Finding Strength in True Joy
MARCH 19, 2022
Do not grieve, because the joy of the Lord is your strength. Nehemiah 8:10
I grew up in the church, and I heard this verse preached on and talked about on many different occasions. Whether it was what was being taught or what I heard, I always understood this verse to mean that if I could just be happy because of God then I will be strong and do all the things that I need to do to be a good Christian. As a result, these words always ended up being a source of more discouragement rather than a source of joy. I would think, “Okay! I am going to act happy all the time, and then I will be strong!” Inevitably, I would end up being sad about something or just not happy-go-lucky and then I would feel guilty that I wasn’t having the “joy of the Lord.” Feeling like a failure, I’d distance myself from God. Then I would not experience joy when I thought about God; instead I would experience grieving and sadness.
This verse is too often ripped out of context and preached as a stand-alone verse. The context, what was happening historically when this was said, gives this verse its beauty and power. So let me give you a little bit of history. If history is not your jam, I promise this will be quick and worth your time.
If history is your jam, you should spend some time studying what was happening in the book of Nehemiah.
The Israelites were in a time of exile. The beautiful temple that Solomon built and their holy city had been broken down and destroyed. Nehemiah had asked King Artaxerxes for permission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. He was granted his wish. Once the walls and gates were rebuilt, Ezra, a fellow prophet at the time, gathered all the Jews together. He read them the law of God. The people sat and listened to all the ways they had failed God. They had restored the broken walls of their city, but now they saw that they were broken people and they needed restoring as well. As this realization was settling in, they were grieving because they hadn’t lived as they were supposed to live. They had failed to love God and failed to love others. And that’s when the truth of this verse comes swooping in to rescue them.
The people are crying because of the brokenness they recognize in themselves and each other. And Nehemiah says, “‘This day is holy to God, your God. Don’t weep and carry on.’ They said this because all the people were weeping as they heard the words of The Revelation. He continued, ‘Go home and prepare a feast, holiday food and drink; and share it with those who don’t have anything: This day is holy to God. Don’t feel bad. The joy of God is your strength!’” (Neh. 8:9–10 MSG).
Nehemiah wasn’t talking about mustering up some fake happiness so people think you are a strong Christian. This verse is about reveling in the forgiveness and grace of God. This verse is about celebrating that it brings God joy to forgive us and welcome us even though we have broken the law. When we meditate on the fact that we are forgiven we can’t help but feel joy. God’s joy in redeeming us is contagious. When we feel the joy and relief that comes from forgiveness, we have the strength to continue on. We have strength to try again even though we fail over and over again. God is calling us into His own celebration and joy. Grieving over our sin is important and good, but we should never stay there because that isn’t what God wants for us or from us. He wants us to rejoice and join in the eternal joy that is who He is and what He is all about.
Ours is a joyful God, and He wants to make us a joyful people. God isn’t interested in a people who pretend everything is okay when it really isn’t. He wants a people who look at their circumstances and reach deep into the heart of joy that their God has in redeeming them. He wants their joy to come from being a forgiven people, a forgiven people who want to invite others into the party: “Go home and prepare a feast, holiday food and drink; and share it with those who don’t have anything.” God’s joy is contagious, and that makes our joy contagious and generous, ready to share. The really great news is that even on the days when you don’t feel joyful or you don’t want to share your feast, God is still rejoicing over you and forgiving you and loving you. Rejoice!
Excerpted from How God Loves Us: 40 Days to Discovering His Character in the Fruit of the Spirit by Jessica Thompson (© 2022). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.