Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)
Dear People Who Keep Company with God,
Sorrow and trials are part of life, but they are not God’s final words to us. It is the Lord’s heart for us to experience a joy-filled life (John 15:11). It was through a time of testing and great disappointment that I came to see what a treasure I have in the joy of Lord. Strength in this verse means a near and ready stronghold, a place of immediate and sufficient shelter. It is a power that fiercely holds its ground. If we have strength like that to help us with what we are going through, then we know the joy of the Lord is at work and we will overcome whatever we are facing. If you don’t have joy, you are in a vulnerable state. You will start living like you are an outsider in the kingdom of God. Your love will grow cold, your hope will turn gray and your faith will falter. That was me. But as He did in the days of Nehemiah, whose name means “Yahweh comforts,” the Holy Spirit comforted, encouraged and awakened my heart to His joy. As joy rose, my heart became lighter, and faith, hope and love revived. A light heart can see its way through the darkest night.
We often use joy and happiness interchangeably. Although they are related, they are not the same. Joy is something that lasts. Happiness is temporary. Joy springs from within as an internal experience. Happiness is caused by external circumstances or experiences. Joy brings with it a sense of gratitude, contentment, and confidence that enables us to navigate the storms of life. Pleasure is nowhere to be found when we are walking through the fire. But joy can bring us to a place of happiness. God wants us to be happy because He is happy and joyful. And He created us to be like Him. The word blessed in the beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) can also be translated as happy. Joy doesn’t lead to happiness by ignoring or suppressing sorrow. Even Jesus wept in anguish (John 11:35) and was sorrowful unto death (Mark 14:34). Joy gives us the strength to get through hard times so we can find happiness again.
Joy has many facets and shades. It comes from the Holy Spirit, not our own efforts. It is born out of a relationship. It is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Difficulties are occasions for joy (James 1:2). Sharing in Christ suffering releases joy into our hearts (1 Peter 4:13-14). Paul speaks of his joy in affliction (2 Corinthians 7:4-16). It is a part of our faith (Philippians 1:25), influenced by our beliefs (Romans 15:13) and is at the heart of the Kingdom of God (Romans 14:17). What has been most impactful and precious to me is that “in the Presence of the Lord is the fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11). Through all my struggles and sorrows, I’ve discovered the dearness of the Holy Spirit. His desire for fellowship and friendship defies reason and will melt your heart. The God who created the universe is passionate about you and desires to be your friend. As the wisdom of Proverbs tells us, “Sweet friendships refresh the soul and awaken our hearts with joy, for good friends are like the anointing oil that yields the fragrant incense of God’s presence” (Proverbs 27:9). It is true. The Holy Spirit’s friendship awakened my heart to His joy. It changed everything for me.
Many Blessings, BW