You’ve had a sugar crash, right? Waaay too much birthday cake or noshing at the state fair. It’s not much different with a joy crash—that nosedive from unshakable confidence in God’s sovereignty to discouragement or despair.
I grew up near Indianapolis, so the April 15 mass shooting at its FedEx facility hit close to home. Somehow that tragedy broke my spirit. That on top of every other loss from the past 15 months was too much to handle. Despair suffocated me.
And I really wasn’t in the mood to hear, “The joy of the Lord is my strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
I didn’t want to feel guilty about not living a victorious life. And, in that moment, I wasn’t sure if I even knew what the verse meant.
Joy yoked with strength
So what does the verse mean?
I grew up thinking it meant “take joy in the Lord.” Don’t get me wrong. We should be joyful for what God has done for us. But that’s not what Nehemiah 8:10 says!
For context, let’s flash back to when Nehemiah said, “The joy of the Lord is my strength.”
The Israelites had long forgotten the Law. Nehemiah was governor of Judea when it was under Persian rule. After rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, he repopulated the city with Jews and reminded them of the Law of Moses. Then he had Ezra, a Jewish scribe, read from Torah. Levites spread through the crowd to help the people understand what was being read. The people wept to hear the holy words. It made them realize how far they had strayed from God’s intentions for them. (Restoration to right relationship with God often starts with tears.)
But Nehemiah encouraged them, saying, “today is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
See what Nehemiah coupled in that verse? Joy + strength. Also, he didn’t say “you have joy IN the Lord”—he said the joy OF the Lord (the Lord’s joy) is your strength.
So what’s the big deal?
Nehemiah was referring to joy that the Lord Himself gives.
God gives us joy
Joy doesn’t begin with me. Joy comes from God.
David started Psalm 30 with “I will exalt You, O Lord, for You have lifted me up.” That literally means God drew David up from a pit of despair, like drawing a bucket of water up from a well. Skip ahead a bit, and David says, “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises.”
See who initiated all the doing? God. (David’s response from a grateful heart was praise.)
Similarly, in Nehemiah 8:10, when the Israelites recognized their separation from God and repented of it, He gave them joy.
What gives God joy?
It’s incredible that God in His goodness gives us joy. But what gives God joy?
Experiencing His people, His pinnacle of creation, in right relationship with Him. Like what happened in Nehemiah 8. And what God consummated when Christ went to the Cross.
How can you have God’s joy?
Right before Jesus went to Gethsemane, He prayed what’s called the High Priestly Prayer. It ended with this (John 17:26, NIV): “I have made You known to them, and will continue to make You known in order that the love You have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
Jesus prayed that we could have the capacity to love and enjoy Him with the same love and joy the Father has for Christ. How awesome is that?!
We can’t manufacture that. That comes only from God’s strength. God’s restoration and resurrection strength.
How do you put feet to that?
This is where I stumbled. My friend, God wants to redeem your joy crash for His highest glory and your greatest good. Although God does the heavy lifting, it also requires action on your part:
- Name your hopelessness.
- Then turn that into a prayer for God’s strength.
- Stay faithful to God despite discouraging circumstances.
- Trust Him to restore your joy. Thank Him in advance for it. Receive it in faith.
Get past the first step
The first step drags your defeatist thoughts from the darkened recesses of your mind into the spotlight. That’s a good start. But often that’s where people stop.
Change your lament to a prayer for God’s strength. I’m convinced that’s the key to this process.
Everyone loses heart sometimes. Church leaders, missionaries, even God’s prophets in the Bible. In 1 Kings 18, Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal. One chapter later, he wished he was dead.
When David seriously messed up with Bathsheba, he prayed, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation (Psalm 51:12). He knew only God was strong enough to do that.
You may call upon God’s strength for courage or fortitude to carry you through life’s messes. He does that for you, but God’s strength also gives you JOY!
Realty nice Lana! And so timely for the crazy world we now live in. So very true about staying faithful to God despite discouraging circumstances. I’ve written some devotionals about this as well, and I love the part about trusting God ahead of time to return our joy. Even as believers, we can get discouraged and feel that our prayers are sometimes only hitting the ceiling when God remains quiet or seemingly uninvolved in our daily lives. But we know different, as he is always working in the background on our behalf! PTL! Thanks for a great and very encouraging piece of writing! You’ve blessed me today!
Oh, wow–thanks for your kind words, Paul! You made my day! John Piper says God is always doing 10,000 things, but we might be able to see only 3 of them. I have to keep that in mind when everything seems hard to impossible.
Thanks so much, Katy!
Lana, Well-written! Right on! “The joy of the LORD is my strength!”
My prayers continue with you.
Bless you, Joan!