Nehemiah served as the cupbearer to the king in the court of Artaxerxes. One day, preoccupied with bad news from home, he was caught by the king wearing a sad expression on his face. This exposure filled him with great fear.
“So the king said to me, ‘Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing bit sadness of heart.’ Then I was very much afraid.” Nehemiah 2:2
The wise king cut to the heart of the matter. Nehemiah was heartsick over the condition of his people, and he felt inadequate to make a difference in the face of intimidating circumstances. The very reason for being in the presence of the king had been forfeited by his sad expression. Courtiers were given access to lift up the king, not bring him down.
In the ancient world, it just didn’t get any better than this. Serving the king was the greatest job around, and job security depended on pleasing him in order to stay alive as well as hold on to a position. Servants of the king had to keep in mind, “It’s not about me. It’s all about him.” To do less was disrespectful and poor protocol. It could even be interpreted as treasonous behavior by a paranoid despot.
Nehemiah’s response to his dilemma provides a great principle for believers today. In the midst of a crisis of faith, he turned to God in prayer. God influenced the king to grant him his heart’s desire. The wall of the city of Jerusalem was rebuilt, and the condition of his people improved in spite of great opposition.
Believers have always struggled with bringing the promises of God into the middle of their problem. Without prayer to keep their focus on The King, they often allow their faces to show more fear of failure than the joy of the Lord. The loss of joy is directly related to the lack of companionship with Jesus that is available through prayer.
Joy as expressed in the New Testament is defined best within the context of conflict. It is not to be confused with happiness. Happiness is the 21 st century’s synonym for joy, but it is not the same. The pampered consumer culture of our country is conditioned on good things happening, or happiness evaporates. The Consumer Confidence Index rises and falls like a runaway rollercoaster with every talking head delivering a barrage of bad news.
The loss of joy within the church has created a vacuum that has been filled by a multi-billion dollar entertainment industry. Entertainment, the new “joy,” employs comedians and comic actors to bring on temporary slap-happy giddiness or momentary convulsions of laughter. Using entertainment to replace joy is like trying to quench a raging thirst with salt water. More and more is never enough. Jokes get old.
The popular culture equates stardom with entertainment. Stars in the entertainment world flicker for a brief period of time until their sagging faces can no longer be uplifted by a plastic surgeon. They fade away and are replaced like burnt out bulbs on a marquee. Paul described his Philippian stars as those who shined with great power and were reliable guides to people who had lost their way
“You appear as lights (literally, stars) holding fast the words of life.” Philippians 2:15-16
Stars provide a constant guide to those in need of direction because stars never move and do not stop shining. They always show up best in the dark, so they point the way for others to follow through the night. Joy illuminates the dark night of the soul by holding consistently to Jesus. Paul was a shining light from the depths of a prison cell, telling his friends they had nothing to fear. He discovered Jesus was with him, and that was enough. When thrown against the backdrop of difficulty, joy is seen for what it is…companionship with the Person of Jesus, The Light of the World. When the followers of Jesus look into His face, and feel His arms around their shoulders walking them through the dark, their light shines brighter. Fear flees, and the night light comes on making the way clear for others to make their way to the love of Jesus.
© Dr. Gary Miller, 2006
Lead Pastor, The Whitestone Fellowship, Runaway Bay, Texas
For over 40 years, Gary and Dana Miller have invested their lives in the pastoral ministry of churches in Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Georgia. Gary and Dana believe the hope of the world is the local church, and the strength of the church is sustained by praying people.
They have taught extensively on the role of prayer in spiritual awakening, counseled people to build strong marriages by equipping husbands and wives to pray together and have ministered internationally in Hong Kong, Japan, Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia and Switzerland through their TALK LESS! PRAY MORE! Prayer Conferences.
Gary and Dana live in Fort Worth, Texas and have been married for 40 years. They are parents of two grown daughters, Ashley and Allyson.