How do we translate joy into strength when this life seems to drain us of our energy?
We live in the thin place where we function in this world but not of the world. Where we embrace grace so that we can live well with grace while resisting the temptations of the world that hold us back and prevent us from standing strong in the faith that saves.
It’s in the thin place where we realize that we don’t affect transformation but that God works within our surrendered hearts so that we experience renewal. If we look within ourselves for joy and fulfillment we’re let down. If we look to others then we join the human race of competition and comparison where we’re always, always disappointed.
But if we look to God for joy, we discover the source of joy, and the strength to face the troubles that comes with this life.
The end of Nehemiah 8:10 states, “the joy of the Lord is our strength.” In context, we discover the Israelites weeping as they listening to Ezra reading the word of God.
Nehemiah tells the people that it’s good and right to be sorrowful over their sin, but not to allow their sorrow to be so excessive that it hinders their joy in God and cheerful service. He exhorts them to find strength in God’s joy.
This joy of the Lord as our strength is not found in the flesh, but found in the holy understanding that God is good, that his grace directs and governs our lives, and that our hearts delight in his love and favor.
God is Good
Many times the world seems to disprove this, but if we look with eyes to see, we find God’s hand. At times we expect God to ride in on a white stallion and remove us from our situations, when in reality, he sends people along with a kind word, a gentle smile that gives us the strength to endure. We can serve other’s in this way as well.
God is good. Just because bad things happen doesn’t mean he endorses them. This life holds pain, struggles, triumph, and joy, and we mustn’t judge God based our circumstances. Knowing the joy of the Lord as our strength begins with wrapping our minds around the truth that he is good.
God’s Grace Directs and Governs
God’s grace does not endorse sinful behavior, but makes a way to resist the behavior that separates us from him. We’re not sinners because we sin, we sin because we’re born sinners. God’s grace governs and directs our lives and makes a way for us to resist temptation.
As living sacrifices we struggle with the battle between our flesh and our spirit and it’s through God’s grace that we’re able to be renewed. God’s transforming grace governs our lives as we surrender to him day after day. His joy is our strength to say “yes” to him over and over.
God Loves and Favors Us
Joy as our strength to obey comes through the celebration of God’s love and favor for us. Receiving God’s love is foundational to our day to day walk with Christ.
He loves you with an everlasting love that doesn’t waver based on your feelings, but remains constant because God is constant. It’s his consistent love that compels us to obey him even when it’s hard. God’s love propels us onward because his joy is the oil that lubricates the wheels of our obedience.
His favor rests on you, the apple of his eye, and motivates you to obey his call in your life. He calls us to live a worthy life: a life clothed with compassion and kindness, grace and mercy, love and obedience.
The joy that radiates from him like a piercing light is the place where we receive the strength to do the hard things like resisting our sinful nature and saying yes to the ways of God.
God’s joy is our strength to receive his forgiveness and to live like we’re forgiven. Yes, we grieve over our sin and troubles in this life, but we also can live in abundance and God’s joy is the strength that enables us to do so.
Joy as a feeling is something we’re familiar with, but joy as fuel is something entirely different.
We need motivation when we tackle unpleasant tasks and procrastinate like crazy. There’s an idea that we’ll feel joy once we accomplish the tasks, but in order to understand joy as fuel, we must shift our perspective.
Joy is not the outcome of finishing, it’s our motivator. Especially when we face trials. Jesus faced trials during his earthly ministry ending with the ultimate trial of a horrific death. So what was his motivation?
Jesus is fully God and had the power of God at his disposal while on earth, but he chose to live as fully man. He experienced a face to face with the devil, crowds that gloried in what he could do for them, and gangs that attempted murder. He faced traps set by church leaders, betrayal by disciples, and misunderstanding by all.
Beyond obedience and love, what motivated Jesus to continue down this path of exceeding trials?
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2
Jesus focused on joy as he endured the cross and shame.
We may not face execution via crucifixion, but we do face trials that require endurance. Your relationships may crumble. You experience blackballing. People slander your character and you choose things that destroy your reputation. Consequences of our choices and other people’s decisions haunt our days and prompt nightmares.
We shift our perspective that joy is somehow developed by outside circumstances to an inward realization that we’ve misunderstood joy all these years.
God is our joy.
When we allow him to nurture our hearts and to feed our souls by his love, joy, and word rather than depending on outside stimuli, we can know the kind of joy that causes us to endure well.
James takes it a step further in James 1:2 where he states that we should “consider it pure joy” when we “face trials of many kinds.”
Not just any joy, but pure joy. Not the kind that masquerades and fools us into looking for it in the outcome of our circumstances, hopes, and dreams. But joy in God and all he holds out to us to receive.
Christian maturity on this earth is just as important as our eternal destination. God promises us peace, joy, goodness, and mercy here and these grow in us as we mature. In order to reach that maturity we need to shift our perspective about the difficulties we face.
