3 Ways to Make the Joy of the Lord Your Strength
- Jessica Udall Contributing Writer
- 2021 18 Mar
Joy is an emotion everyone wants but which remains elusive for many. In a world that’s often dark and grim, how can we look to God as our source of joy? And how can that joy strengthen us to persevere through life’s trials? The book of Nehemiah tells a story that introduces the concept of the joy of the Lord being our strength.
What Did Nehemiah Mean by '...the Joy of the Lord Is Your Strength'?
Nehemiah was a royal cupbearer (Nehemiah 1:11-2:1) during the time of his people’s exile in Persia, and he was intensely interested in the state of “the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem” (1:2). When his brother Hanani came from Judah to visit, Nehemiah was saddened to learn that there was great trouble in Jerusalem, and its wall and gates were in ruins. Nehemiah then fasted and prayed, then sought and gained permission from King Artaxerxes to return to Jerusalem to help rebuild it. The following chapters of the book of Nehemiah tell of the struggles and ultimate success of Nehemiah and many others who worked to rebuild Jerusalem.
After “the wall had been rebuilt” (7:1) and “the Israelites had settled in their towns” (7:73), the people gathered to hear Ezra (who was a teacher of the Law) read the Law of Moses aloud. Though it took hours to read, “the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law” (8:3), responding enthusiastically by lifting their hands, saying amen, bowing down, and worshipping God. After Ezra finished, the Levites began to teach the people regarding what had just been read, “making it clear” to them (8:8). Because the people had been weeping, Nehemiah, who had become governor, told them not to mourn but instead instructed them: “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (emphasis added). At this, the people celebrated greatly. Ezra records that “all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them” (8:12).
What Is the Biblical Meaning of Joy?
Joy is an idea that sparkles throughout the Bible. In the Old Testament, it is “a religious emotion... including the feeling of exultant gladness which often finds outward expression in such actions as leaping, shouting, and singing” which is “the natural outcome of fellowship with God.” (International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia).
- Psalm 16:11: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
- Psalm 118:24: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
- John 15:11: “These things I [Jesus] have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
- John 16:21-22: “Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world. Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you”
- 1 Peter 1:8-9: “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
How Do We Make Joy of the Lord Our Strength?
Joy cannot remain simply an abstract idea; it must be practiced in the Christian life if we are to benefit from its strengthening power. But how can we experience joy when the world is so full of struggle and suffering? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Make God your highest joy.
We cannot make the joy of the Lord our strength if we are also making something else our strength. Doing so is idolatry, behaving as if something else will give us more joy than God Himself. While earthly gifts and experiences can give us joy, these pale in comparison with the greatest Gift: God Himself, whose love is poured out to us through Christ. We can say with the Psalmist: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26).
2. Focus on the Holy Spirit.
There is a strong correlation in Scripture between the presence of the Holy Spirit and the presence of joy. In fact, Galatians 5:22 says that one of the fruits of the Spirit is joy. Acts 13:52 recounts that “the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” In Romans 15:13, Paul prays: “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Paul also praises the Thessalonians by saying: “You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” Joy should not be pursued directly but is the wonderful by-product of a life lived following God. If we “are led by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:18) “live by the spirit” and “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25), then the Spirit will grow the fruit of joy in our lives!
3. Express gratitude for God’s gifts.
Though God Himself is our highest joy, he has also given us many good gifts. The writer of Ecclesiastes observes “that there is nothing better for [people] than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil--this is God’s gift to man” (3:12-13). Those who have been given many gifts in this present world are warned, however, not “to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17). Taking time each day to notice, acknowledge, and praise God for what we are grateful for will go a long way to helping us experience the strengthening joy of the Lord welling up within us.
What Does it Mean to Have Joy in the Lord No Matter Our Circumstances?
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 succinctly lays out “God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” which is to “rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances.” When circumstances seem bleak, the indwelling Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to choose joy. We have eternal wellsprings of joy that don’t depend on the ebb and flow of earthly joys. Because of this, we are able to follow James’ command to “consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete not lacking anything” (1:2-4). Rejoicing even in our challenges strengthens us with the very power of God.
Nehemiah’s words to the people, “the joy of the Lord is your strength,” can be said of believers now as well. Rejoicing in the Gospel of Jesus Christ above all, believers can be grateful for the earthly joys with which God has blessed us. We can also continue to hold on to joy even when circumstances become difficult because our wellsprings of joy run as deep as the love of God for us expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus and His indwelling Holy Spirit!
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/beerphotographer
Jessica Udall holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Bible and a Master of Arts degree in Intercultural Studies. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Intercultural Studies and writes on the Christian life and intercultural communication at lovingthestrangerblog.com.
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