Happy New Year! I pray that you had a joyous Christmas and New Years! As we have entered a New Year I find myself entering a new season in my Christian journey. The season actually began last month as I began to fully experience the joy of the Lord. I have been a Christian for about 31 years now and it may sound unusual to hear me say I have finally experienced the joy of the Lord. Isn't that a given as Christians? Not necessarily. We can experience a lot of moments of fleeting happiness but joy comes from a deeper place within and comes from resting in the presence of the Lord. The Lord is always present with us as He promised in Matthew 28:20 that He would be with us even "to the very end of the age." However we can easily ignore the Lord's ever abiding presence and settle for momentary encounters with God. You know, those "feel good" experiences when everything is "right" in our private little world. In November I purchased a book called "Jesus Calling" written by a woman named Sarah Young. The book consists of meditations that she received from the Lord when she finally surrendered to being still enough to listen to Him speak to her spirit. She recorded these conversations in her personal journal which in turn she decided to share with everyone in her book. During the month of December, the meditations focused on God calling her and me to rest in His presence. To know I am fully loved, gifted, and called to serve the Lord and to trust Him completely. This trust involves completely surrendering to His love and to stop allowing others to dictate who I am and what I should and should not be doing in my service to God. When I was able to grasp this idea and really experience it in my inmost being, that is when I felt the joy flood in. I felt released from pretending and trying to satisfy other's expectations and sought to fulfill with God's ever abiding presence that for which He created me. The Lord subsequently pointed me to the book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah went to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem after learning about the status of the remnant of Jews that survived the exile. During his efforts to rebuild the wall there were many who opposed him. But Nehemiah remained steadfast. In our lives, the difficulties of the past year, of unfulfilled dreams, and unexpected problems can be like that destroyed wall of Jerusalem. All our hopes lay in ruins on the ground. So as folks welcome in the New Year with food, drink, parties, and resolutions, there is an underlying hope that 2012 will be better. In Nehemiah's case, he didn't have to hope he could rebuild the wall but he knew he would rebuild the wall. Nehemiah's strength was in the joy of the Lord. The verse that caught my attention comes from chapter 8, Nehemiah said to the people, "Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength." (Nehemiah 8:10) italics mine. That is what I take with me into 2012. The joy of the Lord is my strength and it will be what sustains me through the joys and the sorrows of this New Year. I pray you will consider surrendering to His love and resting in the joy of His presence.