We can find the joy that fuels endurance when we realize that faith undergoes a refinement.
It’s so easy to quit when life gets hard. We think running away from our trials is the answer, but it’s not. Standing firm in Christ and facing our trials is where we discover perseverance in order to face our trials with grace and dignity. And, yes, joy.
Just like a photographer chooses his focal point, we can choose ours as well. We can choose to let our trials blur and sharpen our focus on God’s almighty kindness.
His kindness leads us to repentance and his kindness fills our heart with joy. Focus on his joy as you navigate your trials. Open your bible and let the Holy Spirit illuminate the message God has for you. Look for his heart in his Word.
As you develop a completed picture of the Lord, it becomes easier to focus on him and let the your aches and disappointments blur so that you see him clearly.
As you do this, you begin with a framework and with each revelation the pencil outline of God’s character gets filled in, color and perspective is added. Today, sketch God’s outline with these three words: Joy. Kindness. Mercy. And let the Holy Spirit begin to fill it with color and depth.
The Takeaway for Joy
Meditate on these verses about God’s kindness, mercy, and joy.
My heart hurts and feels bruised by disappointments and relationships. I trudge through the same routine over and over again. I’m weary of white. Of the threat of water in my house if I wash a load of clothes or use the shower. The feeling of failure looms over my ability or inability to wife and mother well.
It’s in these moments when I need my relationship with my Father God, even if I’ve been distant with him. Friendships have felt dangerous due to recent relationship rejections. And I hold myself together by sheer will and search for joy.
You develop a friendship only to realize weeks or years later that it was false. And realize that it’s like a trick pack of gum kids use on one another and wonder if relationships are worth it. But as difficult as relationships are, we need them to develop joy in our lives.
Partly because we’re instructed to bear one another’s burdens, to share sorrows as well as joys. Our lives need relationships even when friends bruise our hearts. I’m drawn to people like a moth to a flame even while I toy with the idea of disavowing future relationships.
I love people. I want to know if you’re a morning or night person or if you like to shop or hate it or if you’re a hopeful pessimist or a realistic optimist. What sorrows and joys have you lived and what has scarred you and how have you healed. Do you like coffee or tea or neither?
You’re interesting before I even meet you, but I wrestle with fear of you too. Rejection is a possible outcome.
Fear and curiosity tussle within me. Sometimes fear wins and I sacrifice myself on the altar of your approval. And other times curiosity wins and the security of God’s love propels me forward. And sometimes I move forward with fear dogging every step.
Joy and Our Walk with Christ
Joy and our relationships relate to one another. We get to live this life as a believer and follower of Christ in community, not in isolation. And it’s in community that we learn to choose right actions, to temper our responses to reflect Christ, and to share the joy of the Lord.
We contribute joy to another’s life when we refresh others, and when we live our lives in ways that honor the teaching we received about the Lord.
Paul and John write about this throughout the New Testament. He references how his hearers bring him joy when they give themselves to the whole of Jesus’ teaching and their lives change.
We bring joy to our mentors, friends, teachers, and spiritual directors when we choose God’s way over ours. His ways don’t always make sense, but when trusted and implemented, bring about joy and lasting change that we could never accomplish on our own.
Who’s teaching have you benefitted from? Do you have someone in your life from whom you receive spiritual direction and teaching? Bring joy to them by living your life according to God’s standards and righteous ways.
Joy spreads. As you learn from a sound biblical teacher, you teach others as you live your life. Whether you realize it or not, there is someone who learns from you. You need others who are a few steps ahead of you and a few steps behind you. And this joy that comes by living lives that reflect the love of Christ become like the spreading ripples of a pebble dropped in a pond.
Relationships: difficult and painful, but oh so necessary. Joy: complex and simple, but contagious.
And just as we affect joy in other people’s lives by how we live our lives, we also bring joy to others as we refresh each other.
Joy and Refreshment
Refresh indicates a restoration, a renewal, and a revival. Do you need your spirit revived? Is life dragging you along and you question whether or not there’s more than this, whatever this may be?
Extend joy by sitting with someone in their sorrow and rejoicing with them in their triumphs. Offer the refreshment joy brings by extending kindness and mercy, overlooking an offense, and extending forgiveness.
When we reach out to someone, our hearts receive refreshment, and the joy overflows and affects the lives around us. We sit with someone in sorrow and we rejoice with someone in their triumphs. Refreshing others brings joy to our hearts.
Let’s hold to the truth that joy comes from a relationship with its source: God. But as a byproduct of receiving that joy, we get to refresh others and be blessed ourselves.
Consider how your life affects someone else’s and take a small step to bring them joy.
Pray: “Lord Jesus, you are my rock, my comfort, my everything, and my joy. Let me live a life worthy of your calling. Lord, I surrender my will and my ways and submit to your transforming power. Let your joy flow from you and to others as I live for you.” Amen.