The Joy of the Lord

You ever been in one of those situations, be it big or small, where you have plans solidly in place, only for God to speak up and tell you to do something else or go in a different direction? Well, that’s what happened with this post. I had something else completely in mind, until I read a devotional a few days ago and felt God press on me a need to share and discuss a couple of verses in Nehemiah. But before we jump straight in, let’s take a moment to consider the time of the year in which we currently find ourselves . Trust me, it’s important.

For those of you who are teachers or parents of school-aged children (or both–bless them!), this time of the year is most likely consumed with back to school. Whether it’s prepping a classroom or prepping your kids (um, where’s the app that weans children off summer schedules and back onto school schedules? Hop to it, Mark Zuckerberg!), there’s a good chance that the upcoming school year and all the chaos it brings with it is foremost in your mind these days. I don’t know exactly how to explain it, but as a former teacher, I’m all too aware that this back-to-school season is its own thing. It’s not the freedom of summer, it’s not the coolness of fall, but it’s definitely something that warrants its own title. If you’re anything like me, this back-to-school season served as a very clear-cut line in the sand (oh, sand. A moment of silent for the beach memories, please……..thank you. You may continue.) between a more weightless, easy-going time period and a more chaotic, stressful, hectic period. When I was teaching, with the onset of these first few days of August, I could feel an internal bracing for the stress that I was anticipating with the rapidly approaching school season. Even five years of stay-at-home-mommery later, and I can still feel it; things are about to be a-changing, and my spirit knows it.

With this feeling in mind, and with my teacher friends in the forefront of my mind, I read Nehemiah 8:10-11 very differently this time around. In these verses, Ezra and the Levites are speaking to the Israelites, and Ezra says to them: “Go your way…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 (vs 10). So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, Be still, for the day is holy. And do not be grieved and sad (vs 11).” Y’all, this back to school business is no joke. It is hard and it is tiring and it is stressful and it is draining. And it feels that way to parents and kids alike. But you know what? God’s joy is just as available to us in the midst of all this new schedule mumbo-jumbo as it was when we were lying blissfully relaxed on the beach in late June. Here’s the kicker, though: this time of the year, we are going to have to get REAL intentional about choosing it.

In those verses above, it takes Ezra AND the Levites to calm the people because they are so bothered. They were so attuned to their upset that joy was nowhere to be found. I don’t know about you, but when I’m upset, I don’t tend to do a great job at taking that exact moment to actively seek the joy of the Lord. But look at what Ezra tells the “Lindseys” of the Bible: be not grievedĀ  and depressed, for the joy of the Lord is your strength and stronghold. Praise the Lord! It doesn’t even have to be my joy–which is great news, because stress and joy are NOT buddies in this girl’s world. They do not ever seem to coexist. But Ezra tells me that I can stop my upset. I can stop feeling overwhelmed and stressed and irritated and bothered and whatever other negative emotion tends to rear their ugly heads when I feel chaos like what occurs during this back-to-school season. But I have to CHOOSE JOY ON PURPOSE. It will not manifest accidentally in the midst of school strife. It will not manifest itself without your choosing it when it’s 5:30, no one’s adjusted yet to the newness of the school feeding schedules (WHERE ARE THE SNACKS?!), and you’ve been so wrapped up in making sure everyone got dropped off and picked up that you’ve forgotten they have to be fed tonight. In those moments, joy will not abound (shocker, I know!). But. It. Can. God has the power to settle our hearts and minds and replace that hectivity (that’s hectic activity, FYI. I just made it up, I like it, and I will use it again.) with HIS joy. The six-million dollar question: how do I get that joy?

I think we have to look at not only what Ezra says–which we just did–but what the Levites reiterate and instruct. They, too, tell the people not to be bothered and upset; in fact, in the NLT translation, the Levites literally tell the people to Hush! Then they continue with how to go about calming themselves and easing their minds in the midst of their upset: Be still… While there is a chance they meant for them to still their bodies, I think it’s far more likely that the people were being instructed to still their minds. To take a deep breath and regroup. To really focus on what they were allowing themselves to feel and how they were allowing themselves to behave. I think this is God’s direction for us in the middle of these hectic afternoons when no one has yet adjusted to this new back-to-school season: Be Still. And moms, here’s the honest truth: this is not something we can expect our tired, immature kids to do. This is something WE must do, something we must model for them so that they see how they, too, can gather their emotions up and choose to be happy and thankful in the middle of feeling everything but.

