"Head and shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes …"
When I was a pastor, the preschool children would come up front and perform that musical exercise at least once a year. After they performed, I'd always ask the worship leader if I could lead the children in another round, but I'd make mistakes.
I might say, "head," but touch my shoulders, or say, "knees," but touch my head. At least one child would always step forward and, with childlike innocence and patience, try to show me the correct way.
On one occasion, after being corrected, I tried again and, of course, messed up again. At that point, one little girl stepped forward with a look that only a child can make and said, "Mommy, he's not very smart." The congregation burst into joyous laughter. The rest of the service was a pleasure, and God's presence was tangible.
In the spontaneity of that moment, we all forgot ourselves in the presence of Someone who is greater. What was the result? Facades vanished. Pride fell away. Hearts were unlocked and opened. Without realizing it, we'd been transported into celebration. Once there, we were open to God.
Overflow with a Good Theme
Psalm 45 tells us about a king's wedding. The first verse describes the author of the psalm contemplating the wedding.
Now imagine the expressions on the faces of children or houseguests when they walk into a kitchen before Easter dinner and take in all those wonderful aromas—yummy smells that create anticipation and fill the heart with joy.
Consider the opening phrase in Psalm 45:1 (NAS): "My heart overflows with a good theme …" The Hebrew word translated as overflows carries the idea of bubbling or stirring. Simply considering a wonderful event or a gracious act of God can stir our hearts and move us into a sense of joy or celebration. And it should.
Of course, practicing all the spiritual disciplines is important. But sometimes a humorous event, a friend's witty statement, or an unexpected act of kindness is just enough to push us out of despair and right into joyous hope. And can be just as holy.
And such overflowing joy leads us to do good things and be better people. One of the most moving services I've ever been a part of was a Mother's Day service where the pastor spoke not about mothers but about reconciliation. On the table in front of the pulpit was a bowl filled with short strips of various colored ribbons. At the end of his message, the pastor asked people to consider if there was someone they needed to forgive or with whom they needed to be reconciled. He then asked people to come up front, take a ribbon, and give it to that person. The effect was dramatic. There were tears. There were smiles. There was celebration for renewed relationships.
Joy Leads to Strength
"The joy of the Lord is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10) is sort of a strange verse. How can joy be strength? What does the word strength mean to you? Whether we define it as something physical, emotional, or spiritual, how does joy fit into that definition?
The Hebrew word translated as strength (ma'oz) is often used in Scripture to describe a refuge or shelter. That same term describes a mountain stronghold in Judges 6:26. It's also used figuratively to describe God as a place of refuge or defense in Psalm 27:1.
But this is the point. Joy and celebration, especially when done in the presence of God, give us a sense of comfort that leads to strength for our everyday tasks. It often provides encouragement to face what is before us with a new sense of vigor.