Dear Beloved in Messiah,
Focus on JOY
As I awoke today, the State of Florida seems to be in a state of panic, with 15,300 new cases of coronavirus added yesterday. God assures me that there is no panic in heaven because He is still ruling the universe. God has not abdicated His throne. He sees the big picture; we don’t.
Is it reasonable, natural, normal, or logical to focus on JOY at a time when people are dying, lonely, isolated, jobless, frightened, and hopeless? No. It is supernatural. Spiritual. God-centered. God-empowered.
I asked the Lord this morning to show me the real source of the joy that all of us need as we negotiate this strange “new normal.” Our present realities have commonalities but also great differences. In early March I had two parakeets in my home office, Perky and Princess. Then Perky, at about age 14, died, and Princess is still alive in her cage. The other day I said to Princess, “You lost your soul mate. So did I. You are in your cage. So am I.” (I have not been to a store, supermarket, or restaurant since mid-March.) When Perky died, Princess stopped singing for a couple of weeks. Then I played music in my office, and she began to sing. Princess needed a prompt to help her do what she was created to do. I needed a prompt as well. He is called Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit). Through Him, I began to embrace what I was created to do, to be—a beloved child of God, destined to know Him, to love Him, and to enjoy Him forever—IN SPITE OF CIRCUMSTANCES—IN SPITE OF COVID-19—IN SPITE OF ISOLATION.
This brought me to the true source of Scripture-based JOY: God’s unconditional, eternal, unchanging love for us in Messiah. Joy flows out of Love. A daily quote from a Hannah Whitall Smith devotional expresses the Love that makes JOY pandemically possible. “Why does God love us? God loves us because He is love and cannot help loving, just as the sun is light and cannot help shining. God does not wait for us to become good to love us. He loves us while we are still sinners just as mothers love their children even when they are naughty.” God’s unwavering love for us makes joy possible.
Since Princess could still sing, I decided that I could too. Going to my piano bench, I found a song that I wrote on June 10, 2015 (Neil’s birthday), that perfectly express why I have joy today. The lyrics are largely based on verses from Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs). “I am my Beloved’s and His desire is for me. He loves me so! He reached out to me when I didn’t know His name. He wooed me by the Spirit of God. He sought me, and bought me. He paid the highest price. To my Messiah I give my life. Love is the song He sang. Love brought me home again, into the arms of the Lord. Love that began with Him cleansed me from every sin. My Yeshua sees no spot in me! I am my Beloved’s and His desire is for me. He loves me so!”
A deep-seated joy comes from the awareness of a Love that will never let us go. A Love that goes on forever. Our Messiah brought this love down to earth and made it available to everyone.
God: The Source of Joy
Joy in the Tanach, the Old Testament Scriptures, is connected with God and His salvation. While there are more than ten words used for some aspect of joy in the Tanach, the most familiar word is simcha (SIM-kha). The rabbinic term used for this type of joy is simcha b’shamayim, joy of heaven. This is the joy found in the presence of God and because of God. It is more than happiness. Happiness is generated by the flesh. Joy comes from the spirit.
Some of the promises of joy for God’s people include three of the Hebrew words for joy: simcha, sasson (sah-SOHN), and rinnah (ree-NAH). One of these promises is Isaiah 35:10, “And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing (rinnah) with everlasting joy (simcha) on their heads. They shall obtain joy (sasson) and gladness (simcha), and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”
God promises in Zephaniah 3:17 that He, El Gibor (the Mighty God), rejoices over us with gladness (b’simcha). Many translations of the Bible say that God rejoices over us with singing. This is probably implied in simcha, since most of the time when simcha is mentioned, there is some kind of outward manifestation of joy. Joy finds expression, e.g., in singing. Gil (joyful) and rinnah are also found in Zephaniah’s promise of joy.
