At the end of Nehemiah 8:10 we read, "The Joy of the Lord is your strength" (KJV). Many years prior to the birth of Nehemiah, David had said to God in Psalm 4:7, "You have put more joy in my heart than they [David's enemies] have when their grain and new wine abound" (HCSB).
The shortest sermon I ever heard--a sermon that was less than thirty seconds long--was also one of the most powerful and influential in my life. It was during my college days at UNC Charlotte. There was a girl named Linda. She was radiant with the glow of a bride-to-be. About to graduate from college and engaged to one of the most polite, handsome, and mature young men on campus, she had many reasons to be happy. Yet, as I walked by her in the lunch room one day, I overheard her say to a friend, "I am trying to learn to find my joy in the Lord."
I was puzzled. To rejoice in the gifts of God--that much I understood. But to rejoice in God, Himself, seeking to make Him the primary source of joy: the idea was foreign to my way of thinking. Nevertheless, for years it continued to resonate in my mind as something I needed to understand.
Twenty-one years later, my son and only child, barely thirteen years old, would die from injuries sustained while performing a trick on his bicycle. In February of 2001, one of the greatest sources of joy and happiness I had ever known was buried. I had been a Christian for many years. I trusted God. Nevertheless, I knew at that time that unless I learned--in a deeper way--what it meant to find my joy in the Lord, I would be miserable for the rest of my life.
It has been five years now since Stephen died. Thinking back on Linda's comment, she seemed to recognize two things:
- Having your joy rooted primarily (primarily) in God is necessary for perseverance in the Christian life.
- This joy-in-God does not come passively--it is an art that has to be cultivated. It is an attitude that requires serious and regular reflection upon the character and work of God.
Among those who have diligently sought to understand the joy that is to be found in God alone, few have articulated this as well as Jonathan Edwards. He wrote:The enjoyment of God is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows; but God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams. But God is the ocean (Works, II, 244).
We all have many challenges ahead of us in the coming days. If our happiness is overly contingent upon our temporal circumstances, we will easily become discouraged. On the other hand, if our joy is firmly established in God, we will have the strength and stamina to persevere, regardless of the circumstances. May the joy of the Lord be our strength; in His strength may we do our best for His glory and honor; and may God help us--even as we live out our lives--to more clearly see and experience the depths of the joy that is to be found in God alone.
Home Help for Those Who Grieve Reflections