When we set our hearts to obey God’s Word—allowing His Spirit to expose and mortify all sin in our lives—the Lord Himself causes us to rejoice. “God had made them rejoice with great joy” (Nehemiah 12:43). I believe this poured-out blessing includes abundant joy, even in the midst of our trials. The Lord opens heaven and baptizes us with “Jesus joy”—with shouting, rejoicing and singing—no matter what our circumstances.
Nehemiah reminded a rejoicing Israel of how God had provided for their forefathers in the wilderness. The Lord had poured out manifold mercies on them. He had taught them by His Spirit and led them by the cloud and the pillar of fire. He had supernaturally provided them with manna and water. And, miraculously, He didn’t allow their clothes or shoes ever to wear out (see Nehemiah 9:19-21).
How do these kinds of blessings sound to you? Manifold mercies, clear direction, God’s Spirit teaching you, all your physical and material needs supplied. That all sounds wonderful to me! And, indeed, all these blessings hold true for us today. The Lord, in His great mercy, has promised to provide them all for His people.
Yet, we can still choose to live in a wilderness, as Israel did. Nehemiah pointed out that their forefathers had rebelled against the Lord, ignoring His law: “Nevertheless they were disobedient, and rebelled against thee, and cast thy law behind their backs. . . . Yet many years didst thou forbear them . . . yet would they not give ear” (Nehemiah 9:26, 30).
Can you imagine the awful spiritual death these people brought upon themselves? Forty years of Sabbaths without any joy or mirth. Forty years of funerals, without ever entering the Promised Land. These Israelites were rich with blessings, increased with goods, needing nothing—but they were lukewarm in spirit.
This is a picture of Jehovah Jireh—the God who faithfully provides for His people even when they become hardened to His Word. The Israelites had become bored with the things of God and were just going through the motions. In His mercy, the Lord continued to direct their daily affairs and provide for them. But these people would never enter into His fullness. Is it any wonder their clothes and shoes never wore out? They simply weren't going anywhere.
Where God's Word is revered, the inevitable result is an outpouring of genuine “Jesus joy.”
Nehemiah and Ezra told those who had returned to Jerusalem, “You’ve been excited about God’s Word—hungering for it, loving it, allowing it to work in your heart. You’ve repented, wept and mourned and God is pleased with you. But now it’s time to rejoice. Take out your handkerchiefs and wipe away your tears. This is a time for great joy and mirth” (see Nehemiah 8:9-10).
The glory of the Lord fell on Israel, and the people spent the next seven days rejoicing: “All the people went their way to eat, and to drink . . . and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them” (Nehemiah 8:12).
The Hebrew word for mirth here means “glee, merriment, gladness, happiness.” This kind of mirth isn’t merely a good feeling, it’s an inner joy, a deep exuberance. Its expression may look different in each of us, because such joy takes place deep inside. But it is clear to everyone around us that our wellspring of joy comes from heaven.
Whenever Israel turned to sin and idolatry, the Lord removed their mirth: “I will also cause all her mirth to cease” (Hosea 2:11). “I will take from them the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness . . . and this whole land shall be . . . an astonishment” (Jeremiah 25:10-11).
At times, Israel put on a false joy to try to cover the sins of the people. We see this happening in many churches today, as well. We may witness singing, dancing, manifestations, loud praising—but those who love God’s Word can discern whether it is true or false joy.
You may recall Israel’s shouts as they danced around the golden calf. When Joshua heard the people, he said, “There is a noise of war in the camp” (Exodus 32:17). But Moses replied, “It is not the voice of them that shout for mastery” (32:18). Moses was saying, “That’s the shout of a people still in bondage. They haven’t mastered their sin.” Gold had become Israel’s god, and it brought a shout to the lips of the people. Yet it was a shout of false joy—a noise that signaled God’s impending judgment.
What is missing in multitudes of churches today is the thing most needed by the lost: genuine, soul-satisfying joy.
