“Do not be grieved, for the joy of Yahweh is your strength.”
Although these words were originally spoken and directed to God’s chosen people, the Israelites, in Nehemiah 8:10, they were included in God’s written word for a reason – for His chosen people today also. Read them again: Do not be grieved (worried, upset, sorrowful), for the joy of Yahweh is your strength (power, energy, stronghold).
There are verses that at first sound wonderful; however, you don’t fully grasp the true meaning of them or how apt they are until later on in life. This is one of those verses for me.
I think we can all agree that this year has been a tumultuous one. One where if you were to solely focus on all that is going on in this world, it would be nearly impossible to “feel” joyful. So how can we experience, or better yet, hold onto joy when we aren’t necessarily “feeling” the emotion?
Biblically, the word “joy” has two meanings. One is in reference to the visceral emotional response that arises when something good happens to us—and while this is preferable, this isn’t always the case, as 2020 has so drastically proven. So, if we cannot exclusively rely on experiencing our joy from what does or does not happen to us, what can we base it on?
Well, the other meaning of joy – Greek word being chara – refers to an inner lightness or gladness bubbling within. A deep-seated happiness based on spiritual realities, independent of what is happening around us, or to us, in the physical world. It is a depth of confident assurance in God’s promises to His people that ignites a cheerful heart within us—You have placed joy in my heart (Ps. 4:7). It is not merely based on favourable circumstances; on the contrary, it is how we choose to interpret such circumstances, much like when the apostles rejoiced when beaten for their association with Jesus, maintaining an “attitude of gratitude” for the fact that they were even deemed worthy to suffer shame for his name…what maturity to aim for!
Our prime example is our Lord and Saviour himself. We should be fixing our eyes on Jesus, the leader and finisher of our trust, who, because of the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, thinking nothing of the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:2). If so, then let us persevere and continue for the joy that is set before us.
Since joy is a fruit of the spirit as stated in Galatians 5:22-23, this supernatural joy – part of God’s very essence and nature – we too inherit when we receive the gift of holy spirit upon believing. Thus, it makes a settlement and abides in the hearts of those who know and trust that all is now well between them and their heavenly Father. This particular joy is not just emotion, it is a way we end up viewing and living our life when we stay rooted and grounded in our relationship with God, and anchor ourselves to who He says we are in union with Christ, along with all that lies in store for us in the ages to come when we will be glorified with our Saviour.
God asks us to “rejoice always” (1 Thess. 5:16), which He has every right to command since it is attainable through believing His Word, holding fast to Him and all that He has done and continues to do. Not only can we draw strength and joy from knowing we have a power greater in us than that which is in the world, we can obtain strength-inducing exuberance in the knowledge that what Christ sacrificed and achieved for us can never be taken from us, no matter the spiritual wars that rage around us.
Our Christ-like joy is an optimism that doesn’t really make sense to the world; if anything, it seems foolish to those who don’t believe. Yet Proverbs 10:28 says “The hope of the righteous is joy.” Our joy turns to strength as we look to our future hope… “Although you have not seen him, you love him; although you do not see him now but believe in him, you rejoice greatly with inexpressible and glorious joy” 1 Pet. 1:8.)
If you are struggling right now to feel joy – like we all do at times – in whatever circumstance you may find yourself in, I encourage you to read Jesus’ prayer at the beginning of John 17. It was on the eve of his arrest that he prayed this beautiful prayer to his God and Father on our behalf, so that we could experience his fullness of joy and be made one with God our Father and Christ our Lord; not that we would be taken out of this world (yet!), but that we would be kept from the “wicked one” until his return, and in the waiting, draw a certain kind of strength which only springs forth from a right relationship with our Creator.
God doesn’t ask or expect us to always put on a façade of happiness or pious perfection, He does however ask that amidst this broken world we would turn our faces (sometimes with tears in our eyes), upon Him and His Son, so we can say once again, “I am filled with comfort; I am overflowing with joy in all affliction” (2 Cor. 7:4).
May our hearts be ever glad, our joy be inextinguishable by the cares of this world, and our lives radiating with the hope of paradise promised, so that others are captivated by Christ. For “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is about to be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).
As you read this, I pray over you Romans 15:13—that the God of hope, fill you with all JOY and peace as you continue to believe, so that you abound in hope by the power of holy spirit.