The Strength of Joy

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“How can the joy of the Lord be my strength?”

It was the second time that I had heard that question within a few weeks.

Two different friends. Two different situations. One similar struggle.

I began to ponder the question myself. What does it mean for the joy of the Lord to be my strength?

The oft-quoted verse is hidden in a little-studied book of the Bible. “The joy of the Lord is your strength,” Nehemiah (or maybe Ezra – see Nehemiah 8:10) had told the Israelite. Today, we’ve extracted the words to post on pictures and spotlight on our screensaver, but what do they truly convey?

For most of us, this is merely a call to keep a stiff, upper lip. Every “good Christian” is expected to have a happy heart and joyful soul. It’s an ought-to commandment evidenced by a habitual smile on our countenance. After all, joy is a fruit of the Spirit and should be naturally sourcing from our emotions, right?

But what about when your mother has cancer or your husband has Parkinson’s? What about when your child is wayward or your finances are failing? Where is the automatic surge of joy within those situations? Have we somehow disappointed God when our hearts don’t gush with rejoicing?

“The joy of the Lord is your strength.” As I have contemplated over these words, both in context and out of context, with the help of commentators and His Spirit, I realize I’ve misplaced the source of joy. This exaltation and rejoicing bubbles from within Jehovah, not me. Jesus Himself testified that “I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (John 15:11). The joy is coming out “of the Lord,” not out of us.

The life that He promises was never meant to be found within the individual alone. After all, ”within me dwells no good thing” (Romans 7:28). Life is only and always found within our Triune God.

But is this pulling the truth out of context? Let’s look at other references:

“As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so your God will rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:5).

“Therefore says the Lord God…”I will rejoice over them to do them good” (Jeremiah 32:41).

“The Lord your God is in your midst…He will exult over you with joy…He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy” (Zephaniah 3:17).

Read His Words again. Our God is a joyful Guy. He speaks into creation and He likes what He makes. Jehovah’s character overflows with delight. Joy sources within Him, not within you.

Yet, the very creation that brings Him the greatest joy is you. “Thus says the Lord God,…I create (you) for rejoicing and …. for gladness. I will also rejoice in (you), and be glad in My people” (Isaiah 65:18-19).

No matter your situation. No matter your attitude about that situation. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). He is rejoicing and is glad about you.

Be still. Stop striving for a better attitude. Look into the eyes of your Good Shepherd for when He finds you, He always puts you around His Shoulders and rejoices (Luke 15:5). He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7). Despite your temptations and despite your anxieties. “Do not be afraid little flock, for the Father has chosen gladly to give you His Kingdom” (Luke 12:32). In Him, there is forgiveness, which “He lavished on us” (Ephesians 1:7-8). Doesn’t His enjoyment of you fill you with strength?

I know that’s something I can rejoice in.