Several years ago I was faced with some discouraging days in ministry. I will not share the circumstances that led to that, but I was left feeling very alone and discouraged. In the midst of those days, a good friend reminded me of the words of Nehemiah; “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” It was a truth I could cling to in hard days and difficult nights.
That same truth can be encouraging to you as well in these days when you may be feeling isolated, and may be concerned about your future. It is, however, like all of scripture, only really powerful if it is rightly understood and applied. If it is simply a slogan to put on coffee cups, cards, and posters, it will have little lasting value. It is not some mantra we chant until we feel better. It is helpful to remember the context.
The words were spoken in a great public assembly in Israel. The people had returned from a long time of exile and suffering and were glad to be back in their family homes. They had gone a long time without hearing the Word of the Lord, but now it was being read and explained to them. That resulted in tears – perhaps because of their awareness of sin, but also from their realization that they had a God who had lovingly reveled himself to them through his word.
Reminding them that it was a unique and special day, Nehemiah said; “”Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Neh. 8:10 ESV) The response of the people comes two verses later: “And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.” (Neh. 8:12 ESV)
In difficult days the source of strength and joy is not in posting and repeating religious slogans (even Bible verses). That is shallow and short-lived. Powerful lasting joy comes when we know our God who has revealed Himself to us in His word. If you are struggling, read the Bible! If you don’t know where to begin read the gospel of John which speaks of God’s great love. If you are a Christian the book of Philippians will remind you of the joy you can have in Christ.
If it is confusing to you, know that the people of Israel needed someone to explain it to them. There are many of us who would love to help you understand, just ask! Then you will find that even in the hard days there is great joy in knowing your God!