“Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” – Nehemiah 8:10
When I hear this verse I immediately think of the song “Holy is the Lord” by Chris Tomlin. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a cliche’, but it does seem to be one of those verses we throw around because it’s catchy, easy to remember, and can be used for almost all occasions.
The problem I have personally is that these tend to become just tag lines and lose a lot of the meaning they truly hold. The really neat thing about the Bible is that, no matter how many times you read something, God can reveal something completely different to you on the second, third, or twenty third read through.
I was driving in my car to work the other day and I started thinking about this verse as it popped in to my head (which I often do because I have such a long drive). What IS the joy of the Lord? A quick google search shows so many different views on it. Most are the typical responses you would expect such as, “The joy of the Lord is the gladness of heart that comes from knowing God…”(www.GotQuestions.Org). While there is nothing wrong with that answer, I love it when God gives us an alternative view point of something.
What if the joy of the Lord was what God felt when he looks at us and thinks about how much he loves us? What strength would it give us if we could experience joy from HIS point of view? I think the disconnect we have is that we tend to confuse joy and pleasure.
Joy is defined as “a state of happiness” (www.dictionary.com), and happiness means contentment.
Pleasure is defined as “a feeling of being pleased” or “worldly enjoyment”.
There is quite a difference here. Pleasure is momentary, and a result of a feeling that comes from something we are doing or enjoying in a specific moment. This typically does not last very long afterwards. I think of things like a moment with partner, the thrill of victory in sports, or driving your new car off the lot. What are we left with after the moment passes? I can say we are not left with joy, but rather we begin looking towards the next thing to fulfill ourselves with. To me there is no strength in pleasure, but rather there is weakness, a deep need to continually be fulfilled in order to TRY to maintain a state of happiness.
So then where does that leave us with joy? Joy is state of being. It is not something that comes as a result of a single action, but rather a mindset that comes from being content in ALL things good or bad. I can be displeased or even upset that my team lost the big game, but I can still be content.
I hope you can see the difference. I believe THIS is where true strength comes from, and this is how we can endure the long race set before us. The reality is that life is hard, and A LOT of things will happen to steal our pleasure and even attempt to steal our Joy; however, if we can recognize these attempts as they happen, we can be better equipped to endure those trials. If I can look at a bad situation and see that while this momentary loss of pleasure may hurt, my Joy remains because God loves me and has blessed me in so many other ways. If every time something goes wrong we choose to focus on the lost pleasure, that pile grows and grows so large that we cannot see past it, and every time something bad happens we can only focus on that large pile of things that have gone wrong.
So this leaves me personally with a question, how do I experience the joy of the Lord? I know that I can’t obtain it by self serving and searching for pleasure through food, entertainment, and any other worldly means. I think the key is if I go back to the idea of the joy that God has when he looks at us and sees how much he loves us.
As a parent, I have no greater joy when I see the smile and happiness on my child’s face when I bless them in some way. I imagine God is the same way, when he blesses one of his children and sees the happiness on their face, it must bring him great joy. So it is along those lines that I believe true joy and happiness comes, from serving others. On the few rare occasions I’ve prayed for people in public, I can only describe the feeling of seeing their happiness when they were healed, or the fact that someone took time out of their day to love them, as pure joy. Seeing God’s love in action is a feeling unlike any other, and every other desire I have disappears when his joy is in the room.
All I wanted to do was keep walking around and praying for people, and so I believe if we choose to focus on loving others and seeing others as God sees us, then we can experience joy like he does, and truly knowing and experiencing that type of joy will help is when the momentary lapse of pleasure fails and disappoints us. As with anything it is always easier said than done, so I pray for you and for myself, that God would help us all to experience his joy in a way we never have before.