I have a reputation for being a joyful person.
It’s a pretty good thing to be known for. I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me, “How are you so happy all the time?”
My default answer is usually, “Well, the joy of the Lord is my strength” - a reference to Nehemiah 8:10. But this classic Christian slogan is often thrown around without acknowledging its depth of meaning. What is the joy of the Lord, and how is it our strength as Christians?
An easy way to start unpacking verses like this one is to emphasize each part of the passage. Say it out loud: “The JOY of the Lord is my strength. The joy of the LORD is my strength. The joy of the Lord is MY STRENGTH.”
Joy is something that we know and understand as people - or at least, we think we know. A baby’s laugh is the best example of pure joy: unbridled positivity. In fact, it’s one of the fruits of the Spirit! (Galatians 5:22-23)
As we get older, though, and our emotions get more complex and diverse, we tend to lose or forget that sense of unadulterated joy - and it becomes harder to come by.
"...of the LORD…"
But we don’t have to rely on our own joy: We have God’s joy, which is for us!
When I’m re-reading one of my favorite stories, already aware that the ending turns out awesome for the main character, I anticipate the joy I will feel for them when they finally reach their goal. If for a moment, I could pull them out of the pages in the middle of the book, when they’re facing a whole heap of trouble and can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, I might tell them, “Just wait. You’re almost there!”
That’s how God sees us! He knows there are troubles in store for us, that we will be tested on our strength and refined in the crucible fire - but He also knows what’s waiting for us if we follow His plan, and He knows that it is good (Jeremiah 29:11). He says to us, “Just wait! The end is worth it. I promise!”
"...is MY STRENGTH."
God’s joyful anticipation is a blessing that we can take hold of! Reminding ourselves of this can give us energy, grant us power, and encourage us to succeed, even when the plot seems thickest. If we can remember to put aside our negativity - and take hold of God’ joy - then we really can do anything… “through Christ, who gives us strength” (Philippians 4:13).
But utilizing that joy-fueled strength takes practice, just like anything else. Purposefully meditating on the joy and awesomeness of God’s love for us is an important element of the Christian faith - and it has been, ever since the early days of the church.
In Acts 16:25, we see Paul and Silas have been wrongfully arrested. But instead of whining about being in jail, it says that they were praying and singing hymns to God.
How wild! Do you think Paul wanted to rejoice, necessarily, in himself and his own situation? Absolutely not! But in this darkest time, he chose to turn away from sorrow and self-pity. He actively practiced retaining the joy of the Lord in his life.
Practicing God’s joy on a regular basis can provide a strong foundation to your strength to pursue God’s plan for your life. In hard times, if you can learn to fall back on God’s joy - rather than anxiety, fear, or despair - you may find yourself bouncing back sooner than usual.
I think this is what people see in me when they comment on my apparently ever-present sense of joy. I have been practicing God’s joy in my life for so long that it’s become an intrinsic part of my life. There are plenty of other areas that I’m still working on, but thanks to God, I’m an Olympic medalist when it comes to joy.
And you can be, too! Make an effort to strengthen your joy in the Lord. Look for moments of God’s love in your everyday life. Count your blessings and remember everything God has given to you - and protected you from. Bask in the warmth of God’s arms, which are always wrapped around you, even in the darkest days of your heart. Find a way (that works for you) to actively practice joy.
Because… the joy of the Lord is our strength!
Worship & Media Director
Riviera Baptist Church