Summary: This sermon examines God’s desire to trade His joy for our guilt, sadness, and discouragement.
In the mid 80’s I had the opportunity to make a mission trip to Brazil. We went to Manaus, in the upper Amazon basin. We met a little boy named Pablo. He followed us around most of the week. On our final day, Pablo came to see us off. As we were preparing to board our bus and start the trip home an interesting thing occurred. One of our trip members offered Pablo a generous financial trade; however, he turned it down. The man wanted to trade Pablo two American dollars for one Brazilian coin. The coin was the equivalent of a quarter. Someone intervened and helped Pablo understand his misfortune. Sometimes we do God the same way. He offers us a wonderful trade but we decline His invitation.
A song writer named Darrell Evans wrote a song, several years ago, entitled “I’m trading my sorrow. We sang that song a few minutes ago. Let me repeat the words for you.
I’m trading my sorrow
I’m trading my shame
I’m laying it down for the joy of the Lord
I’m trading my sickness
I’m trading my pain
I’m laying it down for the joy of the Lord
I’m pressed but not crushed persecuted not abandoned
Struck down but not destroyed
I’m blessed beyond the curse for his promise will endure
And his joy’s gonna be my strength
Though the sorrow may last for the night
His joy comes with the morning
I think Darrell Evans was describing a beneficial trade. Trading sorrow, shame, sickness, and pain for God’s joy is a wonderful opportunity. God wants to make the same trade with us today. Will we make the trade? Let me show you a text that teaches this principle. “Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Neh. 8:10 NKJV) This is the context. The book of Nehemiah records a time when Israel is coming back into their homeland after spending 70 years in exile. They began to rebuild their land. Israel was regaining her status as a nation and rebuilding their relationship with God. During that time the book of the law was discovered. The people had lost contact with their spiritual roots. Nehemiah called the people together and Ezra conducted a public reading of God’s word. This reading occurred at a place called the “Watergate.” I would imagine that Richard Nixon would have preferred to be at this Watergate rather than the one he visited. As the people heard the reading of God’s word they were overwhelmed by their short-comings and failures. They looked in the mirror and saw what God saw in them. They were saddened when they realized how they had failed the Lord. Repentance, sorrow, and grief are worthy when we face our sin. However, there comes a point when we lay it aside and celebrate God’s forgiveness. In this text we read where Nehemiah encouraged them to move beyond sorrow and allow the “joy of the Lord” to be their strength.
Several weeks ago we put together a little devotional book containing the stories of seventeen of our members. Many of those stories reveal a trade that took place. Our members traded a lesser life for a better life. Some of them traded sadness for singing. Some of them traded pain for praise. Some of them traded emptiness for fullness. Some of them traded darkness for light. I want to turn to our text and discover the secret of this wonderful trade. There are two phrases in this text. Those two phrases outline the truth I want you to see.
I. The first truth is: release your past to God.
A. Sorrow, pain, guilt, and grief have a place but once they perform their duty they should be thrown into the garbage can of forgetfulness.
Jesus said “Blessed are those who mourn.” He was referring to mourning over sin. Once that sin is confronted we are to release it.
In II Cor. 7:10 Paul explains this sorrow. “Godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.”
Illustration: The story of George C. Wallace sounds like something from Paul Harvey’s “the Rest of the Story.” It comes in two parts: the sad, earlier life and the hard but hopeful latter life. A dramatic and tragic event in the middle brought life-changing consequences for the man from Alabama. In 1962, Wallace ran for governor on a platform that was blatantly racist. He promised to fight integration to the point of defying federal orders and personally blockading schoolhouse doors. He ended his inaugural address with the infamous statement, “I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” That summer, he refused to allow black students to register at the University of Alabama until forced to do so by the threat of military intervention. Through his tenure as governor and a run for the presidency in 1968, Wallace spouted racial hatred while blacks were beaten and jailed, black churches were burned, and black children were murdered. Elected governor a second time in 1970, Wallace began to signal a shift in his racial stance. Perhaps he had grown weary of building his political aspirations on other people’s fears and prejudices. Or perhaps (as a good politician) he was merely sensing change in the cultural wind. But, by 1972, his message had become more populist and less bigoted. Then came May 15, 1972 – and the rest of the story. While campaigning in Laurel, Maryland, Wallace was shot five times, leaving him paralyzed and in constant pain. Two years later – confined to a wheel chair, divorced from his second wife, without the use of his legs, and lacking control of bodily functions – Wallace was a broken, pathetic figure. He was a man who finally understood the meaning of suffering. He was a man who had come to realize what suffering he had caused others. While being driven home one evening, he passed the open doors of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, a black congregation where years earlier Martin Luther King, Jr., had stood in the pulpit and denounced Wallace for his treatment of African Americans. Overcome with remorse, Wallace stopped the car, was helped into his wheelchair, and wheeled up the aisle to the stunned surprise of the assembly. There, Wallace tearfully confessed he had been wrong, apologized for the suffering he had caused, and asked the blacks of Alabama to forgive him. It was an expression of remorse he was to repeat on numerous occasions in the following years – publicly, before black audiences on campuses and conventions, and privately, to black leaders like Coretta Scott King and Jesse Jackson. During two more terms as governor (1974 and 1982), he built bridges to the black community, developed relationships with prominent black leaders, and worked to undo some of the damage his own racist rhetoric had caused. Until the very end, while bedridden and deaf, he still received visits from friends, both black and white, and met with groups of both races for prayer. Not all blacks forgave Wallace. The damage he did and the pain he caused was great. But the story of George Wallace is not about forgiveness, but about penance. Here is a man who was tragically flawed and terribly wrong. It took five bullets and horrific suffering to bring him to his knees. But once broken, he had the courage to face his hatred and prejudice, repent, confess, and then spend the remainder of his life attempting to atone and make restitution. (SOURCE: Tim Woodroof, Walk This Way: An Interactive Guide to Following Jesus, (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1999), 62-63.)