Joy! Exploring a Worship Essential

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Nehemiah 8:10 NKJV
Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Psalm 100:1-2 NIV
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.

Philippians 4:4 NKJV
Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I will say, rejoice!


Joy Is Strength
When we place the word “joy” alongside more serious-sounding words like “mission,” “witness,” “holiness,” “faith,” or “victory,” it seems to shrink back from the limelight.  We may be tempted to file “joy” in the file drawer marked, “fun,” or “amusement,” or even, “entertainment.”  Before we make such a serious filing mistake, we need to take a moment to remember a hero of the faith, a man named Nehemiah.  While we are at it, we need to realize that his office in the captivity of Israel of Cup-Bearer to the King was not a frivolous menial position, anyone could do.  His office required courage, skill, and constant vigilance. The life of the King was in his hands.  The rules of the King were the rules he lived by, or else! Like others before him, this captive found serious responsibilities in the government of his captors.

Nehemiah was making the most of his life as a captive in a foreign land until the news of conditions in his homeland and in Jerusalem reached him.  The Temple had been destroyed and the city was in ruins.  Even the protective city walls had been breached and burned with fire.  It is likely that this young man had no real memory of Jerusalem, but his heritage was there, and his heart was moved to tears and to prayer.  It was not wise for the King’s cup bearer to be sad in the presence of the King. Nehemiah deliberately went from his prayer chamber, cup in hand, to the throne room of the King with a mournful countenance, a serious departure from his normal behavior.  Perhaps the tears he had shed had fallen into the cup he bore but so great was his grief and so bold was his faith, he displayed his broken heart to the King.

The King was touched by the sorrow of his servant. Nehemiah’s prayers were answered, his faith was rewarded, and his destiny was realized beyond his tearful vision.  He was sent back to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall!  His organizational skills came into play as he not only engineered a new wall, but he organized his construction crew into an army as well.

Nehemiah’s name means, “Comforted by Jehovah.”[1]  He stands as example of leadership as he saw his prayerful tears evolve into a deep and meaningful joy.  He passed the leadership lesson along to his men and to us.

“Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Though this story may be ancient, this truth is current.  Joy! must be added to our list of worship essentials: Truth, Beauty, Order, and Joy!  There are so many scriptural commands telling believers to deliberately castoff sorrow and take up joy.  Joy is strength, not diversion. It is faith, not despair, healing not debility, skill not ineptitude, and peace not fear.

I have observed that the mood of the modern generation is one of desperation. Many songs are heartfelt outcries of wounded hearts and fearful minds reaching out for their Savior and friend, King Jesus.  This is a good thing, but it is not a good place to start a public worship service.  In this essay, I want to explore the biblical principles of the ministry of joy.  It is not at all a frivolous factor. “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”

The Joyful Path

Psalm 16:11 NKJV
You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Some of the best news you will ever hear comes from the 16th Psalm.  The process of living as a Christ-follower is one of joy that is constantly available.  In the Psalmist’s words, there is a Path of Life” each believer can find and walk in the power of the Holy Spirit with God’s Word as our dependable guide.  We remember that Jesus talked about a straight and narrow way and this, of course, is truth.  Isn’t it good to know that as narrow and challenging as the narrow way may be, it is still a Path of life.  God has a will for each of us. Paul makes this so very clear in his words to the Ephesians and to us.

Ephesians 2:8-10 NKJV
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

To my mind, Paul is describing the Path of Life mentioned in Psalm 16.  We are not saved by our works, but, because we have been saved by grace, the Lord has laid out a path for each of us to walk.  On this path, we go from assignment to assignment doing the things God has prepared in advance for us to do.  The joy of this life is not only in the works we get to do in Jesus’ name but joy is also found in the brothers and sisters whose Paths of Life coincide with ours.  I can look back over more than 50 years on this joyful path and see the precious, outstanding brothers and sisters the work of the Lord has added to my life.  We have been bonded together by the work of the Lord we have shared.  I call these “work-fellow relationships.” My joy has strengthened them and their joy has strengthened me.  And this is not all! We can all look forward to an eternity of shared joy and strength in the glory to come.  The Path of Life is a Path of Joy!

The Song of Joy

Psalm 33:2-3 NKJV
Praise the Lord with the harp; Make melody to Him with an instrument of ten strings.
Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy.

