Authored by Scott MacGregor
I know some people say they love being miserable. In fact, I even used to say it was better to be a pessimist because then I would never be disappointed. While at the time that sounded good to me in theory, things became too miserable and I lacked the commitment to that philosophy to keep it up, so I soon decided it was a dumb idea.
I am now solidly of the opinion that people are supposed to be happy. That doesn’t mean we necessarily need to be laughing or even smiling all day, but we should be laughing and smiling daily. One word associated with happiness is joy. While it doesn’t mean the exact same thing as happiness, I am pretty hard pressed to distinguish between where happiness ends and joy begins.
I think the book of Nehemiah is a good story about joy. Nehemiah was a servant to the king of Persia, the biggest kahuna of them all in those days, as the Persians were the empire in power. Nehemiah was the king’s cup bearer—which is something like a wine waiter—when he asked for and got the job to be governor of Jerusalem. That was a pretty big promotion. It would have been pretty spectacular to have just been promoted to manager of the king’s banquet hall, but Nehemiah got out of the food and beverage trade altogether and into the top levels of government.
So Nehemiah and his construction gang began rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem while a bunch of troublemakers—Sanballat, Tobiah, and their cronies—hovered around the fringes desperately trying to get the work to fail. Those rascals even tried calling the cops, the Persians, to put a stop to what they claimed was illegal construction; but the cops weren’t interested. In fact, Nehemiah had a permit. The nasties also lied and said that Nehemiah was planning a rebellion, yada yada yada. Again the Persians saw through the lies and let Nehemiah be.
Then Sanballat et al tried to get Nehemiah to have a parley out of town where they planned to do him in, but Nehemiah told them to take a hike. They even planned to attack and kill the construction gang, only to find that the workers were armed and dangerous. Half of the workers stood watch, armed and ready to fight, and even the ones who were working had weapons in hand, just in case.
And poor old Nehemiah (actually, I think he was fairly young at this stage) even had some of his own folks trying to do him in. His enemies had hired certain Jews to prophesy falsely about stuff so that they could trap Nehemiah and kill him. All to no avail.
To top it off, Nehemiah found out that some of the richer Jews around town were enslaving some of their own countrymen who had fallen on hard times financially. Nehemiah blew his top, as you might have guessed. He couldn’t believe that Jews, who had spent much of their recent history as captives and slaves to Babylon, had now started to enslave some of their own. Well, he put an end to that pretty quickly and made all the people take oaths before the priests that they wouldn’t do this again.
With all of this mischief going down, you’d think that Nehemiah would be stressed. Well, he was! Nehemiah wrote that he and the rest of the builders were “vexed with alarm.”1 However, he had a secret antidote: “The joy of the Lord is your strength,”2 he told his guys. And sure enough, it was! It gave them strength enough to complete the building of the walls of Jerusalem despite all the difficulties. But at first, focusing on remaining joyful must have been daunting for this bunch of amateur stone masons.
Imagine, they had a wall to build around the whole city of Jerusalem. The old wall had lain in ruins for well over a century. Stuff that had been junked for about 140 years must have been in pretty bad shape and difficult to work with. But we are told that these workers had a will to work,3 and with a lot of heaving, shoving, lifting, pulling, and mortaring, they put a whole city wall up in 52 days! I imagine that took a lot of strength and therefore a lot of joy. Now that’s a testament to what a bunch of happy workers can do. They worked so hard that they even worked themselves out of a job. But I would guess that they were happy about that, because building walls wasn’t really what any of them did for a living. I am not sure what all of them actually did for their occupations, but this particular project was more or less a volunteer thing.
Imagine what this project might have been like if they had been all grumbly-snarly. It would have been a hell of a job. But as it was, they got it done in what must be some sort of world record for city-wall building, and they ended it with a party in celebration.
Psalm 144:15 says, “Happy (or blessed, fortunate, prosperous, to be envied) are the people whose God is the Lord!”4 That’s a pretty good motto. And really, if you have the God (the one who created the universe and everything in it) as your God, then that alone is a pretty good reason to be happy.
No one knows for sure who wrote Psalm 100, but whoever did knew a thing or two about life. And there is a lot about praise and thanksgiving in that Psalm. The main point of interest in it for me is the phrase, “Serve the Lord with gladness.”5 I can be one to approach hard work with mostly sadness, as I don’t naturally see hard work as something joyful. I would often much rather be out on the town or watching a good game (sometimes even a bad game) or reading something interesting than doing a bunch of work. That is one reason why, even though I started this article several weeks ago, it remained incomplete. But when I finally buckled down to complete it, I found that I was happy with how it was going, and this happiness drove me to actually get it done.
This reminds me of what Isaiah wrote, “You meet him who joyfully works righteousness.”6 The “you” in this case is referring to God and “righteousness” simply means doing the right things. It’s not about being holy or good, but simply doing right. When we do right things with joy and gladness, God meets us there and His joy becomes our strength to carry on. Like right now maybe I am doing right by writing this article. So if that’s the case, if I can stay happy and not be bugged by this blankety-blank word processing program that keeps substituting “themselves” every time I type the word “the,” then I have a good chance of meeting God. (Oh, and would you look at that! I just now located how to fix this problem and the program is now starting to behave itself, so I am pretty happy at this juncture.) So little old me is going to joyfully keep on typing away.
Well, actually, I think I have come to the end of this. And that will probably make you pretty happy. See ya! (Now I wonder where God plans to meet me?)
1 Nehemiah 4:5 (AMP).
2 Nehemiah 8:10 (ESV).
3 Nehemiah 4:6.
4 Amplified Bible (AMP).
5 Psalm 100:2.
6 Isaiah 64:5 (ESV).
Read by Stephen Larriva. Music by Simon W. Copyright © 2012 by The Family International