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13. Living a Life of Celebration

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…At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres. The singers also were brought together from the region around Jerusalem—from the villages of the Netophathites…
Nehemiah 12, 13:1-3

Application Question: Why is it important to practice the discipline of celebration?

How can we live a life of celebration? Celebration is an essential aspect of one’s spiritual life. Richard Foster in his classic book, Celebration of Discipline, said this:

Celebration is central to all the Spiritual Disciplines. Without a joyful spirit of festivity the Disciplines become dull, death-breathing tools in the hands of modern Pharisees.1

We see celebration not only here in Nehemiah 12, as Israel dedicated the wall, but we also see celebration throughout the Bible. The shepherds, wise men, and angels celebrated the birth of Jesus with gifts, songs, and prayer. God gave Israel many celebrations in the Old Covenant such as the Feast of Booths, year of Jubilee, etc. In the New Covenant, he has given us the Lord’s Supper and baptism. We also see future celebrations such as the wedding of the Lamb and the wedding feast with Abraham.

It is clear from Scripture that celebration is a spiritual discipline that God desires for us to practice. It was never his will for Christians to live dry, boring lives and that is why we see celebrations both commanded and practiced throughout the Bible. Scripture says that Christ came so that we may have life and life more abundantly (cf. John 10:10). This abundant life includes celebration. In Nehemiah 12, the Israelites have a great celebration when dedicating the wall, and from it, we can learn many principles about how we can live a life of celebration?

Big Question: What can we learn about practicing the discipline of celebration from Israel’s dedication of the wall?

Christians Practice the Discipline of Celebration by Planning

At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres
Nehemiah 12:27

In this text, Israel had set up a special time of celebrating the Lord’s faithfulness by dedicating the wall to him. They sought out the Levites to celebrate in Jerusalem with songs and also later set up two choirs (v. 27, 31). It is clear that there was planning involved in this process. They decided who would come and how they would lead. The celebration was meticulously planned.

This celebration was not commanded by God; however, it was special for the people of Israel and something they needed to do in order to express their joy. Sometimes Christians have problems with celebrations that are not specifically given in the Bible or commanded for Christians to practice such as: Christmas, Thanksgiving, Lent, etc. Sure, we are not commanded to practice these, but the celebration of them can encourage renewed focus and joy in the Lord, if allowed.

It is good and proper to have routine times to celebrate the Lord, as we do on the Lord’s Day—Sunday. But, it is also good to have special times of devotion or celebration both on a personal level and a community level. It is easy to live a life of routine, which can eventually become dry and mundane. These devotions at special times often aid us in living a life of celebration and worship.

In the same way that it is good and healthy for a married couple to set special dates and special trips to revive and restore their relationship, sometimes we need to do this with God. We should consider establishing special times of celebration to enrich our relationship with him and our joy. It could be a retreat—a week of prayer and worship—to celebrate God’s goodness. Or it could be a celebration of some great success, like a graduation, the launch of a church or a business, where one gathers with others to give thanks to God.

God’s faithfulness can be celebrated in many ways; however, none of these will come to fruition without deliberate planning—both short-term and long-term planning.

Application Question: In what ways do you practice the discipline of celebration? Why is celebration important?

Christians Practice the Discipline of Celebration by Dedicating Everything to God

At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres.
Nehemiah 12:27

The primary purpose of the celebration was to dedicate the wall to God. This dedication was done by bringing in worshipers, walking around the wall, and offering sacrifices to God.

Certainly, we have dedications today. We have baby dedications; we have weddings, which are formal dedications of a couple, both to one another and to God. We have dedications of buildings, companies, etc., which are all offered to the Lord. And these are great things to practice. However, dedications are just special ceremonies which should picture what we practice every day of our lives. Everything we do should be dedicated to the Lord and for his glory—our school work, our marriage, our friendships, our eating and drinking. Consider what Paul taught:

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men
Colossians 3:23

As Israel dedicated the wall to God, we also should find ways to dedicate everything in our lives to him. A life without dedication is really a life without true celebration. We only celebrate what we are dedicated to. We celebrate good grades because we were dedicated to work for them. We celebrate someone’s life only when we have some type of dedication or commitment to the person.

In the same way, only a life that is dedicated to God can truly be a life of celebration and joy.

Application Question: In what ways can we practice dedicating everything to the Lord?

