The joy of the Lord
A popular quote from the Bible is, "the joy of the Lord is your strength". There are three things about this quote that are vital to understanding what it is talking about. The first is the context o the passage. This quote is found in Nehemiah 8:10. The background is that God warned Israel from the days of Moses that if they failed to eliminate the Canaanites and followed their ways, and if they made improper allegiances with the pagan nations around them, that they would bring a curse of judgment upon themselves (Lev 27, Num 33:55, Deut 28, Josh 23:13, Jud 2:3). They repeatedly fell into idolatry and sin, and failed to keep the covenant of God. As God warned them, the nations of the idols they worshiped invaded and conquered their land. The Assyrians destroyed northern Israel, and Babylon destroyed the southern kingdom of Judah. Jeremiah prophesied that the land would lay desolate for 70 years (Jer 25:11-12, Jer 29:10). Afterward, God had mercy on Israel, and they began to return and rebuild their nation. Ezra and Haggai helped lead the rebuilding of the temple, and Nehemiah led the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. The Israelites were living under very difficult circumstances spiritually and materially. After the reconstruction of the walls was completed, they had a meeting in which Ezra read the scriptures to them for 6 hours. When the people heard the words of the law of Moses that spoke about their situation, the people mourned and wept. The leaders told them not to weep, but to celebrate; and this is where the famous quote comes from. They had a great celebration because they understood the Bible. Imagine a big party going on today and someone passing by asking, "What's the celebration about?", and the response being, "We understand the Bible!" The circumstances did not seem to call for joy and celebration, but they found joy in their relationship with God despite the situation. That is the only way to find true joy. If we wait for our circumstances to bring us joy, we may have a long wait. If we find joy in the Lord regardless of the circumstances, we have discovered a great secret. We need strength to endure adversity, and we can find it when we have a relationship with God that is not subject to situations; but rather the situations are made subject to our relationship with God.
The second thing we need to know is that the leaders were also implying that they had already been judged for their sins, they had repented, and God had forgiven them. God was now in the process of restoring them. They should not be holding themselves under condemnation any more. They needed to move on from that spiritual and emotional place, and be thankful for the progress they were making in rebuilding their lives. They needed to rejoice in the grace of God. When we fail to forgive ourselves of things God has forgiven us of, it can drain us. We have to find the goodness of God, even if we are in the midst of reaping what we have sown. Relentlessly beating ourselves up over the past is not a recipe for joy.
The third thing we need to understand about "the joy of the Lord is your strength" is that this does not mean God gives us joy. It means we should give God joy. When we seek to please the Lord in everything, then we find that true joy is not expecting God to make us happy. It is seeking to make Him happy. The verse does not say, "joy from the Lord is your strength." It says "the joy of the Lord." We do not find strength in trying to get God to approve our agenda. We find strength in doing His will. When we find joy in the same things God does, then we will be spiritually strong people. If we spend our energy trying to find joy in things that do not please God, our spiritual strength will be sapped.