One early Sunday morning I was worshipping the Lord in prayer and He said, “My joy is your strength!” I repeated “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” He repeated the same thing, “My joy is your strength!” When God repeats a word to our spirit we can conclude we probably missed something the first time. I began to repeat His words to me and my words to Him.
Sometimes it is as simple as slowing down and hearing the words God wants and needs us to hear as we need to hear them. My joy IS your strength! Then it hit me and I saw it– It is His joy that IS my strength. It does not say His joy gives me joy or that His joy gives me strength even though that is how I read and heard it up until this day. He was telling me HIS joy IS my strength! My strength is a “state of being” because of Who He is. Suddenly, the pressure of trying to “get” His joy in me so I could be strong disappeared. I realized I had been “using” God’s joy to “try” and be strong or joyful. No wonder it was not working for me.
I wanted to “see” where this verse was in Scripture and found it in an unexpected place – Nehemiah 8:10 “Then he said to them (Israelites), “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” A brief overview of this section of Scripture reveals our part in letting His joy be our strength. God was showing me how my attitude in worship, my eagerness to hear His Word, and my response to His Word opens my heart to allow His joy to BE my strength. Obviously I cannot emphasize enough the point God is making. It is not His joy that “makes” you and me strong. It simply IS our strength. Oh Happy Day!!!!
HOW DO WE LIVE IN THE REALITY OF HIS JOY BEING OUR STRENGTH?
1. BE FAITHFUL!
The first seven chapters set the scene in chapter eight for this outpouring of hunger by the children of God to hear the Word of the Lord. These Jews were the ones who had survived their captivity in Babylon and were under great distress and reproach. The walls of Jerusalem had been torn down and the gates burned. Nehemiah hears of their distress and cries out to God, reminding God of what He said to Moses, “If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations; but if you return to Me, and keep My commandments and do them, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name.” (1:8-9) Long story made short, these people come together amidst enemy plots to destroy, in poverty and hopelessness to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. They had returned to God and were desirous to be faithful to Him once again.
2. BE HUNGRY AND ATTENTIVE TO THE WORD OF THE LORD
In chapter eight they are living in the city with the walls rebuilt, an amazing feat to say the least, and “All the people gathered as one man”. What a brilliant picture of people hungry for God. Every man, woman, and child who could understand requested God’s Word be read to them and they willingly and eagerly stood for six hours as the Book of the Law was read. These people had a remarkable devotion and reverence for the Word of the Lord. Do we? Not only did these people stand for six hours as the Word was read but they were attentive. God makes a point of us knowing His people were attentive. We must ask ourselves the hard questions: Are we willing and desirous to stand for long periods of time and concentrate on the Word of God being read and preached?” Would we be satisfied to simply listen to our pastors read for hours from the Bible? Or would we sit down, let our minds wander, leave? Week after week I ask the Lord why we, His people, are not attentive, hungry, longing for revelation from His Word and from the priests who bring the Word. Of course, we have churches on fire for God, prophesying, healing, preaching the Gospel. We can go to conference after conference being equipped, and Christians on fire could even flock to those churches (and often do). But what if you are called to one of the multitude of other churches where people appear to be in a stupor even though the Word of God is being preached? We need our eyes opened to the reality the enemy is rushing in, destroying, and stealing, leaving the people of God seemingly joyless and helpless. The enemy is tearing down our Jerusalem and burning our gates while we allow ourselves to live under reproach and distress. Have we been faithful or unfaithful? Has God dispersed us and is looking for us to return and obey Him?
3. POSITION OURSELVES IN WORD, BODY, AND SPIRIT
We need to be like the Israelites – cry out for our leaders to read us the Word. When Ezra stood before the people, he first blessed the Lord – the Great God. The people responded “Amen, Amen, we agree, may it be so!” Equally important as their words was how they responded with their bodies. They lifted up their hands, bowed low worshipping the Lord with their faces to the ground. I believe this is how we need to be in the Church today every time we are together in the presence of our Great God– not just for special services or conferences. Every place and time the people of God gather is a holy time to bless our great God. Let us cry out- Amen, Amen to our Great God!
4. DESIRE EXPLANATION OF THE WORD – DON’T THINK YOU KNOW IT ALL
The people not only wanted to hear the Word and stood attentively for six hours, they wanted the Word explained to them by the priests. We need to do the same today. Let the preachers preach and we need to receive what the Lord delivers to us through them. The result of opening our hearts to hear and understand is that we will be moved to tears. They were moved by God’s Word because it brought healing and comfort to their spirits and souls and they began weeping. Oh, that we would weep today as the Word is read! They had attuned their heart to the Lord and were so thankful to hear His Word speaking to them personally. Let us desire to “know” more!
5. AFTER THE WEEPING LET THE JOY BURST FORTH
After the weeping comes joy! The Word tells us weeping may remain for a night but joy comes in the morning. It tells us those who sow in tears will reap in joy. We weep as we hear the truth of God’s Word touch our sinful lives. But our weeping should not overtake rejoicing when it is time to celebrate a holy day. Sorrow for our sin cannot hinder our joy in God. Nehemiah, Ezra and the Levites encouraged the people by saying “This day is holy to the Lord your God, do not mourn or weep.” As the leaders read and preached the Word of God for half a day and the people wept, it was time for the proclamation to go out “It is time to celebrate with joy and praise, not remain afflicted with the guilt of sin.” In Ecclesiastes we are told there is a time for everything including a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.
6. SEEK TO UNDERSTAND & OBEY
When we walk in the “state of being strong” because of His joy, we are able to “feel” His power and presence, worship, pray, and offer ourselves to Him unconditionally. Letting His joy be our strength enables us to serve the Lord by serving others more effectively. Another result of allowing His joy to be our strength is that obedience comes naturally. This holy joy activates our desire to trust and obey God. We see in Nehemiah 8:12 the revelation of His joy resulted in prompt obedience. “And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them.” It is important we see the cause of their rejoicing and obedience. It was because they “understood” the words spoken to them.
Hearing the Word of the Lord often leads us to weeping as we hear how far short we fall in faithfulness. But then understanding the Word of the Lord brings rejoicing when we hear how far God went to make a way for us to walk in faith once again. The better we understand God’s Word, the more we are immersed in His comfort, His joy, and His love. Let the joy of the Lord be your strength! Don’t try to get joyful or strong by tapping into His joy. Receive the revelation as the Israelites did that day “The joy of the Lord IS your strength!