READ: Nehemiah 7-9, Psalm 144, Luke 11, 1 John 3
THE SORROW AND JOY OF THE SCRIPTURE
When we contextualize prayer it is imperative that we have biblical precedent to back up our forms. When Ezra stood up to read the Scripture all the people stood, then lifted their hands, then bowed their heads and worshipped the Lord with faces to the ground (Neh. 8:5-6). These forms of prayer have been imitated by Muslims, but originated with the people of God. When teaching former Muslims to pray, we can show them that their external forms have precedent in the Scriptures. It is a joy to them to realize God can redeem an external form and infuse it with His Spirit.
The Scripture, however, often starts by making us feel poorly about ourselves. In Ezra’s day, “All the people wept when they heard the words of the Law” (Neh. 8:9). The role of the Scripture is first to deconstruct–both the Muslim and us. We are not good, we are not wise, we are not deserving, our hearts are sinful, and our forms are fallen. Our initial approach to Scripture and the revelation of God should be one of misery–for Scripture reveals first how short we have fallen from the image of God. God’s word first breaks us down before it puts us back together.
When appropriately chastened and sorrowful concerning how far we have fallen from God’s nature, we can then be renewed by the joyful hope the Scriptures also contain. Ezra comforts the wailing community: “Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (8:10). God’s Word also reminds us of His manifold mercies (9:19), and that His good Spirit has been given to us for instruction (v. 20). We approach the Scripture with both sobriety and gaiety. Sober for the Scripture is relentless and ruthless in exposing our sin; joyous for the Scripture is untiring in reminding us of God’s great love and provision.
Morning by morning, evening by evening, we have the privilege of placing ourselves under the correction and construction of the Scripture. How foolish of us if we neglect this great refreshing. What joy, what strength is derived from this ongoing feast. The joy of the Lord is directly connected to our submission to His Word. The Scripture becomes the source of our joy. The Scripture becomes the text of our witness. The Scripture becomes the content of our prayers. As we daily allow ourselves to be molded and motivated by God’s words, we are built up in the inner person and given the energy of joy. The Bible is given to us to make us cry. It is also given to us that we might rise from our sorrow and laugh, that we may be filled with the exuberance of God, an energy fueled by a riotous joy that propels us into all the world.