“Make no attempt to leave, thirst and mull over your spoiled gruel and keep it all for yourself, regardless of how much worse another’s condition is: for this night is full of sinful revelry to our Lord the devil: make every effort to feel sorry for yourself; for the misery and disappointment of the devil is your weakness and hopelessness.” Doesn’t this fictitious passage from an “anti-Bible” sound depressing? Yet it could describe just another day and night in the life of many people today. Why is it that way? It is from to a lack of real joy in their hearts.
We most commonly equate joy only with happiness. We can have happiness along with joy, but happiness is not all that joy is. Happiness is only a temporal and often conditional state of mind or being. It will come and it will go. We humans have often proven ourselves capable of going from happiness to misery in an instant. But real joy holds fast, regardless of our current condition or situation. The fact is that true and lasting joy comes from Jesus Christ alone.
Here’s that verse from the “anti-Bible” again, this time in its proper biblical form: “…Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Here the Israelites, who had been in captivity in Babylon over one hundred and sixty years, were just now returning to Jerusalem. While they were removed from their homeland for such a long period of time, they had been kept from really knowing the law of God (the first five books of the Old Testament—basically the “Bible” of that period). When, at long last, the people were able to hear God’s word read and explained to them again, they were grieved in their hearts and down in spirit as they became aware of their ignorance and disobedience.
As a result, Nehemiah, the governor of the land, made this proclamation to the Israelites, in order to encourage and remind them that it was a time of renewal and restoration of God’s covenant.
He and the priests did not want the people to focus on their failures, but on the One who could bring them out of their hopelessness and helplessness.
The “joy of the Lord” in this verse means reliance on the unfailing nature of God. But when men build their hope up on this sinful world, they will be disappointed every time. Joy is one common thread woven throughout the whole Word of God. It is not based on what we do, or don’t do, or only on our current circumstances. Joy is something that Jesus places within those who have committed their heart and life to Him. Joy is not found in what Jesus does, but in Jesus Himself and His unfailing nature.
When Jesus came to this Earth as a man, He didn’t just bring a smile to someone’s face and then move on. That would only be happiness. Instead, His life became the perfect example of joy. No matter what trial or situation He went through, He put “the joy of the Lord is your strength” into practice. He did not wonder or agonize over how, or if, He was going to make it through. He put His whole trust in His Heavenly Father instead, who always made His joy complete. He knew without any doubt that failure was not part of His Father’s nature.
How can we have the joy of the Lord? Simply by keeping His commandments and obeying His Word. “As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you: continue ye in My love. If ye keep My commandments, ye shall abide in My love; even as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love. These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (John 15:9-11).
How do we effectively keep His commandments? By not trying to physically accomplish them in our own incomplete capacity. Obedience to God’s Word is not like a collection of merit badges that we must try to earn in order to be in right standing with God. Due to our inherently sinful self, it is impossible for us to fulfill all of God’s law and requirements in our own strength—although untold millions have tried to, always without success. That is why He sent His Son to Earth—to be our source of strength. Jesus is fully qualified and capable of fulfilling all God deems necessary to be in right standing with Him. Instead of trying to do everything to be obedient to God by our own efforts, we should look to Jesus—which is just what God has wanted from us all along. All the way from creation to today, He has wanted man to trust and be dependent on Him alone.
All too often we focus only on misery, doubt and disappointment, which are inspired by the devil. But they only keep us in bondage.
No matter how hard we attempt to overcome the trying circumstances that we are in or will be going through, we will never be totally victorious without Jesus Christ. We can even be the happiest and most joyful-looking people around, but that is not lasting joy. True joy is Jesus Christ. He alone is our strength. Always turn to the One who cannot fail. He will carry us through, regardless of the difficulty of the trial or situation. Then we will know for ourselves that the joy of the Lord will be our strength.