Sasson, joy, is intimately connected with God’s salvation, His yeshuah. “Therefore with joy (sasson) you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Is. 12:3). God’s Word brings joy to the heart: “Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your word was to me the joy (sasson) and rejoicing (simchat) of my heart” (Jer. 15:16). After King David sinned, he prayed for the joy of his salvation to be restored, “Restore to me the joy (sasson) of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit” (Ps. 51:12).
Rinnah, coming from God, is joy expressed in singing and shouts. “For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; weeping may endure for a night, but joy (rinnah) comes in the morning” (Ps. 30:5). “Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy (rinnah)” (Ps. 126:5). “Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous, and shout for joy (rinnah), all you upright in heart” (Ps. 32:11)!
The Hebrew word for joy in Nehemiah 8:10 is chedvah (KHED-vah). This well-known verse was spoken by Ezra the priest and scribe to God’s People on Yom Teruah (Feast of Trumpets) as they heard the words of the Law read and explained to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy (chedvah) of the LORD is your strength.” His joy is our strength too!
Gil (GEEL), an interesting Hebrew word meaning “joyful,” comes from a root which means to spin around, to be exceedingly joyful. Picture a young child receiving a gift that they had longed for— spinning with joy. Now picture a child of God, receiving His promises: “Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; let the children of Zion be joyful (gilu) [Think “Hava Nagila”] in their King” (Ps. 149:2). We can choose JOY as the prophet Habakkuk points out: “Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls—yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy (gil) in the God of my salvation” (Hab. 3:17–18).
The God of Israel was to be served with joy (Ps. 100:2). The consequence of not serving Him with joy are the curses stated in Deuteronomy 28. “Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joy and gladness of heart, for the abundance of everything” (Deut. 28:47).
From Mourning to Joy
A theme running throughout the Bible is God turning our mourning into joy. As a country, we have experienced mourning on many levels in the past few months. Many have mourned the deaths of loved ones. I, personally, have mourned over the spirit of division that has ravaged our country—political division, racial division, division over abortion, division over masks, division over COVID-19 truths and practices, division over monuments, on and on. But God. Our Father has promised to turn our mourning into joy. “Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, and the young men and old, together; for I will turn their mourning into joy (sasson), will comfort them, and make them rejoice (simcha) rather than sorrow” (Jer. 31:13). A promise of comfort for all those who mourn is found in Isaiah 61:3. Part of the mission of the coming Messiah was to help people move from mourning to joy. “To comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy (sasson) for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified” (Isa. 61:3).
You are receiving this newsletter sometime in the middle of the saddest month of the Jewish year, the month of Av (July 22, 2020–Aug. 19, 2020). Av is the fifth month in the liturgical calendar and the 11th month on the secular calendar. It is a month of mourning since most of the major tragedies in the history of the Jewish people occurred in the month of Av, including the destruction of both of the temples in Jerusalem.
Even in the midst of mourning, however, some joy is found. The secret lies in the name of the month. Av literally means “father.” In some traditional circles, another word is added: Menachem, meaning comforter or consoler. So Av is called Menachem Av. In other words, even in the midst of our suffering and tragedies, God is still our Father. He still loves us. Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum of Victoria, Australia wrote: “No circumstance or sin will ever break the essential connection between Jew and G-d, because a real parent remains a parent forever.”
The 9th of Av, Tisha b’Av, is a day of fasting in Judaism today, but according to Zechariah 8:19 it will one day be a day of joy. “Thus says the LORD of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, the fast of the fifth month [Av], the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be joy (sasson) and gladness and cheerful feasts for the house of Judah.”
Repentance and Joy
According to the Holy Scriptures, there is another type of mourning that is related to joy: mourning over sin. Since sin separates us from God, and God is the Source of true joy, repenting of sin reconnects us with the joy of the Lord. King David knew this (read Psalm 51). It has been said that those who feel the worst about their sins, feel the happiest about their forgiveness. Knowing we are forgiven brings joy. Turning from sin brings forgiveness. One of my favorite all-time books is Repentance: the Joy-Filled Life by M. Basilea Schlink. While we all know that the life of a believer in Yeshua begins with contrition and repentance, many of us have yet to discover one of the secrets of the joy-filled life as expressed by M. Basilea—DAILY repentance.