If you are a teacher, you know the necessity of being prepared. If you are a mom (or a parent at all), you know the necessity of being prepared. It doesn’t do you any good–in fact, it increases your stress–if you wait until “the moment of” before you begin to prepare for something. Y’all, adopting the mindset of choosing joy is no different. I encourage you (and am working on this myself) not to wait until you’re frustrated and flustered and overwhelmed to change your thinking. Honestly, I don’t think that really works…or at least not well, anyway. Instead, do what you do with all the other things in your life: prepare. Take some time before that school day gets started or before you pick those kids up from their first days, and spend some time with God PREPARING yourself so that when those tough moments come, you’re ready. So that in those tough moments, you’re able to tap into that spirit that you’ve already {spiritually} fed and grab hold of that joy. The joy of the Lord will be your strength. Imagine what your afternoons and evenings can look like if you don’t let Satan wear down your spirit. If you refuse to exhibit those same emotions that your tired kid does, but instead, you get still, taking a moment to breathe and ask God to give you His joy. Will it be easy? Nope. It never is. But then again, if that was a easy thing, we wouldn’t need God’s joy, now would we?

And for those of you who aren’t parents of school-aged kids, those of you not impacted one bit by this back-to-school season (aside from the traffic and explosion of school-supply displays inside Walmart and Target), this works for you as well. I’d be willing to bet that there’s a season of life that you’re in right now that has real potential to be overwhelming and upsetting and stressful and bothersome. Whatever it is that you find increases your blood pressure when you think about it, apply that joy of the Lord to it, too. It doesn’t have to be an outward chaos; inward chaos needs that stillness and joy just as much. And you know what, preparing yourself for it works just as well as preparing for those hectic schedules and “hangry” schoolchildren.

Psalm 94:13 says, “That You would give him power to keep himself calm in the days of adversity…” and there is so much adversity awaiting the person who’s traded his/her joy for those emotions the enemy tells us are normal, and fine, and warranted. But we can do this. We can recognize what’s happening in the midst of it, take that deep breath that stills our spirit and mind and emotions, and offer up a quick call for help so that we can strengthen ourselves with the joy of the Lord.

And you know what, sometimes we are going to royally blow it. We are going to raise our voices and fuss and cry and absolutely lose our religion right there in the middle of our kitchen. (Why, hello there, personal experience.) Jesus gets that. He knows what we’re going through, and He’s got enough grace to help us through this current situation, to restore our spirits, and to help us avoid that pothole the next time. He’s been there; He, too, has felt the desire to lose His cool. “For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to understand and sympathize and have a shared feeling with our weaknesses and infirmities and liability to the assaults of temptation, but One who has been tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sinning” (Hebrews 4:15). So this school season (or in whatever distressing season you find yourself), when we feel that urge to give in to those negative emotions and further the upset and strife in our homes/lives, let’s do what Ezra and the Levites instructed. Let’s turn to the joy of the Lord. Let’s get ourselves still so that we can push past those emotions and reclaim what Satan is so excited about taking from us. Let’s deep-breathe and cut ourselves some slack when we don’t do such a good job. God knows we need His help. God knows we can’t do this alone. Prepare yourself beforehand, and when things go awry, call on Him as instructed in Hebrews 4:16: “Let us then fearlessly draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy [for our failures] and find grace to help in good time for every need [appropriate help and well-timed help, coming just when we need it]” (AMP). Come on, y’all. We’ve got this.

Dear Lord, thank you so much for the joy that you offer to me any time I can’t find some of my own. I know, God, that with this changing of seasons and schedules I will need your help to stay calm and still and focused on You instead of the chaos that can sometimes ensue. Lord, I ask that you please speak to my spirit during these moments of upset and stress so that I can actively attend to my attitude and choose joy over the negative emotions that rise to the surface. I ask that you please help everyone to have a wonderful school year full of blessings and deep breaths. And I ask that you bless those and comfort those whose current season of life requires a very purposeful attitude of joy and thanksgiving. Lord, you are so kind and so merciful, and I am so grateful. Thank you for having your favor and your hand over all of us, and thank you for hearing my prayer. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.

 

“The grammar isn’t important; it’s the message that matters. Don’t be a judgey-pants.” –Lindsey 1:1