Friends, brothers, and sisters,
I have, like most Christians, heard “The joy of the Lord is my strength” many times. I have always interpreted this idea as an obscure, mystical thing. I thought in my heart that the joy of the Lord was some sort of magical energy that would infuse the faithful, a secret power accessed only by the truest of believers that would mysteriously wash away all sorrows and tiredness.
I had never experienced such a thing, and for a long time that was a source of doubt for me. But this week, I realized that I had completely misunderstood it; that I had made something simple and beautiful into something complex and dense and vague, and thus hidden it from myself.
If you love someone, you like to do nice things for them, and you like it when they’re happy. And if doing something hard makes your loved one happy, then the hard thing becomes easier to do. Any parent, any brother or sister, any true friend, anyone who has truly loved another person knows this: the joy of the one you love makes you stronger.
So too with us and God.
Another way of saying all that is that the “secret power” I wondered about in my childhood is just love. Real love between us and God, and a mutual desire for the happiness of the other, and the strength that desire produces. This, I think, is the heart of Nehemiah 8:10.
And this deep mystery is very relevant to us and our work: without relational love, without desire for one another and for God, all our work and all our efforts and all our struggles are vanity, a chasing after the wind, and we might as well not do them. They will not bear fruit, and they will become so hard as to seem impossible.
Work without love becomes exhausting. Service without love becomes a chore. Following God without love becomes heavy and onerous. The Messiah told us that his yoke is easy and his burden is light—and it is only that way when there is love.
This week we had several surgeries and complications, and even now lives are hanging in the balance. Please join us in praying for them. First is newborn Asil from Gaza, who had open heart surgery in Israel on the first of the month, and even now is lying in the ICU with her chest open.
Pray for Kurdish Niyan, who our community has grown very fond of in the last month. She had a tumultuous and often frightening week as she’s slowly and haltingly recovered from her surgeries, gone on and off of ventilators, and finally begun to eat again:
Pray for Eslam from Gaza, who is weak and rough and swollen. He is on an upward path, but even now it is touch and go. Pray that he will heal, and that he and his beautiful mother will be restored to their homes:
Pray for Majed from Gaza, who remains unwell, and who struggles with his breathing, even with high-flow support:
Pray for Salma from Gaza, who has suffered from hemorrhaging in her brain after heart surgery. Pray that she will heal from this brain bleeding and continue to recover from her surgery:
We also have a few moments of praise to share. We thank God for the healing of Osaid from Hebron:
We thank God for the healing of Yazan who is also from the West Bank, and is also recovering excellently. He had his surgery this week and has already been extubated and been responding amazingly since then:
We thank God for the healing and preservation of Mam from Kurdistan, who was rushed into an emergency surgery this week after his abdomen began to swell dramatically from an ischemic bowel:
And lastly, we offer praise to our Father and thank him for the miraculous healing of Liya from Gaza, who has finally left the primary ICU after several months there and is now well enough that she can be strolled through the hospital:
Consider the words of Messiah:
Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?”
And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
When we give to those who are in need—whether that be a grand need or a simple one—we can make God happy, and we can make those we bless happy. Even a cup of chicken soup, given with love, can become consecrated chicken soup, holy and set apart unto the Lord, and consecrated chicken soup feeds body, heart, and soul, and it unites the giver, the receiver, and the Lord in the bond of love that never ends.
But let us also be vigilant and examine our hearts in the giving, because the act of giving is not love in itself. A cup of water can be given with love, but it can also be given with hate; clothing can be given with honor or with disdain; a stranger can be welcomed with humility or with arrogance. We will know what has been in our hearts by the fruit we bear.
So let us be careful, and let us give, and let us love, and let us take strength in the joy of those we love, first God, and then His children. Let us do this for one another, and so build one another up, and so bring honor and praise and glory to our heavenly Father, now and forever.
May the God of peace and love be with you all.
Zechariah for Shevet Achim