  1. We dedicate everything to God by offering our bodies, our time, our relationships, and our projects to God through prayer.
  2. We dedicate everything to God by thanking him for everything. This means that we recognize that everything is from him and for him.
  3. We dedicate everything to God by working at it with all of our hearts (Col 3:23). We cannot dedicate our scraps to God—only our best.

Application Question: How do you personally practice dedicating things to the Lord?

Christians Practice the Discipline of Celebration when Leaders Serve Joyfully

At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres…I had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall. I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks. One was to proceed on top of the wall to the right, toward the Dung Gate. Hoshaiah and half the leaders of Judah followed them… as well as the priests—Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah and Hananiah with their trumpets—and also Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malkijah, Elam and Ezer. The choirs sang under the direction of Jezrahiah. And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.
Nehemiah 12:27, 31-32, 41- 43

In order to live a life of celebration, godly leaders must lead joyfully. One of the things that we must notice in this narrative is that the Levites, the singers, the priests, Nehemiah, and Ezra were all called to lead the celebration. Nehemiah 12:27 says that the Levites were “brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully.” Nehemiah also called the leaders of Judah to help lead in the celebration (v. 31). Nehemiah knew that it was important for the leaders to lead the celebration in order for it to affect everybody else. Nehemiah 12:43 notes the response of the people. It says: “And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.”

As the leaders led with joy, the women and children also rejoiced and the sound of rejoicing could be heard from far away. This means the Jews living in the suburbs and villages near Jerusalem could hear the sheer joy. It also probably reached their Gentile neighbors as well. The people of Israel were very responsive to the leaders’ joy, causing a great celebration. We see their joyful response in several ways:

Observation Question: How did the people respond to their leaders and the dedication in Nehemiah 12:47-13:4?

1. The people responded by contributing the daily portions for the singers and gatekeepers.

Nehemiah 12:47 says,

So in the days of Zerubbabel and of Nehemiah, all Israel contributed the daily portions for the singers and gatekeepers. They also set aside the portion for the other Levites, and the Levites set aside the portion for the descendants of Aaron.

2. The people responded by gathering to read the Word of God and by excluding the foreigners from Israel in order to properly approach God.

It seems that the beginning of chapter 13 is in response to the dedication. Nehemiah 13:1 says “On that day” meaning it was probably a continuation from the previous chapter. It reads:

On that day the Book of Moses was read aloud in the hearing of the people and there it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever be admitted into the assembly of God, because they had not met the Israelites with food and water but had hired Balaam to call a curse down on them. (Our God, however, turned the curse into a blessing.) When the people heard this law, they excluded from Israel all who were of foreign descent.
Nehemiah 13:1-3

Nehemiah shared all this after the dedication and the worship of the leaders to show how it affected Israel. Their joy affected others and the rest of Israel was prompted to give, read the Word, and separate from the foreigners. In order to live a life of celebration, we must have godly leaders who lead joyfully.

Application Question: How can we practically apply the effect of the leaders’ joy on others?

The rest of Scripture would similarly teach that our joy, and especially that of leaders, affects others. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

A cheerful heart is good medicine. Now certainly, this applies to us. Having joy in our life, no doubt, will help us heal and protect us from physical disease. Studies support the effect of joy on our lives. But our cheerful heart is also like good medicine to others.

See, the leaders in Israel got excited, and it affected everybody else’s commitment to God as seen in Israel’s response. In the same way, our joy, our life of celebration, especially as people in leadership, will encourage the faith of others. It will encourage them to be faithful to the Lord.

Our joy for the Lord, our joy in worship, our joy in evangelism, and our joy in a difficult situation is contagious. It brings healing to broken bones and hearts of those around us. Similarly, Solomon said this: “A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit” (Proverbs 15:13).

A happy heart makes the face cheerful. It is contagious. It brings a smile to others, and this is especially important for leaders. I think that’s part of the reason why Satan is so aggressive in seeking to discourage the leadership of the church. When elders, small group leaders, deacons, etc., are discouraged, it negatively affects everybody else. Instead of bringing healing, it crushes the spirit of others.

I remember briefly serving at an Army medical hospital in San Antonio, Texas, as a Navy Reserve chaplain. A soldier was flown in from Germany who had previously been injured in Afghanistan. If I remember correctly, a bomb had gone off causing an electric wire to fall on him. This caused electricity to shoot through his body, out of his fingers, and out of his toes. He had third degree burns everywhere and was missing a few limbs.

I went in thinking, “How am I going to comfort this guy? However, I was encouraged to learn that this nineteen year old soldier was a man of faith. He was joyful and focused on the prospects of his future. He could see how God was going to use this unfortunate situation for his good. And instead of comforting him, he comforted me.

