…the joy of the LORD is your strength. Nehemiah 8:10

Every morning of the year, my little next door neighbor burst out of his house with unrestrained singing. I came to look forward to a serenade each day as Ben made his way through the garden to school or to play or to the day’s activity. Throughout the years, Ben’s singing matured and blessed me until he decided to grow up, go to university, and finally marry. And he also went into ministry, no surprise.
The people of Judah who had experienced long years in exile finally returned to their homeland (as God had promised) and settled in to reclaim their heritage. Nehemiah led them in the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall that had been destroyed by the Babylonian invaders. Many families and tradesmen committed to restoring a section of the wall, and as they all united, the wall and doors were all put back in place.
It was time for celebration. But first, Ezra the priest brought out the Law of Moses, which had been neglected for many years. He read aloud to the people from daybreak until noon, and as the people understood the words, they began to weep. Nehemiah, the governor, and Ezra halted their mourning with, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep” (8:9). These wise leaders knew that grief would suck the victory from the long weeks of effort the people had faithfully put into rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.
Instead, Nehemiah instructed them to bring out the party food, to send treats to those who had nothing prepared. They were not to grieve, for “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (8:10). Scripture records that the people celebrated with “great joy.” In fact, their celebration had not been as intense since the days of Joshua. As the Word settled into their hearts, Ezra was able to continue his teaching (and reading), and the people heard the words and rejoiced.
Think of what a little joy could do in our lives. God’s joy (based on our righteousness in him) brings great freedom and empowers us to live, celebrating his Kingdom at work in and through us. Let’s practice “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among [ourselves], and making music to the Lord in [our] hearts” (Eph. 5:19). Bring out the joy. It might even help to restore some of the brokenness in our own lives.


Sweet Father, thank you for your joy that is not based on happenings but on your realities. Stir up a song within us all. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.


There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same LORD. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. I Corinthians 12:4-6


One of my favorite children’s books is Frederick, Leo Leonni’s story of a little field mouse who might be perceived as a lazy, do-nothing. Throughout the summer all the other mice are toiling diligently, preparing for winter. They are gathering food and storing it to sustain themselves throughout those long months. But as Frederick’s friends pass him by carrying heavy loads of grain, he is peacefully sitting on a rock looking about and absorbing the rays of the sun. Frederick suggests that he, also, is preparing for the winter although his efforts are not obvious to anyone else.

After months of hard work, the fierce winter and cold winds drive the little mouse community into their underground refuge. Stashes of seeds and grains are brought out, and everyone shares. Suddenly, someone remembers, “Frederick, what did you gather for the dark winter days?” And little Frederick, whose dreamy eyes have baffled them all, begins to describe the marvelous colors and sights he has gathered, the wonderful words, and paints his lovely pictures of the sun and the beauty of nature all around. As he speaks, the grayness of the long winter dissipates, and his poetry carries them through the harsh reality above ground.

We, too, need to look around to find the Fredericks in our midst. They are those who, no matter how difficult the circumstance, can always be depended upon to remind us to think about and to remember those things that are beautiful, pure, true, honest (Phil 4:8). They remind us of God’s promises and his presence with us. They may not always be in the forefront of the latest church project or community volunteer program, but they’re watching all the time and storing up God’s faithfulness to remind us during our dark days.

God has spread his gifts widely and has given each of us a role in his Kingdom. We’re not to judge nor measure another’s worth by our initial perception. God needs worker bees and those who are readily noticed for their energies, but he also needs Fredericks who take time to sit, to meditate, to wait, and to watch God at work. We need those Fredericks who, in our winter days, lift our spirits to see and hear and remember God’s goodness.

Identify the Fredericks in your life and keep them close at hand.


Father, thank you for those in my life who continue to speak of your beauty, your mercy, your love, your grace, and all things that cheer me onward. AMEN.



No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:11

Anyone who has been part of my household—and there have been many through the years—knows that I have three expectations: mutual respect, peace (keep the noise down and be kind), and love. I tolerated Edward and Frances’ bad behavior until Edward began chasing me up the stairs and protesting (loudly) when I went to make a cup of tea—behaviors that were nonsensical (except to him) and really annoying. On the other hand, Frances loved everyone and was typically friendly—until we were out walking. Then she became almost unmanageable when she spied another of her own kind. Yes, Edward and Frances are my companion dogs.
It was time to call in Lara, the Dog Whisperer. Within a few minutes Lara pointed out Edward’s pouting and controlling behavior. Frances, the happy-go-lucky creature intent on a good time, also displayed passive-aggressive behavior designed to bypass authority. But they weren’t too much for Lara—she saw right through their manipulations and began showing me how to apply corrections at the first sign of disobedience. After months of training—me—I am learning how to enjoy the mutual respect, peace, and love I expect in our home.
I’ve reflected on the results of Lara’s work and how they so exceed what I’ve found with other trainers. Lara understands animal behavior, why dogs act as they do and how to motivate them to respond appropriately. She doesn’t use punishment to motivate, and she doesn’t hand out treats as bribes. She uses praise and approval. And she corrects when the behavior is not what it should be. I’m applying Lara’s lessons, and I’m seeing a huge change.
Just think about the difference between correction and punishment. God corrects us when we are disobedient. Even better than that, the omniscient Holy Spirit convicts us prior to our sinning, before the kernel of an unrighteous thought blooms into active sin. He convicts us to stop us before we sin. If we choose to override him, he corrects us with any number of brilliant methods to put us back on the path to obedience. I believe punishment is reserved for slow learners who continue to manifest bad/sinful behavior so that they, too, learn to obey.

The whole point of God’s training us is to develop that relationship with him that causes us to choose to obey for the joy of fellowship with him and to experience his approval.
“…in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
Father, thank you for all the ways in which you teach us and demonstrate your truths, and thank you for revealing to us the deep joy that comes through obedience. AMEN.


But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” Luke 2:10

We’ve spent days now with tidings of great joy stringing lights, hanging garlands, and decorating trees while we’ve been preparing our hearts for the annual celebration that illuminates history and informs the future. Has “Joy to the World” been your experience this Christmas season? Or has it been more like, “Thank God this year is over and done. I’m ready to move on.”

Whatever our personal reality has been, good or ill, St. Paul encourages us to forget the past and press on to our future in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:13). The victories of the past year are over and done while the griefs and failures must be treasured for God’s presence and grace through it all. We press on meditating on that searching question, “What brings me joy?” Is it material or is it relational? Is it external or is it indwelling? Is it temporal or is it eternal?

I am challenged to take the message we’ve sung for weeks now, “Joy to the World,” and translate it into everyday, ongoing reality despite weather, politics, intrigues, turmoil, and anything else life can hand us. Isaiah (55:12) gives us a great starting point,

“For you shall go out with joy,
And be led out with peace;
The mountains and the hills
Shall break forth into singing before you,
And all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”

Going into this New Year, we can choose to open each day and each going out with God’s Joy. Our obedience is an invitation to him to renew our minds and transform our behaviors so that more and more we reflect him who was anointed with joy more than his companions (Heb.1:9). The Christmas season is almost over, but the joy shouldn’t end.

What brings you joy?
Father, thank you for giving us everlasting joy. Help us to choose to activate it in our lives. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.