I often hear Christians say, “We prayed down a revival in our church.” But I say that this cannot happen by prayer alone. There can’t be any such awakening unless both the pastor and the people hunger diligently for God’s Word. And they must wholly commit their lives to being governed by the Scriptures. We can’t obtain heaven’s joy until the pure Word has convicted us of sin, breaking down all pride, prejudices and false dignity.
When David disobeyed the directions of the Lord, he lost the joy of the Lord. That joy could only be restored by true repentance and so he prayed, “Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. . . . Purge me” (Psalm 51:2-3, 7). David also prayed to regain what he had lost: “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation” (verse 12).
I believe this explains the death pall that hangs over many churches today. In short, there is sin in the camp. And it’s impossible to maintain the joy of the Lord if sin is present. How can the Holy Spirit pour out joy on a people who continue to indulge in adultery, addictions and materialism, living like the unsaved?
The Lord lifted His glory from Shiloh because the high priest, Eli, refused to deal with sin in God’s house (1 Samuel 2:22-36). Eli had become accustomed to the easy life—and if you’re addicted to pleasure, you won’t be motivated to expose sin. God finally wrote the word “Ichabod” above the door of the sanctuary, meaning, “The glory has departed.” Then he held up Shiloh as an example of what happens to a church when sin is ignored. God’s glory—including all gladness and joy—dissipates in individuals and in the corporate body.
“I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground” (Isaiah 44:3).
Has the Lord brought you His thirst-quenching Word? Has He come to you in your dry spells and flooded you with His Spirit? Are you drinking the pure water of His Word?
If so, you are ready to claim another covenant promise: “I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring: and they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water courses” (verses 3-4).
As you may know, willow trees grow fast and tall and they spread wide. You often see them growing beside streams or bodies of water. God is saying here, “Because you are My chosen, I’m going to pour My Spirit out on your children. And I will cause them to grow tall and strong in the Lord.”
As you read and reread these verses, I urge you to fill in your children’s names who are not following the Lord. Claim God’s promise to you by praying, “Lord, You said You would pour Your Spirit on my child. Now, bless my son, [put in your son’s name here]. Pour out Your Spirit on my daughter, [put in her name here]. Cause both of them to thirst for Your living water and to turn to You.”
Finally, God says your children will testify, “I am the Lord’s” (verse 5). What an incredible promise!
Yet these promises are not for everyone who merely says, “I am of Christ.” They are only for hungering, thirsting parents—those who drink in God’s Word daily, pray regularly, and ask the Spirit to pour out on them His power and presence.
If this describes you, then trust God’s promises—all of them! Claim them as yours, and hold the Lord to them in your intercession. Then bathe your family in prayer and watch the enemy flee.
At the wedding in Cana of Galilee, Christ’s mother, Mary, saw that the wine had run out. She directed the servants to her Son and said, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5, ESV). The King James Version renders her instruction more powerfully: “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.”
For many of us, the filling of God’s Spirit may take place in our prayer closet or within our circle of fellowship. But many Christians will be filled only as they begin to obey God’s clear commands in earnest. I’m convinced the hang-up constraining many believers is a casual attitude toward God’s Word and His voice in their hearts. By neglecting His direction for their lives, especially regarding His holy purposes, they are easily robbed of freedom and confidence.
I was speaking with a young, single Christian man a few months ago when he told me he had decided to move in with an unmarried couple who were living together. I challenged him, saying, “That doesn’t sound like a very healthy environment for you.” He answered, in effect, “I feel like it’s a safe situation. I don’t think God will be upset with me for doing it.” He said this not in faith, as though he believed it, but as if he were a teenager sneaking out of the house.
Eventually, the unmarried couple broke up and soon the Christian young man was romantically involved with the woman and eventually became sexually entangled. I tell this story not with judgment but as a simple illustration: The best way to be filled with God’s Spirit is simply to heed His voice and obey His commands. Doing so provides us with peace, safety and joy and allows us to speak for God with authority. As Mary told the servants at the wedding, “Whatever He tells you to do, do it!”
We may run to the altar seeking the wine of God’s Spirit, but for many the answer lies in simple obedience.