I left there inspired because of the joy and mature perspective of this young man. I went there hoping to give some spiritual medicine, but, by God’s grace, I was on the receiving end. A happy heart makes the face cheerful.

I think we also see how a joyful leader affects others in the fact that David is mentioned six times throughout this narrative. It continually says, “as prescribed by David the man of God.” Consider a few of these verses:

And the leaders of the Levites were Hashabiah, Sherebiah, Jeshua son of Kadmiel, and their associates, who stood opposite them to give praise and thanksgiving, one section responding to the other, as prescribed by David the man of God.
Nehemiah 12:24

and his associates—Shemaiah, Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, Judah and Hanani—with musical instruments prescribed by David the man of God. Ezra the scribe led the procession.
Nehemiah 12:36

His name is mentioned in verses 24, 36, 45 and 46. When it says Israel followed his prescription of worship, it probably refers to the Psalms he wrote, which included songs to sing and also instructions for instruments. He had also probably set up an order of worship that had been passed down throughout the generations in Israel.

I bring up the continual references to David because David was a godly leader, a man after God’s own heart, who loved to worship and celebrate God. One time he danced so vigorously before the Lord that he took off his princely robes and looked like a common man (2 Sam 6:14). He was a leader who led with joy and his worship affected all of Israel. Even today, his joy and worship are still contagious. We still use many of his Psalms in our contemporary worship music, and we commonly read them, as part of the Holy Scripture, to encourage our hearts when we are down.

Are you a joyful leader? The Levites and other leaders were called to lead with joy (v. 27), and God has called you to lead with joy as well. It’s like a medicine that cheers others up and draws them into a life of celebration. Likewise, a discouraged leader creates discouraged followers. We develop a discipline of celebration as a community by having leaders who lead with joy and by being leaders who lead with joy.

Application Question: In what ways have you seen joyful leaders lead others into joy or celebration? In what ways have you experienced discouraged leaders who lead others into discouragement? How is God calling you to lead with joy?

Christians Practice the Discipline of Celebration by Corporate Worship

At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres. The singers also were brought together from the region around Jerusalem—from the villages of the Netophathites, from Beth Gilgal, and from the area of Geba and Azmaveth, for the singers had built villages for themselves around Jerusalem…I had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall. I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks. One was to proceed on top of the wall to the right, toward the Dung Gate.
Nehemiah 12:27-29, 31

In this text, we see that not only were the Levites sought out to participate in the worship, but many others as well—the singers from the region around Jerusalem (v. 28-29), the leaders of Judah, two large choirs (v. 31), and many other neighboring Israelites, including women and children (v. 43). The women and children were mentioned in verse 43 to show that everybody was worshiping, even those who had the lowest status in Israel. They all came together to worship God and dedicate the wall to him.

Similarly, in order to live a life of worship, we must be part of a community of worship. We need to meet with the people of God to worship. That is why they all came together from all over Israel.

Can’t we worship by ourselves?

Certainly, and we should, but there are special things that God does when the people of God are gathered together. Jesus said that when two or more are gathered in his name he is in the midst of them (Matt 18:20). In fact, Scripture commands us to faithfully participate in the public gathering of the saints. Hebrews 10:24-25 says,

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

The writer of Hebrews taught that gathering into a worshiping community is necessary for stirring up love, good works, and for finding encouragement. Yes, we need each other to practice a lifestyle of celebration. We cannot live a lifestyle of celebration alone. We need the gathering of the saints.

Application Question: How can we practice community worship in order to live a life of celebration?

  • We practice community worship by being faithfully involved in weekly church worship and small groups.
  • We practice community worship by involving the body of Christ in our personal celebrations. We can do this by strategically inviting church members to our celebrations in order to increase our worship and theirs.
  • We practice community worship by participating in the celebrations of others. Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice.”

Application Question: Why is corporate worship so important to living a life of celebration? How is God challenging you to grow in corporate worship?

Christians Practice the Discipline of Celebration by Giving Thanks in Everything

At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres… I had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall. I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks. One was to proceed on top of the wall to the right, toward the Dung Gate.
Nehemiah 12:27, 31

The leaders of Israel led the people in “songs of thanksgiving” (v. 27), and the two choirs Nehemiah set up gave thanks (v. 31). The dedication of the wall was full of thanksgiving. In the same way, if we are going to live a life of celebration, we must continually give thanks to God.

