Nehemiah wrote to a people who had forgotten God. “Then he said to them, ’Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength’” (Neh. 8:10).
The joy of the Lord is our strength. Strength is a fortress, a stronghold, a place where one goes to seek refuge. There are things that assault us in our life: fear, discouragement, turmoil. What Nehemiah is saying is that the joy of the Lord is a place we can go to hide, find strength and refuge, and be able to cope with life. As a Christian serving God, we must understand something about the joy of the Lord. Why do we, who belong to the Lord, have reason to rejoice? How does that joy provide us with strength? How is it a refuge for us in our daily living?
The joy of the Lord serves as a refuge against the fretfulness of the success and prosperity of evil doers. The Psalmist said, “Do not fret because of evildoers, nor be envious of the workers of iniquity” (Psalms 37:1). Our English word for fret is derived from “to eat up,” or something that eats and gnaws at you.
We can look around and see people who have no regard for God. We see them seemingly successful and healthy. They seem to prosper in everything they touch. Then we see Christians and their lives are filled with ill health, financial reversal and problems in their families. Does it bother you? Do not fret because of evil doers. Don’t let that eat you up.
What gives us strength? It is one thing to say, but another to actually do. Again the Psalmist has the answer for us, “Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, And He shall bring it to pass” (Psalms 37:3-5). Instead of concentrating on the success of evil doers, we should count our many blessings. Think about the Lord and what He means. Think about the well-being we presently enjoy, the prospect of possessing what we desire. Then we will not spend our time being eaten up because of evildoers. We will not even concentrate on that.
Consider this practical illustration from Paul. How did the power of concentrating on the joy of the Lord become a strength or refuge? In his last letter, he is probably in his late 60’s. He is in prison because of preaching the gospel, because of unjust and ungodly men. He will not get out alive. Death is imminent and undeserved. What would be our attitude in a situation like that? Would we be angry, full of resentment, concentrating on those who put us there? “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2Tim. 4:6-8). Paul could face death with courage, be in prison and keep a stable mind. Why? The joy of the Lord was his strength in the face of an unjust arrest, imprisonment and death. He was not unaware of how he was being treated. Christians have a right to expect God to vindicate them, and there is nothing wrong with that. In the imprecatory Psalms, the Psalmist prayed for vindication upon his enemies. But, if we are not careful, we focus on that and turn it to personal vengeance. He left that in the hands of God. The Lord will take care of that.
Maybe Christians have bad things said about them. Paul also left that in the hands of God. How would you feel if you had devoted 30 years of your life to doing one thing, suffered, been deprived, afflicted, beaten and now at your last defense everybody leaves you? Would we be fretting, fuming, stewing in our own bitterness? “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. Also I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion” (2Tim. 4:17). The joy of the Lord gave him strength. Joy came from understanding his well-being, his good fortune, and that he would possess the desires of his heart even in the face of these difficulties. Joy came in spite of the fact the emperor would still be on the throne and Rome was thriving and taking his life. He didn’t fret over that; the joy of the Lord was indeed his strength. Instead of focusing on the prosperity of success of those who do evil and yet seem to do well we should count our many blessings.
by Rickie Jenkins