We hear a lot from Christians about “the joy of the Lord.” Often a verse from Nehemiah is quoted when speaking of joy.
The joy of the Lord is my strength.
But I wonder what does that mean? What is the joy of the Lord and how does it give me strength? I have found many times in my life when I was going through a difficult time and struggling with pain or sorrow that well-meaning people would quote that verse to me suggesting if I would just be “happy” I would find strength from the Lord to get me through this difficult circumstance.
If I would just adjust my attitude.
If I would just think positive thoughts.
If I would just “put on a happy face.”
Then, God would give me joy.
So – strength from God depended on me. If in this time of despair I could just either “pretend” to be happy (“fake it ’til you make it”) or if I could somehow find some inner strength to think positive thoughts, God would give me joy and strength. Our culture (and many TV preachers/teachers) tell us having the right attitude, having self-esteem, is the road to the joy of the Lord.
Yet we know that many great men of God did not always have a positive attitude. Look at the Psalms. They are full of times when David and others even questioned if God cared.
for you are my God, my only safe haven. Why have you tossed me aside?
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
Why are you so far away when I groan for help?
Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer.
Every night I lift my voice, but I find no relief.
As I look at the verse in Nehemiah what stands out to me is that the joy Nehemiah is talking about is not some feeling I produce by my own ability to “put on a happy face” and adjust my attitude. Rather, this joy is the joy OF THE LORD. It is something that comes from God. True joy, I submit, does not come from within me – it comes from without.
The joy of the Lord is not dependent on me adjusting my attitude or thinking positive thoughts. I am not disputing that our thinking, out attitude does many times needs some work. Paul wrote in Philippians:
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
And the writer of Proverbs told us:
For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.
But if having God’s joy is simply me thinking on things worthy of praise, then the joy of the Lord is not really from the Lord. It is simply having a good philosophy or a good outlook on life. That benefits those of us who have a tendency by nature to be positive, who bounce out of bed each morning ready for the day and get excited about the new coffee favor we just bought at Target. However, it puts those who have a more melancholy personality and basically say “don’t talk to me until I have had my coffee” at a great disadvantage.
So – what is the joy of the Lord? And how do we get it?
Take a look at the times Jesus spoke about joy.
In the Beatitudes he told us:
What blessings await you when people hate you and exclude you and mock you and curse you as evil because you follow the Son of Man. When that happens, be happy! Yes, leap for joy! For a great reward awaits you in heaven.
One reason for joy, then, is the hope we have of what awaits us. This life is not all there is for us. Regardless of what is happening to me right now, I have a great future awaiting me and when I realize that I have something to look forward to it can give me a sense of peace and comfort. This present circumstance may be terrible but it is not the end.
But how do I find joy in difficult times for the “here and now.” Does this mean my only joy is in anticipating what will come in the future? Can I find joy in this life now?
The Psalmist gave us the secret when he wrote:
in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.
When we learn to stop running about and trying to solve everything ourself, when we take time to be still and quiet with the Lord, when we allow our minds to dwell on Him and His Word, we will find that joy that Peter wrote about that is:
At present you trust him without being able to see him, and even now he brings you a joy that words cannot express
The joy of the Lord gives us strength to face those difficult circumstances because it is the joy that comes from a real relationship with Him, not from something we can create. I submit if you are lacking joy, ask yourself these questions:
- When was the last time I spend some time just sitting quietly reading God’s Word or listening to a good worship song and just remained quiet and allowed God to speak to my heart?
- When was the last time I took some moments to sincerely make a list of all the blessings God had given me and then took some time to truly thank Him?
- When was the last time I looked at the difficult situations in my life and asked God to show me where/how I could use these times to grow more like Him?
As we take time to focus on God, to allow Him to speak to us, as we come into His presence, there we will find the joy of the Lord.
Help us all Lord in the midst of our busy and crazy lives to take that time and allow You to minister to us of your love and fill us with your joy.