It is good for us to remember that one of the ways that nonbelievers are characterized in Scripture is by not giving thanks to God. Listen to what Paul said when describing the pagan world: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21).

They are described as a people who knew God through the witness of creation but neither glorified him nor gave thanks to him. The world is characterized by not being thankful. Sadly, many people in the church “know God” but yet refuse to glorify him and give thanks to him.

As Christians we are commanded to give thanks in everything. Paul said this in 1 Thessalonians 5:18-19: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.”

He commands us to give thanks in all circumstances and then says for us to not “put out the Spirit’s fire.” What does he mean by this?

It means that when we are unthankful, we lose the Spirit of God’s power in our lives. We lose the power to be joyful, the power to do the works he has called us to do, and, in fact, we often bring the discipline of God on our lives. Israel was disciplined in the wilderness for all their complaining (1 Cor 10:10). However, living a life of thanksgiving opens the door for the Spirit to work in our lives and to give us joy (cf. Gal 5:22). It allows us to truly celebrate God and his works.

Many Christians are walking around without power because they neglect the practice of thanksgiving. They are complainers and worriers, and, by their complaining and worrying, they place water on the Spirit’s fire, affecting both themselves and whatever community they are a part of.

It’s good to remember that we are commanded to “Do all things without complaining and arguing” (Phil 2:14) and to not be anxious about anything (Phil 4:6). When we choose to complain or be anxious, we put out the Spirit’s fire.

If you want to live a life of worship and celebration, you must put logs on the fire of God by living a life of thanksgiving.

Application Question: What are some ways we can practice the discipline of thanksgiving in order to increase our celebration of the Lord?

  1. Practicing the discipline of journaling will help increase our thanksgiving. By journaling, we remember God’s faithfulness, his answers to prayer, and his sovereignty over circumstances. As we remember his good works, we will continually be filled with joy and thanksgiving.
  2. Practicing the discipline of singing worship will help increase our thanksgiving. This is not just a corporate discipline; it should also be a personal discipline (cf. Eph 5:19).
  3. Practicing the discipline of giving thanks to God in all circumstances, both good and bad, will help us develop a natural habit of thanksgiving.
  4. Practicing the discipline of giving thanks to others will help us recognize their good works and/or how God has used them in our lives.

Application Question: Why do we so often forget to praise and glorify God throughout the day, even when he has blessed us? How often do you practice giving thanks to God and to others?

Christians Practice the Discipline of Celebration by Confessing Sins

When the priests and Levites had purified themselves ceremonially, they purified the people, the gates and the wall. I had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall. I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks. One was to proceed on top of the wall to the right, toward the Dung Gate.
Nehemiah 12:30-31

It must be noted that before the dedication began, the Levites first purified themselves, the people, and the wall (v. 30). How did they do this? This probably included ceremonial washings and a sin offering, where they sought the Lord to forgive their sins.

Similarly, we cannot live a life of celebration without the continual cleansing of sin. Consider what David said about forgiveness in Psalm 32:2-5:

Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Selah Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”— and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah

He declared how “Blessed” the man was whose sins are forgiven. “Blessed” can be translated “Happy.” Happy is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him. However, he also described his own personal testimony of not confessing his sin. He shared that when he was silent, his bones wasted away, probably referring to physical sickness from his sin (cf. 1 Cor 11:30). He groaned, meaning he was depressed. His strength was sapped. He dealt with both physical and emotional weakness when he had unrepentant sin in his life. Sin takes away our ability to live a joyful life. It takes away our ability to celebrate. Confession and forgiveness of sin are necessary in order to truly celebrate God.

This reminds us that true joy and celebration comes from a right relationship with God (cf. Phil 4:4, Psalm 1:1). We cannot have a right relationship with God while we are in sin. Therefore, confession is necessary. The person who chooses to abide in sin and live in rebellion towards God can know nothing of true joy or true celebration. Our joy and peace are in the Lord and come from him (cf. Eph 2:14, Gal 5:22). We must continually seek forgiveness to live the life of celebration God desires for us.

First John 1:9 says this: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” We do not need to make a sin offering like Israel did to have our sins forgiven. All we need to do is confess our sins to God, turn away from them, and God will forgive and restore us to a right relationship with him, so we can have joy.

Application Question: In what ways have you experienced the loss of joy and strength because of sin, as David did (Psalm 32:2-5)? In what ways have you experienced joy, when you have experienced the forgiveness of God?

