“Shout for joy, O daughter of Zion! The Lord has taken away His judgments against you. He has cleared away your enemies. You will fear disaster no more. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in his love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.” ~Zephaniah 3: 14-17
I’ve never heard these verses before. Never studied them that I remember, but I heard them in a sermon recently and they shook me to my core. When they were being read, the tears just streamed down my face, and even now, weeks later, they threaten again as I type these words.
I struggle with my sins. Even now. Years after being saved. Years after God’s mercy washed over me. There is rarely an alter call when I don’t confess them again, and again, and again. Sometimes I feel like I’m trying to convince God just how bad I really am. Like He doesn’t already know. He does. He’s heard all the details. Many times over. And over. And over.
It's always been hard for me to wrap my mind and soul around mercy and forgiveness. The truth is I crave judgment instead of mercy. I feel ashamed. I often sit in a church crowd and hope they won’t discover how bad I really am. An imposter. Not worthy. Not clean.
I am serving a prison sentence inside for things I’ve done. A prison sentence that no one sentenced me to. It is self-imposed. But just as stifling. My invisible bars sometimes keep me from speaking up, singing loudly, teaching, serving, reaching out. Which of course, is a form of failure resulting from failure, sin resulting from sin. It’s a cycle. And a prison. My bars are solid. My jumpsuit striped black and white. Sin and mercy side by side.
It’s been pointed out to me on occasion that my feeling this way is a slap in the face to the power of Jesus’ blood to cleanse. Do I not believe his grace is sufficient? Do I not trust His mercy? My sins were wiped away. He can’t see them anymore. I believe that. I really do. But I can still see them clearly. They are etched on my soul. And they still hinder me, cripple me, every day. Consequences remain.
You can understand why these verses hit me so hard. It’s been years since I shouted for joy. Or even spoke it loudly. I don’t shout. I don’t speak up. Satan has his hand firmly over my mouth. My failures have smothered my "joy shouts". I’ve always felt like God knows this. We have an understanding. The shouting part is for other people. The people with enduring marriages, perfect children, bills paid and savings accounts firmly in place. The “got-it-all-together-and-know-where-I-put-it-people.” You know some of them, don’t you? The holy hush crowd. Sometimes it’s hard to shout for joy in the midst of them. When I can clearly see the road behind me. A long dirty road that is littered with heartaches and potholes. Broken dreams. Soul shattering sins. My sins. When I look back on that, all my shouting gets swallowed and choked on.
And then the next verse speaks straight to me. The Lord has taken away His judgments against you. Maybe the most powerful words He could say to me. He has taken them away. They are gone. Not waiting for me somewhere. Gone. Gone. Gone. So the big question now is, who could I be without my sins smothering my shouts? Without my prison bars? Without the ball and chain of regret that weighs me down. Can I really let go and let Him cover the mess I made? Can I?
He will exult over me with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over me with shouts of joy. The idea of My Father in Heaven shouting over me brings me to my knees in humility. I am so undeserving. So dirty. Such a failure. How can He shout over me?
So many times I get in my comfortable Bible study rut. I read my old favorite verses, my Psalms, my much studied parables and underlined passages. I find such comfort in the familiarity of them. I find reassurance in the sameness of scripture. It’s always there for me. A trusted friend. And then something like these verses hits me right between the eyes and slays me. A fresh and new word. A message from God written straight to my heart. A wake-up call that knocks the wind out of me. Just when I start to feel comfortable. Hidden and safe. He knows me so well.
So today I will try to shout. Even if it’s just to Him alone. I will shout. I will sing to Him. I will praise Him for His mercy. His cleansing, soothing, snow white love and forgiveness. I will rest in it. And I will try to accept my pardon from sin. My release from prison. His mercy shines a bright spotlight into the deepest black pit of my sinful soul. And I will rejoice, just for a while, with shouts of joy. Just as He does!