While I had a shower on Thursday, I felt that I’m to write about the joy of the Lord being our strength. What does it mean? First, some context. The children of Israel who had been in exile in Babylon for 70 years finally return to Jerusalem. Zerubbabel and Joshua, the high priest, led the first group of Jewish returnees. Despite much opposition, under their leadership and support from the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, they rebuilt the temple. The second wave of returnees was led by Ezra. As a priest and teacher of the Law, his main focus was to rebuild and re-establish the Jewish community with God’s word at the centre of it.

Nehemiah who returned to Jerusalem thirteen years after Ezra, led the campaign to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem so it could be repopulated again and prosper. After 52 solid days of blood, sweat and tears, they got the job done. However, Nehemiah recognized that unless the spiritual foundation of the city is laid, their efforts would all be in vain. He convened a massive, ‘Bible Conference’ with Ezra the main speaker. He read out God’s word to the people.

They came under the conviction of God and began to repent and weep. Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra and the Levites said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep… Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:9-10 – emphasis mine)

The message was, “God sees your repentant heart and sorrow. He is delighted by that. He is filled with joy over your response. He forgives you. He receives you. The time of sorrow is over. Now, celebrate your restoration!” This is extraordinary because the Israelites (like us) had an awful track record of distrusting and disobeying God. Do you see that when it comes to our sin, God is slow to anger but when we turn to Him, God is super quick to respond in joy. Think of the prodigal Father here (Luke 15). This is what it means, “The joy of the Lord is your strength!”.

Wallowing and focusing on your sins and failures – which is what living in condemnation is – is corrosive and will wear you down but when you choose to bathe in God’s joy over you because of His abundant grace and mercy, you will be strengthened! Proverbs 17:22 says, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones”. The same principle applies to difficulties of life and the thorns in our flesh.

We are instructed to ‘count it all joy’ in the midst of them (James 1); not because it is some ‘mind over matter, put your head in the sand’ nonsense but because the testing of our faith is one of God’s means of completing us and ‘getting us ready for an eternal glory that will make all our troubles seem like nothing’ (2 Cor 4:17 – CEV). Our pain and suffering is not an exercise in futility because our prodigal Father, who is quick to rejoice over us with singing and refresh our life with his love (Zephaniah 3:17) is laying up a treasure for us in heaven! This is the basis of our joy!

May you experience afresh the joy of the Lord as your strength!