Christians Practice the Discipline of Celebration by Claiming God’s Promises

At the Fountain Gate they continued directly up the steps of the City of David on the ascent to the wall and passed above the house of David to the Water Gate on the east. The second choir proceeded in the opposite direction. I followed them on top of the wall, together with half the people—past the Tower of the Ovens to the Broad Wall, over the Gate of Ephraim, the Jeshanah Gate, the Fish Gate, the Tower of Hananel and the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Sheep Gate. At the Gate of the Guard they stopped.
Nehemiah 12:37-39

Interpretation Question: What does walking around the walls of Jerusalem symbolize in Nehemiah 12:37-39, as seen throughout Scripture?

The next thing we must notice is that Israel dedicated the wall in part by walking around it in both directions. By walking around the wall, they were claiming that God did the work and claiming God’s promise that he would give them the land (cf. Gen 12:7, 17:8).

We have seen this symbolic walking in several passages in the Bible. In Genesis 13:14-17, God called Abraham to lift his eyes to survey the land and to walk through it, for all of it had been given to him. In Joshua 1:3, Joshua was told that every place his foot touched was his. Furthermore, Joshua and Israel were called to walk around Jericho seven times, which symbolized God giving them that city, right before the walls of the city fell down and they conquered it (Josh 6).

Walking around the land of Jerusalem symbolically demonstrated their claiming of God’s covenant promise to eternally give the land to the nation of Israel. It was them saying, “Lord, we believe you! We recognize this victory of building the wall came from you, and we are claiming your promise of this land!”

Claiming God’s promises is necessary for us to live a life of celebration as well. Many Christians live without joy and celebration because they refuse to take hold of God’s promises.

Application Question: What types of promises has God given us which will help us to live a life of joy and celebration?

It has been said that there are over 3000 promises in the Scripture, and we must claim them by faith and be obedient to them in order to live a life of celebration. Here are a few to consider:

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.
Isaiah 26:3

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.
Psalm 1:1-3

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7

These are all promises of God we must take hold of by faith. By keeping our mind on God regardless of the circumstances, we can have the Lord’s peace. By separating from the sinful influence of the ungodly and delighting in God’s Word day and night, we will prosper in everything that we do. Instead of worrying, we must refuse to be anxious and instead choose to live a lifestyle of prayer with thanksgiving, and God’s peace will guard our hearts. Like Israel, we must take these steps by faith to receive God’s promises. The Christian life should be a continual unwrapping of God’s promises, as we walk by faith in them.

We can’t live a life of worship—a life of joy—unless we are taking the promises of God and claiming them. Yes, the nations around Israel were daunting. How could they keep the land and protect the land with such daunting adversaries? All they could do was obediently trust God’s Word, and God would do the rest. It is the same for us.

We each have enemies in our lives that threaten to steal our joy and life of celebration. But, we must claim God’s promises so that we can celebrate even in the presence of our enemies. David said this: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows” (Psalm 23:5). Amen, let it be so.

Application Question: What are your favorite promises in Scripture? Which promises do you feel God is calling you to stand on and claim right now so that you can celebrate, even in the midst of your enemies?

Christians Practice the Discipline of Celebration by Investing in the House of God

The two choirs that gave thanks then took their places in the house of God; so did I, together with half the officials, as well as the priests—Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah and Hananiah with their trumpets— and also Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malkijah, Elam and Ezer. The choirs sang under the direction of Jezrahiah. And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.
Nehemiah 12:40-43

What else can we learn about a life of celebration from Israel’s celebration?

We see that after they walked around the wall with two groups going in opposite directions (v. 38), they went into the house of God (v. 40). They gave “great sacrifices” and rejoiced with “great joy” (v. 43). This seems to be the pinnacle of their celebration. The sound of their corporate rejoicing was so loud it could be heard from far away.

Yes, in the same way, our joy is the greatest when we have invested in the house of God, which is his church—God’s people (cf. 1 Peter 2:5). Why do I call it an “investment”? It’s an investment because of how the Israelites gave. It says that they gave “great sacrifices” (v. 43). This means that they gave their best to the Lord at the temple.

Similarly, I believe many people struggle with living a life of celebration because they are not really invested in their church. They are not invested in the people of God.

They come to church on Sunday but never take time to get involved in people’s lives through small groups or other ministries. There is no “great sacrifice” in their corporate worship. Too many people in the church think that their appearance on Sunday is some great sacrifice to God. They say, “Lord, I got up and made it to church. Aren’t you happy?”

