Beautiful Between

living fully in the now & not yet

This is why God isn’t waiting to punish you

god-isnt-waiting-to-punish-you

After weeks of working, trying to make it better, trying to bring restoration, they finally heard the word of God. The priest read and the Levites explained the meaning for hours, filling in huge gaps in Israel’s collective memory.

They have come to rebuild and inhabit Jerusalem after long, hard years of exile. And now, as they hear of the promises and requirements of God, their hearts are torn. They begin to weep tears of deep grief, this crowd of people shaking with sobs. We have been so far from the Lord. We have broken every promise we’ve made to Him.

In those days, that grief would have been mixed with fear. Because they had broken their end of the covenant, God was freed from His: He was no longer bound to His word to care for and protect them. With enemies surrounding and God’s protection removed, they would have realized how dangerous their position was.

What will become of us?

But the priest and leaders soothed the people. Don’t be grieved, they said. Don’t mourn or weep or lament. The joy of the Lord is your strength.

Instead of a day for fear and grief, it was a day to celebrate, to make sure everyone could participate in the festivities. And, just like that, the people stopped weeping. They went on their way and celebrated.

///

This story strikes me because of the sudden change. One moment, they’re wailing. Somebody tells them, “Don’t be sad or afraid. The joy of the Lord is your strength,” so they just stop.

We’ve heard this before, haven’t we?

We’re heartbroken, afraid, upset. Our hearts are being wrung out like old dish rags with legitimate, palpable pain. And someone tells us to not be upset because the joy of the Lord is our strength.

But what does that even mean?

For so long, I thought “The joy of the Lord is your strength” meant that I was always supposed to “be joyful” and that would make me strong. But I couldn’t make it work.

I never figured out how to summon enough joy to be strong. I still struggled and felt like I was drowning in my problems. I figured if I couldn’t choose joy on the inside, I needed to show it on the outside regardless of how I felt.

But that didn’t work out, either, as I found myself unable to perform and pretend constantly. Sometimes, life was hard and I couldn’t even muster the “joy” to hide how I was really feeling.

Is this what God actually wants? Or do we have it all wrong? What if the priest was saying something different?

It turns out that word for strength can mean so much more. It’s not about muscles or power or even emotional fortitude. It can mean a refuge, a stronghold, a safe place. It’s a fortress, a harbor, a protected place.

And joy? It’s the same word for “gladness.” In other words, happiness.

God’s gladness is your refuge.

God’s happiness is your safe place.

God’s joy is your fortress.

God’s delight is your stronghold.

It hit me hard, reading and wondering: what if the Israelites heard “God’s joy in you is your protection”?

Maybe they heard something like this:

I know you’re hearing all of this Scripture and you’re afraid and overwhelmed. I know all you can think of is everything wrong you’ve done and how you’ve broken every one of God’s perfect rules.

But don’t weep and wail and mourn. God delights in you. He finds joy in you. And that happiness He has in you, His children? It’s a refuge, a hiding place, a shelter and safety from the storm.

///

I think of my sister and my wild whirligig of a niece. She’s two-and-a-half, teeming with energy and enough mischief to keep my introvert sister constantly on her toes.

My sister constantly tells me how naughty and hilarious this kid is. She can’t help but laugh when she finds a handful of paperclips at the bottom of her morning coffee.

Like any good mama, my sister finds her kids deeply delightful, even when they’re breaking rules and causing trouble. She doesn’t punish them harshly for doing something wrong because she just wants to help them grow.

That’s true for all of us with those we delight in.

When we’re frustrated or hurt, the deep current of joy in our heart for them shields them from how we otherwise might react.

That’s God’s response to me, to you, to all of us.

God doesn’t want to punish you.

He isn’t irritated with you.

He’s not disappointed in you.

He delights in you.

Like those Israelites, we sit in awareness of our failures, dreading punishment that we expect for breaking the rules.

But when you mess up, break the rules, put paperclips in the coffee out of curiosity or mischief or whatever, He’s not waiting there to punish you.

So don’t weep and mourn. Don’t grieve.

You fill His heart with joy. And His joy is your hiding place.

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About Sarah

Hi, I'm Sarah. I love coffee, pancakes and street tacos. I'm a learner, a traveler and a creative mess. I've got a thing for redemption and seeing broken people living beautiful lives. That's the story I've lived, and the one I want for you. Let's be friends!

6 Replies

  1. Sky

    This was absolutely beautiful amd just what I needed to hesr right now. Thanks for sharing ❤

  2. Janet Robinson

    My sweet daughter-in-law, Sarah. You’ve hit another home run! Your writing is profound. Isn’t God’s love amazing? Thank you for this.

  3. Jen Baynes

    Great article Sarah! 🙂

  4. Mary P. Nettles

    I’m constantly amazed at how your words touch me right when I need it. Strength can mean a safe place, fortress, stronghold, or refuge is something I never head before and need to hear to silence all those negative thoughts about how imperfect I am. Thank you.

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