Updated: Jun 15, 2022
At the end of a year in which there were many sorrows, I hope you enjoy this post from an old friend, originally written in 2016.
Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’ (Nehemiah 8:10 NIV)
I really dislike it when someone corrects me on the basis of semantics. Especially when I’m on a roll and use the wrong word or tense and someone interrupts to point out my mistake. If you’d ever like to see what daggers look like in my eyes, give that a try. Now, I can’t guarantee I’ll never correct anyone on their semantics, but nobody’s perfect.
Recently the worship team introduced a new song to the congregation called “The Joy of the Lord,” by Rend Collective. When Noah played it for me the first time, we danced around our living room with our two little boys, jumping up and down to the chorus ringing out:
The joy of the Lord is my strength The joy of the Lord is my strength In the darkness I’ll dance In the shadows I’ll sing The joy of the Lord is my strength
And after having that song run through my head for about two days, I had a complete lightbulb moment and said out loud (to no one): “It says OF, not IN!” And there, when no one was listening, I corrected years and years of semantics I had heard in churches and camps for years.
I have heard the verse from Nehemiah a thousand times in my life, prodding me toward choosing joy and remembering that because I have Jesus, I can find strength in the joy that brings. I am not opposed to any of those things; I fully believe that being alive in Christ is life-giving and joy-bringing. But finding joy in the Lord is not what the verse was saying. Nehemiah wasn’t telling Israel to celebrate because they could find personal joy in their relationship with the Lord and therefore find strength.
No, the verse is meant to tell us that the Lord’s joy is where our strength comes from. The power we find has nothing to do with us and how good we are at finding joy; it comes because the Lord is a joyful Lord. He loves to see his people celebrate and be in right relationship with each other and with Himself.
What’s more, if you look at the original Hebrew, the verse is even more potent. The literal translation is: “the Lord’s joy, she is my refuge/stronghold.”
That word strength, when given to us, often implies something we are capable of once we get it, like a gift we can use after sending a thank-you card and then never think of the sender again. But in the original language, that word is not something we get, it is a place we stand, a change in geography.
Things change in big ways when joy becomes your resting place. When the strength you need to face the day, or the week, or even the next ten minutes, comes because of the all-consuming, ever-present joy of the Creator and not because of something we need to attain, it’s life-altering. Trying to do it yourself is like swimming in a pool of fresh, clean water and feeling like you have to find a water fountain to get a drink. Just stay where you are, take a drink, and find rest, refuge, safety and power in the geography of joy.
And in case you needed reminding, you are the source of His joy.
Ali can be reached via email here.