So I found it rather interesting what I happened across this morning as I flipped through my journals looking for a reference to something completely unrelated.
Evidently, back in June of 2004, I'd been reading some sort of book that had a chapter on joy. (I wish I had written down what book it was.) But I wrote:
I've always known the verse, 'The joy of the Lord is your strength,' but still somehow, I've always considered joy to be an extra gift... a sign... something that is an effect, rather than a cause. But that chapter shows how joy is actually essential to the Christian walk! Yes, it's an effect... a fruit of the Spirit. But it's also a cause-- a tool. Actually, it's our strength!
I immediately thought of Ephesians 6 where it describes the armor of God. Those verses have been brought to my attention quite a few different times and ways in the last few days... but how does that section of scripture start?
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. - Eph. 6:10
I'm wondering how often we skip that first verse and we jump to the rest. We talk about the sword of the Spirit and the shield of faith, and we attempt to march out into battle... in our own strength. Without an ounce of His joy inside of us.
I wrote in my journal:
What good is the sword of the Spirit if you don't have the strength to wield it? What good is the shield of faith if you don't have the strength to hold it? What good is the helmet of salvation and the breastplate of righteousness if you do not have the strength to uphold their weight? And what good does it do the world to have our feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace if we have not the strength to walk in them?
Could it be that this is sometimes why our weapons feel so powerless? Because we have no strength? No joy?
I did a quick search for "joy" on BibleGateway. Most of the results it turned up (before you get to Psalms) were examples of when joy is easy... when it is accompanying blessing and victory. But what about when we're defeated and feeling anything but victorious?
I went back to Nehemiah. What exactly were the circumstances when he told the people that the joy of the Lord was their strength?
Then I said to them, "You see the bad situation we are in, that Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem." - Neh. 2:17
Ever felt like that? Like you have no walls to protect you from attack?
So they determined to rebuild the walls, and work began. Did it go easy?
Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews. - Neh 4:1
And if that wasn't enough...
Now when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites heard that the repair of the walls of Jerusalem went on, and that the breaches began to be closed, they were very angry. All of them conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance in it. - Neh. 4:7-8
That wasn't the only difficulty these people were facing.
Now there was a great outcry of the people... there were those who said, "We, our sons and our daughters are many; therefore let us get grain that we may eat and live." there were others who said, "We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses that we might get grain because of the famine." - Neh. 5:1-3So they had a bad economy, too.
But Nehemiah pointed out to them that some of their struggle was their own fault... because they were charging each other interest when they lent money to each other, and they were buying and selling their Israelite kinsmen as slaves when they could not pay their debts. So trouble was compounding trouble.
Their response? They repented and restored everything they had taken from each other. Their hearts were right before God.
They continued building until the wall was finished, but don't think their troubles were over yet!
Now the city was large and spacious, but the people in it were few and the houses were not built. - Neh. 7:4
So they had their wall... but the city was still desolate, and there were still enemies outside the wall, and the famine was still upon the land.
Then the book of the law was found, and it was read and explained (and translated) to the people. Their response again showed that they had a heart of repentance.
For all the people were weeping and they heard the words of the law. - Neh. 8:9
And it is now, when they are standing inside an empty, desolate city in the midst of a famine, convicted of their sin, surrounded by enemies, and without much help from the empire that ruled them... that Nehemiah says those famous words.
Then he said to them, "Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength." - Neh 8:10
This was the first day of the 7th month, and for several days they continued to read, and they found where God had commanded them to celebrate the Feast of Booths. In Leviticus 23, God explains that the purpose of this feast was to remember how God had delivered them from Egypt.
So on the fifteenth day of the 7th month, the people celebrated the feast "for the first time since the days of Joshua the son of Nun."
And there was great rejoicing. (Neh. 8:17)
So they found joy... not in their current circumstances, but in remembering and testifying about who their God was and what He had done.
You will make known to me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever. - Ps. 16:11
Splendor and majesty are before Him
Strength and joy are in His place. - 1 Chr. 16:27
But let all who take refuge in You be glad,
Let them ever sing for joy; - Ps. 5:11