“The Joy of the Lord is My Strength!” Such great words to hear your kids sing-shouting from the back seat of the car. We love that song by Rend Collective; it is a powerful declaration to sing over your life. (Here’s a link to the song.)
But what does that mean? How can joy, something we view as just a feeling or emotion, become strength, something displayed in the physical?
I have been pondering this off and on since this song came out, probably overthinking it. But I also know that God can guide your thoughts, leading you down paths to discover a new truth or deeper understanding He has for you.
So, finally, I’m diving in!
I think it’s always best to start with the Bible. This song lyric is straight from the book of Nehemiah. Here it is:
“And Nehemiah continued, ‘Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the LORD is your strength!'” – Nehemiah 8:10, NLT.
Reading just this verse out of the Bible leaves me with more questions than answers. And you shouldn’t just take a verse out of context and use it to fit your own desired meaning. Let’s keep looking.
The book of Nehemiah was written around 445 B.C. when a third group of Israelites returned to Jerusalem after being exiled for many years. Nehemiah’s role was to rebuild the walls of the city which had been destroyed while God’s people were in exile.
Nehemiah is interesting to me because it is written in first person, meaning the author (probably Nehemiah) writes using “I,” “me” and “we.” It reads like Nehemiah’s memoirs (Neh. 1:1 says the same). The English teacher in me just finds that cool!
In spite of some opposition from surrounding enemies, the Israelites rebuilt the entire wall around Jerusalem in 52 days! (Neh. 6:15). God was with His people, and Nehemiah wrote, “When our enemies and the surrounding nations heard about it, they were frightened and humiliated. They realized this work had been done with the help of our God!” (Neh. 6:16).
In chapter 8, where our song lyric appears, we read that the people all gathered together to celebrate and to hear Ezra, the priest and scribe, read the Law of Moses. The Levites (priests) clearly explained the passages to the people, and they all understood what was being read. It was a time of enlightenment for all the people. They all worshipped God and bowed down with their faces to the ground.
It also seems that along with worshipping, the people were full of grief and mourning. The Israelites, face to face with the holiness of their God and the laws they were meant to up uphold, realized their sin and their shortcomings. However, the people were told, “Don’t mourn or weep on such a day as this! For today is a sacred day before the Lord your God!” (Neh. 8:9).
The people kept weeping as they listened to the words of the Lord. So Nehemiah stepped in and said, “Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the LORD is your strength!” (v. 10).
So finally the people quieted and went away to eat and drink and have a festive meal. Verse 12 really helps me understand: “So the people went away to eat and drink at a festive meal, to share gifts of food, and to celebrate with great joy because they had heard God’s words and understood them.”
The people celebrated because they had heard God’s words and understood them.
I like actions steps, and I think this verse reveals some steps we can take to really make the joy of the Lord our strength.
- Be in God’s word. The people found joy because they heard God’s words. We are so fortunate to have Bibles in our homes and apps on our phones. We have access to God’s word whenever we want. We don’t have to wait around for someone to read it to us. If you’re waiting to hear from God, go to the Bible. It is full of His words written to us.
- Celebrate God. The Isrealites praised God and celebrated what He had done for them. He had just helped them build a massive wall in 52 days, something that would be a stretch even today! He had sent their enemies running away in humiliation. He had brought them back home out of exile. No matter what we face, God is still worthy of celebration. He is always good, always loving, always working on our behalf. His character never changes, so if He is good when we are happy, He’s still good when we’re sad.
- Focus on the good. God’s people were greatly grieved by their own sins. They had heard God’s law and were upset at how much they had messed up. Nehemiah urged the people to focus on God and the good He had done. When the people did that, they could also celebrate that God had spoken to them and that they had understood. That is when the joy came.
When we experience joy in the Lord through His word and through worshipping Him, we are strengthened and able to carry on. Our inner determination and grit, our inner stength, is bolstered, and we can face whatever comes our way.
This is why, so often, our enemy attacks our joy. Satan knows that if we don’t experience joy in the Lord we will be in a weak and vulnerable state.
People, today is a day of celebration. You are alive and God still has a plan for you. His word is available for you to read. Today, let’s practice what we’ve learned. Let’s make the joy of the Lord our strength!