautiful thing to know and live into the truth that Nehemiah calls God’s people to: “Do not grieve! For the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10) There’s a theme throughout scripture that joy is a gift from God. He anoints us with joy. In Isaiah 61, Isaiah speaks of being anointed with the oil of joy, instead of mourning and God gives us a garment of praise instead of a spirit of a despair. I think this is the only explanation for my deep and now overflowing joy that exceeds my circumstances and diagnosis. I truly believe that the joy of the Lord is my strength although I’m slowly unraveling what exactly that means.
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.”
In Christ, we are clothed with a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. I have seen God bring healing to my heart and life in such obvious ways over the past few months and I’m praying that you also will see undeniable evidence of that healing and clothing of praise and joy.
These past few weeks, I wake up each day with incredible hope and faith that the Word of God will be carried to completion. This is not by my own strength but out of the grace of God that His joy is my strength.
Isaiah 55:9 begins…
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever.”
I imagine the slow clap of creation growing into a thunderous applause as God’s people experience the joy and freedom that can only be found in him. The slow clap begins with the mountains and as the applause accelerates, the stars and moon join in, followed by the birds of the air and all living creatures, and finally, the image bearers of a living, loving, grace giving, joy breathing God. God invites us to join in to this overwhelming experience of giving God glory and worship and honor. May you hear and participate in creation’s slow clap today and feel the joy of the Lord.