“Then he said to them, ‘Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to the Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
I used to wonder how it could be possible, even remotely, to have joy in difficult circumstances.I have learned that it is possible.
The heartbreak of death, the uncertainty of ill-health, the pressure of financial worries: all of these can make joy feel like a very remote idea. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that those who are poor in spirit are happy as are those who mourn; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; those who are merciful; those who are pure in heart; those who are peacemakers; those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake and those who are reviled for Christ’s sake. How can that be?
The answer, I think, lies in what Nehemiah and Ezra say to the people on the day when the law is read again to the Jews. As they hear of God’s purposes and God’s ways again and as they turn from their own selfishness and pride and seek God in repentance, their humility and honesty brings joy to God’s heart. Whilst the people naturally feel stuck in their failures, their repentance has brought great joy to their God and His joy becomes their strength.
Our perspective is very earthly-bound. Of course we are broken- hearted when we lose someone we love. In that moment, however, we can lean into God and His love for us. We may not ‘find’ or ‘feel’ anything in that moment, but that is not the point of the decision. Whether we find His comfort and peace and presence to be beautiful and sustaining or we experience a sense of absence, God’s joy can still become our strength. Read the words carefully- God’s joy becomes our strength. God’s own joy gives us hope.
The joy of the Lord is our strength precisely because we cannot always summon up our own joy. Our own joy is fleeting but His is permanent. His delight in us is what causes us to delight in Him! When we realise just how much God loves us, we discover just how wonderful His joy in us can be. To think less of how we feel, what we want, what we need and more of what God’s perspective might be, we are beginning to change our centre. And as we change our centre, we find our lives being changed. Our joy is rooted in God not in our circumstances.
(C) Malcolm J. Duncan