It makes perfect sense that the Path of Life should be one of joyful music.  Even the most casual student of human history will be acquainted with the role of song to ease human suffering and give voice to human joy.

  • The work song has eased the overworked muscles of many work gangs be they slave or free.
  • The lament has soothed hurting hearts since the first tragedy befell the first human beings.
  • The love song has aided young lovers for ages stake out a romantic claim in each other and their wedding songs have sealed the deal.
  • Stirring marches have sent countless young men into battle and the mournful dirge has brought back the bodies of those who fell victim to the conflict.
  • Sentimental songs of home have comforted countless pilgrims for whom life has been a journey to strange new places.

And in public worship, there is the Call-to-Worship! This is a song of joy announcing the commencement of a service of worship in honor of our King.  It should be a song of joy, helping us rejoice in the Lord’s Holy Day.  We are commanded to “come into His presence with joyful songs.

Psalm 100:1-2 NIV
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs


What a delightful command!  It is not always easy to obey but it is always worth the effort.  Worship Leaders must come to the aid of the people assembled to worship.  The leaders may have been at church for more than an hour preparing to lead, but the people are just steps away from the parking lot!  Life is so varied and is sometimes an up-and-down journey.  The joy-filled Call-to-Worship helps them lay aside their pain for a little while and take up the gladness necessary to, in Peter’s words, “proclaim His excellencies.”

1 Peter 2:9 NASU
But you are a Chosen Race, a royal Priesthood, a holy nation, a People for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light…

The Bible refers to the Gateway to the Presence of the Lord as the “Gates of Thanksgiving.” Expressions of Thanksgiving have the power to lift us out of any contrary mood that may have afflicted us. For the musicians leading the People of God, the joy of their craftsmanship is an important factor as well.  I am confident that excellent singers and players will report how uplifting the music of praise and thanksgiving can be.  We all need the strengthening power of joy.

Our opening songs should be songs of joy.  There will be other points in the service for our desperation or our grief.  As a worship leader for so many years, I can testify to the dependable effect of joyful songs.  Our people need them and so do we!

The Harvest of Joy

Psalm 126:5-6 NKJV
Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy. He who continually goes forth weeping,
Bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing,
bringing his sheaves with him

One of the sweetest promises concerning joy is found in Psalm 126.  It is the human condition that there will be times in each person’s life when that person will sow in tears.  For the sinful heart, the tears of sorrow and conviction lead to repentance.  For the wounded heart, tears may flow unabated through the fault of others but still they flow.  This blessed psalm covers both grief categories as a time of “sowing in tears.”  No human being escapes this season of sowing.  However, when the Believer sows with tears of prayer and confidence in God’s promises and presence, he/she is sowing the good seed of the Word of God.  For these tears there is a promised harvest, a harvest of joy. Amazing!  Notice the descriptive word, “doubtless.”  This promise is as sure as any of the other promises of God.

The role of this type of joy in the worship service is this: The Worship Leader and the Lead Worshiper never know who is in a moment of crisis where songs of faith are needed or who might be burdened by grief when songs of hope are needed.  Faith and hope are expressions of joy, of strength for the trial, and hope for the promised outcome.  Joy is not a frivolous thing.

The Joyful Destiny

Isaiah 55:12 NKJV
“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.

The pleasures of the human life are fleeting.  Like a carton of milk from the store, the joys of life have an expiration date.  We may not be able to read the printing on the carton, but we can sense time slipping away.  At some point our breathing will stop. The heart that has been so faithful all these years will thump its last thump.  The good news for Believers is this:  This moment our trek on the Path of Life will simply be an intersection with another Path of Life.  This time our steps will be on streets of gold and, as I said in a song I wrote on the death of special friend,

Reunion Day! Yes, there will be a gathering by the Crystal Sea
Where we will see those who’ve gone before, faces we adore.
Sweet voices, Lord, will sound once more on Reunion Day.[2]

As faithful travelers on The Path of Life, we have a destiny of Joy!  Eternal Joy begins with our songs here on earth but will continue with heavenly songs, written and performed by amazing angels around the throne of God and of the Lamb.  Every time we taste of the Joy of the Lord, we imbibe a little taste of Heaven’s joyful brew.  An ancient idea called “The Communion of the Saints” indicates that we can sense the presence of our loved ones who walked the Path of Life before our time and during our time.  It will be wonderful to hear that choir of the faithful seated in the heavenly gallery with our loved ones in the Throne Room of God. Tasting the joy stored up for tomorrow, gives us a dose of strength for what we face today.

