Alright, bear with me…I’m about to attempt to write about something with a little bit more substance than my earlier posts. I would say I’m about to go all deep on you, but that makes me laugh, because most of the time I’m about as deep as a kiddie pool. I picture myself lying face up in one of those cheap plastic kids’ pools with a good portion of my body not even completely submerged in the water. So I guess take it for what it is, this has just been on my mind a lot lately.
We’ve all heard it before, most of us have even stated it before…”The joy of the Lord is my strength.” Just not quite sure how many of us, including myself actually believed it, or have experienced it to be true. I’ve been thinking a lot about this little verse lately. Where did it come from, where is it even located in the bible? What is the context of the verse and why do we quote it so often? So naturally, I googled it. Come to find out, this verse hangs out in the book of Nehemiah. Yep, who knew, Nehemiah ch 8:10 actually. I went and read the chapter, and some of the chapter before probably should have read the whole book, but I didn’t. To sum it up, Ezra the scribe/priest reads the Book of the Law to an assembly of people from early morning until midday. The Levites are there to help the people understand the Law of God clearly and to help them make sense of it. Then, “all of the people began to weep as they heard the words of the Law.” The congregation under the teaching of Ezra were awakened and cut to the heart; they felt the edge of the law of God like a sword opening up their hearts, tearing, cutting and killing and they lamented. But then Ezra said to them…”Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” The people stopped weeping and went and celebrated.
So when I looked at this, the first thing I realized was 1. the joy of the Lord comes after the people were penitent and sincerely turned to God. I don’t think we can fully realize the joy of the Lord until we fully realize our sinful nature. I found a sermon by Charles Spurgeon, it’s entitled “The Joy of the Lord, the Strength of HIS People.” It was delivered in 1871 (yeah, real old school…insert dust blowing here), but still I think I found some truths that are relevant even now. He portrays this idea of rejoicing coming after repentance like this…
“Have you ever seen clearer shining than that which follows a shower? Then the sun transforms the rain drops into gems, the flowers look up with fresher smiles and faces, glittering from their refreshing bath, and the birds from among the dripping branches sing with notes more rapturous, because they have paused awhile. So when the soul has been saturated with the rain of penitence, the clear shining of forgiving love makes the flowers of gladness blossom all around. The steps by which we ascend to the palace of delight are usually moist with tears. GRIEF FOR SIN IS THE PORCH OF THE HOUSE BEAUTIFUL, WHERE THE GUESTS ARE FULL OF “THE JOY OF THE LORD.”
For quite some time, I had this idea that the “joy of the Lord” was something that I either had to work to obtain, by making myself believe that I was happy whether I felt it or not, or else it was some sort of magical encounter of the spiritual kind that would just come upon me and poof…I’m swallowed by a cloud of continual bliss. I used to think, “if I could just try harder to change my attitude in a situation,” or I’d think, “I’m not allowed to have these feelings of sadness or loneliness, because the joy of the Lord is my strength, repeat, the joy of the Lord is my strength, repeat…” It seemed like some kind of formula that I just couldn’t figure out. So here’s what I’m seeing in Nehemiah, instead of trying to be joyful on my own strength, instead of waiting for this supernatural joy-fest to manifest itself on me, let’s first start with repentance. Purging ourselves of our sins, recognizing that we’re in desperate need of God’s grace and forgiveness and then rejoicing in the fact that His mercies are brand new every single morning. Every. Single. Morning. Brand new. Ha! That gets me excited even now…think about it. Every single day God has compassion on us despite what what we’ve done, no matter what kind of person we’ve been and he chooses to forgive us all over again, every day. We deserve death and He exchanges it for life, every single day. My buddy Charles puts it this way…
“Oh to know, beloved, that God actually loves us! I have often told you I cannot preach upon that theme, for it is a subject to muse upon in silence, a matter to sit by the hour together and meditate upon. The infinite to love an insignificant creature, an ephemera of an hour, a shadow that declines! Is not this a marvel? For God to pity me I can understand, for God to condescend to have mercy, I can comprehend; but for him to love me, for the pure to love a sinner, for the infinitely great to love a worm, is matchless, a miracle of miracles! Such thoughts must comfort the soul. And then, add to this, that the divine love has brought us believers into actual relationship with God, so that we are his sons and daughters, this again is a river of sacred pleasure.”
The joy of the Lord also springs from the assurance that we are children of God and that the love of God will continue to abide and remain unchangeable not just in the present, but on into the future. It’s easy to think we actually believe this stuff. It’s easy to talk about how much God loves us. We can go on and on about it, we even like to tell others…”hey, God loves you!” (sometimes tactfully, most of the time not so much). But until we actually believe it. Until we accept it with arms wide open and enter into the love of God, then we’re not gonna get it. We’re not going to see how joy unspeakable and full of glory actually plays out in our lives. Joy comes from understanding the law, repenting of our inadequacies, accepting the love that God so graciously extends to us and because of this, choosing to fellowship with Him. Choosing to walk with God daily, to commune with Him on a regular basis. We can’t expect to experience the joy and not really want to have any of the Lord. For some reason, I assumed this could happen. I’d say I want the joy, but I didn’t want to put in the effort to have the relationship. Not gonna work. Here’s one more excerpt from Charles Spurgeon’s sermon and then I’ll wrap this up.
“Now, beloved, I have not yet taken you into the great deeps of joy, though these streams are certainly by no means shallow. There is an abyss of delight for every Christian when he comes into actual fellowship with God. I spoke of the truth that God loved us, and the fact that we are related to him by ties most near and dear; but, oh, when these doctrines become experiences, then are we indeed anointed with the oil of gladness. When we enter into the love of God, and it enters into us; when we walk with God habitually, then our joy is like Jordan at harvest time, when it overfloweth all its banks. Do you know what it means—to walk with God—Enoch’s joy; to sit at Jesus’ feet—Mary’s joy; to lean your head upon Jesus’ bosom—John’s familiar joy? Oh yes, communion with the Lord is no mere talk with some of us.”
Wow, I’m sorry this is like a book and I congratulate you if you’ve made it this far. I don’t admit to having this all figured out, not by any means whatsoever. Especially if you’re ever around me in person, you know how joyous and excited I am all the time right?! Ha! It’s something I still wrestle with everyday. I do feel like it’s something I’ve been able to recognize more and more in my life lately. I’ve come to realize that it’s not just going to one day appear and I’ll never be depressed or sad or angry ever again. It’s something that everyday I have to decide how I’m going to react to the circumstances I’m in. For example, the situation that prompted me to even think about writing this in the first place, was a couple of weeks ago when my car broke down. It was just another thing to add to my list of complaints and “woe is me’s.” As I was walking to work, I noticed how perfect the weather was, I noticed flowers were popping up and the trees were budding, everything was alive. It was overwhelming my senses and at that moment I was actually thankful that my car was broken because I would have totally missed that opportunity to breathe in spring. Just as those thoughts were coming together in my head I thought this is what the Joy of the Lord is all about, being able to rejoice in shitty circumstances because you realize there’s something bigger than yourself. No kidding, right then I looked up and saw this on the fence.
I had a conversation with a friend of mine recently about returning to or finding the joy of our salvation. She described it similar to a scavenger hunt. It’s not always these huge obvious things in our lives that are going to shower us with tremendous amounts of joy, but the little things that day by day we uncover that bring delight to our souls if we’re looking for them. It’s the little things that if we can just recognize are given to us by a good God who has our best interests in mind, that can give us joy that will sustain our hearts.
Blah….so cheesy I know!! Don’t worry I’ll be back to posting about crazy nothings in no time I’m sure:)