At one point in her life, M. Basilea’s love for Yeshua had become lukewarm. She attributed this to an unrepentant heart, a heart that tolerated rather than mourned over sin. Her realization: “Only penitent sinners, who are granted forgiveness, are set on fire with love for Jesus. So I can testify how impoverished a life without daily repentance is. Heaven does not draw near. The radiance of joy is missing. There is no adoration or songs of praise. Love for Jesus is not burning in one’s heart. There is no power in one’s ministry, and it bears no fruit.”
Repentance is a gift of the Holy Spirit, whose grace softens our hard hearts and leads us to acknowledge our sin and desire a renewed closeness with our Creator. Repentance is a source of joy because it brings us home to the Father, and into His Presence. Repentance leads to the joy of forgiveness, a joy like no other.
Repentance brings the kingdom of heaven down to earth, the same kingdom referred to in Romans 14:17, “The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” M. Basilea suggests a prayer that when prayed daily, will surely be answered and lead to joy in our lives: “Lord, give me the grace of repentance. Grant me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Help me to see the ‘log’ in my own eye (Matthew 7:3) and to recognize how I have sinned against God and man.” Did you pray? Joy is on the way!
Joy in Suffering
The New Covenant makes it clear that suffering and joy are not incompatible when Yeshua is at the center of our lives. James (Yacov) exhorted, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (James 1:2–3). Peter exhorted, “But rejoice to the extent that you partake of Messiah’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy” (1 Peter 4:13). Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy exhorted, “And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy in the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:6).
The joy that we can experience in the midst of suffering is a supernatural joy—the joy which is a fruit of God’s Spirit. It is an abiding joy that should be a permanent state of mind for a child of God. We are commanded to rejoice always (Philippians 4:4), since the joy that has its origin in God is based on His reality, His love, His faithfulness, and the trustworthiness of His promises.
Yeshua spoke about joy in the midst of persecution and suffering (Matthew 5:10–12). Paul and Silas had joy as they sang praises to God in a Philippian jail (Acts 16:25). Yeshua told His disciples to leap for joy when they were hated, excluded, and reviled for His Name’s sake (Luke 6:22–23). There is indeed a joy that the world cannot give and the world cannot take away. Ready to leap?
Joy was part of the Messiah Yeshua’s life from the moment His birth was announced. Wise men from the East rejoiced with exceedingly great joy when they saw His star (Matthew 2:10). His birth brought “tidings of great joy” to all people (Luke 2:10). Yeshua told His talmidim (disciples) not to rejoice that demons were subject to them, but rather because their names were written in heaven (Luke 10:20). The name of even one saved person is cause for great joy. In the Messiah’s words, “I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninetynine just persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). (I had the joy of praying with someone to receive her Messiah during a Zoom Bible study last week.)
Finally, Yeshua said some beautiful things about His joy in the Gospel of John. “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you heed My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I’ve spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:9–11). “Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you” (John 16:22). “Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24).
As believers, disciples, followers of the Messiah Yeshua, we all desire to finish our race with joy (Acts 20:24), and to hear our King say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant…Enter into the joy of your Lord” (Matthew 25:23). But now, in this present age when lawlessness abounds, and as birth pangs are upon us, we cannot only anticipate joy, but experience it. Joy in the Ruach HaKodesh. Joy upon hearing the Bridegroom’s voice. Joy of the harvest, seeing souls come into the Kingdom. Joy as we experience the Presence of God. Joy as we read and study God’s Word. Joy in the knowledge that our names are written in heaven. Joy of sins forgiven. Joy of being loved. Joy as we give to others. Fullness of joy!
“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).
Love in Yeshua, the Joy-Giver,