The Joy of Jesus

Hebrews 12:1-2 NKJV
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,
let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame,and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

John 15:11-12 NKJV
“These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you,
and that your joy may be full.

Jesus promised a particular joy to His Disciples.  He had a joy like no human being had ever known before Him. Although He had “emptied Himself” or “laid aside” His privileges as the Son of God,”[3]I am convinced He had an awareness of Heaven’s Throne Room that no human being could share.  Somehow, there was a joy “set before Him”[4] that enabled Jesus to endure the violence and injustice that was His destiny as the Suffering Servant and Sin-bearer.

This is the joy He has shared with those who follow Him!—“My joy!”  This is a joy that is based in eternal truth, not temporary events, in heavenly power, not earthly circumstances, in faithful promises, not the dubious intentions of men, in God’s timing, not blind chance.  Through His joy we can each take up our cross and follow Him. We need never down put His plan for us. We can fearlessly put our hand to the plow He assigns us and never, ever look back! Can there be any doubt that the Joy of the Lord is our strength?

The Joyful Kingdom

Romans 14:16-17 NKJV
Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

We Americans often hear it said, “We are nation of laws.”  May it always be true.  In this mode, how would we describe the Kingdom of God?  I believe it is a Kingdom of Joy.  Three characteristics of the Kingdom of God are described:

  1. Righteousness,
  2. Peace, and
  3. Joy!

This is a functional truth.  Because of the righteousness of Jesus, we are saved, sanctified, and filled with the Holy Spirit.  Because of the peace—His peace!—we have in Jesus, we can face each day with joy and with confidence in the ultimate outcome of victory in Jesus’ name.

This is Jesus Joy! Through this joy we stand out from the people around us who do not follow the Lord.  If they have hope at all, it is a feeble one, resting on the promises and intentions of people.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus described the life lived by His followers as a life built on a Rock—the Rock!—Christ Jesus.  Storms will come, winds will blow and the rains will come at us sideways but our house will stand.  Jesus said people would know we were His followers when they see the love we have for each other.[5]  When unbelievers observe believers living through the same trials and struggles of life but possessing deep in their souls a peace and a joy, they may not know at first the source of that joy.  As the shared struggles of life accumulate for everyone, they see us living life with a strength they do not possess, they will seek to know why.  The “why” is really a “who”—Jesus, the source of our strengthen joy.” We are the strong  citizens of a Kingdom of Joy!

The Joyful Gate

Psalm 100:1-2 NIV
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.  Worship the Lord with gladness.
Come before him with joyful songs.

In view of all these commands for God’s People to be a joyful bunch, let us return in our thinking to the Worship Service.  Worship Leaders and Pastors (Lead Worshipers) must always remember the Joyful Gate—The Gates of Thanksgiving.  Our people need this joyful gate.  We must provide the music for them to make this important transit

  • From the parking lot to the sanctuary,
  • From the cares of this life to the joys on the next life,
  • From the pain of this trial to the hope of victory,
  • From the confusion of this dilemma to the truth of God’s word, and
  • From the isolation of modern/Post-modern life to the warm fellowship of saints and angels.

How thoughtful of God to make Thanksgiving the gateway to His Throne Room!  It is up to us to find and lead the “joyful songs” needed for this all-important journey.

Continual Joy

Philippians 4:4 NKJV
Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!

In words of thrilling emphasis, Paul instructs the church at Philippi to rejoice in the Lord always.  Then he says it again—Rejoice! This is a rejoicing unrelated to circumstances; it is rooted in the Word of God.  Those of us who are charged with planning and leading the worship service need to hear his words and his repetition for emphasis.  “Rejoice!”  Take joy!  Put down fear and take up the shield of faith to quench those fiery darts.  We can have a joy that begins now and continues forever!  It is a choice worshipers must make and their leaders must help them.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer
© 2022 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

[1] Easton’s Bible Dictionary, PC Study Bible formatted electronic database Copyright © 2003, 2006 Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.

[2] “Reunion Day!” Words and Music by Stephen R. Phifer, © Copyright 1991

[3] Philippians 2:6-7 ASV “… who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; Phil 2:7 TLB “…but laid aside his mighty power and glory…”

[4] Hebrews 12:2

[5] John 13:35

Joy! Exploring a Worship Essential

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