What is the joy of the Lord?
I found myself pondering this question all day long. On my typical drive to work on this wet, dreary morning, a song entitled The Joy of the Lord was playing. On a morning that I would typically be a little less “peppy” due to the weather, I found myself bursting with gratitude to the Lord from the words of the song.
It got me thinking though, what IS the joy of the Lord? The song continues and says, “the joy of the Lord is my strength.” All day long in the (brief) quiet moments in my 1st grade classroom, I found myself asking this question over and over again. What is the joy of the Lord? And how is it my strength? On my drive to school my initial thoughts were- Jesus. Jesus is the Lord’s ultimate joy. His beloved Son, who poured out His love for us by obeying His Father with every nanosecond of His life, death, and resurrection is God’s ultimate joy. But then, I started thinking maybe there isn’t just one answer to my question. Maybe, there are more. Maybe, the joy of the Lord could also be when I glorify God also by obeying the commands He tells me. Maybe, when I am most satisfied in Him…when I am filled with overflowing love and thanksgiving for God, maybe that is the joy of the Lord.
This looming thought grabbed hold of me all day, and I continued to meditate on this idea. When I got home I discussed my thoughts with D and he shared similar thoughts on the possibilities of the answer to my burning question. Still feeling unsure of a clear answer to my question, I went to find out what God himself says about what this joy is.
In my investigating, I came across Nehemiah 8:10 and a portion of the verse states,
“And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” -Nehemiah 8:10
Our church did a series through Nehemiah last summer, and just to give a little background to this book in the Bible, Nehemiah highlight’s God’s faithfulness to Israel, despite their ongoing sin. Chapter 8 specifically displays the moment when God’s word is revealed to the people of Israel, and they mourn over how far they have strayed from God…
“For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law.” -Nehemiah 8:9.
But then something amazingly beautiful happens as the text goes on, God reassures His people through Ezra. Ezra is a priest during this time, and he says to the people, “And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” -Nehemiah 8:10. God assures His people that He would forgive their sin, and they could be made right before God.
After reading this chapter from Nehemiah, here’s what I’ve gathered so far: The joy of the Lord is this beautiful moment when the Israelites see the depth of their sin and feel the weight of their need for God all the more.
When God illuminates the darkness of our own hearts, we see the ugliness of who we really are and feel the need for God more than ever before. I think that this is the joy of the Lord. When we come to him, humbled by His overcoming grace to redeem us, and seek to be in a relationship with Him again…He is joyful.
He is joyful in gaining back His son or daughter, whom he paid the highest price for. God loves us, his children, so much that He was willing to send His son Jesus to die on a cross and take the payment for our sin. That same sin that the Israelites struggled with is our same sin. That sin that leads us astray from God.
But through Jesus, we are forgiven for those sins. 100%, no questions asked, clean slate, no matter how terrible that sin may be. We can be made right with God when we ask for forgiveness for our sin and repent whole-heartedly. When we seek to be in a relationship with God again, He is joyful.
So, what is the joy of the Lord? And how is it my strength? The joy of the Lord is found in my reverential love and faithfulness to follow Him, be in a relationship with Him, and obey His word. This joy is my strength, because even in the moments that I do fall short and feel the heavy weight of my habitual sin, I am not held down by it. I am no longer a slave to my sin, because God tells me, assures me, that I am forgiven and made new in His eyes through His son, Jesus. I am strengthened by the hope that we all have in God’s promises through Jesus.