We hear this verse, ‘the Joy of the Lord is my strength‘, quoted a lot but what does it really mean? How can the joy of the Lord be a strength? Read on to unpack this verse a little further.
The verse is originally from Nehemiah 8:10. To understand the verse in its context, we’re going to look at the background. The twelve tribes of Israel were living in exile and Nehemiah was serving as cupbearer to the King in Persia. This meant he was one of the King’s most trusted aides. Nehemiah knew that some of the Israelites had returned to Jerusalem but the walls had been destroyed so they were in a vulnerable position.
Rebuilding the walls
Nehemiah prayed and fasted for months and eventually asked the King if he could return to his homeland to rebuild the city walls of Jerusalem. The King allowed him to go. The book of Nehemiah shows how through trial and danger Nehemiah rebuilds the walls, and then when they have finished, the people gather and hear the word of the Lord read aloud. It is a significant moment in the history of the people of Israel. There they were, establishing their city again, and the very first thing they did was to listen to the word of God.
The word had a powerful effect on the people, convicting them of their sins and causing them to weep. Nehemiah corrects them saying that instead, they should, “Go and enjoy choice food… Do not grieve for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” It was a holy day, not a day of mourning.
This truth is profound because although God’s people had strayed and had been living in exile, now they were home and establishing their city again. Repentance means to change your mind about something, and after the change comes the action. God doesn’t convict us of sin to wallow in self-pity, He does it out of kindness, so that we may walk in a new way. Romans 2:4 reminds us that: “God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance.” Like the healed leper, Jesus says to us, “pick up your bed and walk” (John 5:8). God’s forgiveness is lavish, His love never fails so the question is: how will you choose to live now?
The joy of the Lord is your strength
Nehemiah tells the people that the joy of the Lord is their strength right in the middle of their sorrow. Taking hold of that joy in the midst of trials is a thing of great power. When we begin to thank God in the midst of difficult circumstances, He will come and fill us with His peace and joy which is more precious and hard-won than when everything is going fine. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, God tells us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul goes on to say: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” Those times when we are searching for God in the midst of trials are some of the most precious times of all.
Doesn’t it grate on you when people ‘helpfully’ say ‘cheer up, it might never happen’ or ‘did you get out of bed on the wrong side?’ The point is that we can’t just manifest joy out of nowhere. Sometimes we feel heartbroken, depressed or alone. What are we to do then?
Ask for joy
We can come to God and ask Him for His supernatural joy. The joy of the Lord is not some shallow bubbly feeling; it doesn’t come and go. We can’t just make it up. The joy of the Lord is a deep contentment, it is like an underground river that is constantly nourishing us. It doesn’t run out. Earthly emotions and feelings are just a shadow of the real thing: deep joy and deep love. Jesus said: :Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14). If we drink from Him then we will never thirst again. Jesus is everything we need.
- One way to take hold of joy right now is to practice gratitude. Grab a journal and write down three things you are thankful for right now. If you do this practise regularly, it will rewire your brain, and make you more thankful in the long run.
- Practise mindfulness. This means really being present in your emotions. Think back on the day and reflect on anything that was difficult or painful and release this memory now. Think back on the things that were good and thank God for these.
- Write down five things that you love to do. This could be to go for a walk in the sunshine, eat a ripe mango, or have a hot bubble bath. Make sure that you take time to do the things that you love to do.
What are some other verses about the joy of the Lord in the Bible?
1. “The Lord is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in Him, and He helps me.
My heart leaps for joy,
and with my song, I praise Him.” Psalm 28:7-8
When we think of all the things that God has done for us, it makes our hearts glad. So let’s remember and thank Him for the gift of Himself.
2. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.’ Romans 15:13
This verse helped me so much when my daughter was diagnosed with a chronic condition at the age of two. Hope and joy were the things I was feeling the least and yet, as my husband and I prayed this verse over our lives and the lives of our children, we found new hope and even joy.
A prayer for the joy of the Lord
So Lord, in the hard times and the good, give me joy in your presence. May the joy of the Lord be my strength, today and every day. Amen.