But we must remember that God wants our best. He wants us to invest in him and his people. Listen to what God said to Israel in Malachi 1 about their sacrifices:

“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the LORD Almighty. “It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name. “But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’ ”You place defiled food on my altar. “But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’ “By saying that the LORD’s table is contemptible. When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the LORD Almighty. ”Now implore God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?”—says the LORD Almighty.
Malachi 1:6-9

In this text, Israel was rejected by God because they gave him their leftovers. They gave the lamb with one eye and a broken leg, and God said that he wouldn’t accept it.

Similarly, many Christians don’t offer God their best; they don’t truly invest. They give him the scraps of their day, the scraps of their time. They aren’t committed to serving his people, the church. It is good to remember the correspondence between the sheep and Jesus in Matthew 25. The sheep said to Jesus, “When did we feed you; when did we clothe you?” Christ responded, “When you did it to the least of these, you did it to me” (v. 37 and 40, paraphrased). Whatever we do to God’s people, we do to him.

Israel’s celebration and joy were marked by the “great sacrifices” they gave God in the temple. Many of the Old Covenant sacrifices were not only offered to God but eaten by both the offerer and the priests. They were communal meals that not only blessed God but others. They gave God their best and so must we, as we invest in the church—his people.

Are you investing in the people of God? Israel had their greatest joy as they offered their best to the Lord in his house.

One of the ways you invest in something is by giving the best of your time, the best of your money, and the best of your energy. Are you doing that with the house of God, God’s people?

God promises that whatever you give, he will give back to you. Jesus said this: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38). Proverbs 11:25 in the New Living Translation says, “Those who refresh others shall themselves be refreshed.” God will give you a life of tremendous joy, as you give your best to him and his people. He will enable you to live a life of celebration—a life of joy.

Application Question: What are some practical ways that we can invest in the house of God (the people of God) to live a life of celebration? In what ways have you experienced an enriched joy through this practice?

Christians Practice the Discipline of Celebration by Being Devoted to the Word of God

On that day the Book of Moses was read aloud in the hearing of the people and there it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever be admitted into the assembly of God, because they had not met the Israelites with food and water but had hired Balaam to call a curse down on them. (Our God, however, turned the curse into a blessing.) When the people heard this law, they excluded from Israel all who were of foreign descent.
Nehemiah 13:1-3

When Nehemiah 13:1 says “on that day,” it seems to be referring to the day they dedicated the wall. The dedication of the wall included reading Scripture and obeying it. As they were investing in the house of God, they found that the Scripture forbade having an Ammonite or Moabite in the temple. These nations were antagonistic towards Israel while they were traveling in the wilderness after leaving Egypt. Therefore, the Jews, in obedience, excluded anybody from foreign descent.

It must be noted that part of their celebration was being devoted to Scripture as they read and obeyed it. This must be true for us as well. If we are going to lead our lives and the people we serve in celebration, we must lead them to honor the Word of God and to submit to it.

Certainly, we see this throughout the Scripture. David, in writing the hymnal of Israel, began the Psalms encouraging the people to meditate on the law of the Lord day and night (Psalm 1:2). Similarly, in Psalm 19:7-8 he said this:

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.

David championed many of the benefits of honoring the Word of God. He taught that the Word of God revives the soul, makes people wise, gives joy to the heart, and gives light to the eyes (gives us direction). The law of the Lord is truly perfect; its benefits are legion. If we are going to live lives of celebration, they must be lives devoted to Scripture. The law of the Lord revives the soul and brings joy to the heart.

Are you living a life devoted to Scripture? Are you exhorting those you lead to do the same? Consider what Paul told his disciple Timothy: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). Let us apply this exhortation to our own lives and also to those we lead. Certainly, not all are called to preach, but we are all called to teach as we make disciples of all nations. In order to live a life of celebration, we must be devoted to Scripture.

Application Question: In what ways have you experienced joy by being in the Word of God, obeying it, and sharing it with others? How can you more effectively use Scripture to live a life of celebration?

Conclusion

How do we live a life of celebration? Christians practice the discipline of celebration by:

  • planning daily and special times of celebration
  • dedicating everything to God
  • leading with joy
  • participating in corporate worship
  • giving thanks in everything
  • continually confessing our sins
  • claiming the promises of God
  • investing in the house of God
  • and by being devoted to the Word of God

Application Question: In what ways has God challenged you to live a life of celebration in order to increase your joy and the joy of others?


1 Foster, Richard J. (2009-03-17). Celebration of Discipline (Kindle Locations 2931-2932). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Related Topics: Leadership