The joy of the Lord is our strength. When I hear the word joy, I often think of either the fullness of joy that Jesus gives his followers or of the joy we have amidst seemingly impossible circumstances. James, the brother of Jesus, talks about this latter joy that comes during trials and temptations. He explains that it is a joyous occasion to meet trials of various kinds because when our faith is tested we can grow strong in the strength of the Lord and become more complete and perfect.  

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4 ESV

In the gospel of John, Jesus speaks of joy as our reward for abiding in him and for praying in faith.

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:11

Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. John 16:24

JOY COMES FROM A SUPERNATURAL SOURCE

In both the teaching of James and of Jesus, joy comes from a supernatural source. If we have joy, it is not because the world is offering joy or we’ve somehow traded a resource in exchange for joy. God gives us joy in the Lord when we keep his commandments and allow his words to abide in us. As we read God's word and remember it later (Scripture memorization), we are learning to abide in him and he transforms our mind and gives us joy. It requires faith to believe and a heart to ask, but the promises of God are as true today as they were thousands of years ago.

EZRA THE SCRIBE AND NEHEMIAH THE BUILDER

In the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, Ezra the holy scribe and Nehemiah the blessed builder, along with the Levites, taught the people of Israel from the Law of Moses by reading and explaining the text. 

And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, "This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep." For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, "Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, "Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved." And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them. Nehemiah 8:9-12

The people were initially distraught by the word of the LORD, as it was read aloud to them, because of their lawless deeds and the covenant which they had broken with God. In 586 BC, God’s chosen people were scattered in the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and largely exiled to Babylon. By divine appointment, and according to his covenant promise, God stirred in the hearts of Cyrus king of Persia and King Artaxerxes to allow the Jews to return from exile to Jerusalem and to the land of Judea to rebuild the city of God and its temple. Throughout the process, God raised up mighty men to lead the restoration and champion a wholehearted return to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and to the Law of Moses. Ezra was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses and he taught the Jewish community of Jerusalem in the newly re-built temple. Nehemiah lead the effort to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem, to protect her from attack and establish boundaries around the temple of God. 

DO NOT BE DISCOURAGED BUT BE ENCOURAGED!

It can be easy for us to become discouraged by our circumstances and feel defeated by our lack of holiness and sinful behavior, much like the Israelites did during the time of restoration and rebuilding. However, we must repent of our lawless ways and look at the faithfulness of God, both in terms of our own experience and historically.

Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the LORD! Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven: Lamentations 3:40-41 ESV

LIFE AND GODLINESS

God has graciously given us all things that pertain to life and godliness through his son Jesus Christ. If we believe by faith, we are grafted into the tree of Israel, into the family of God and as children of God, we rejoice in the Lord and in the strength of his might. The bondage of sin has been removed and we are free to walk in newness of life - filled with the Holy Spirit. The best response we can have to the uncertainty of life is most certainly joy - not our own joy, but the joy of the Lord. May the joy of the Lord be your strength!

GOD'S COVENANT PROMISE

God’s covenant promise to his people Israel was not broken or forsaken. His purpose was to bring light to the world through Israel. God covenanted to bless all nations through the offspring of Abraham, through the child of promise, and despite Israel’s rebellion, the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and three periods of deportation and exile to a foreign land, God did not forget his promise or neglect to act on behalf of his people. In lovingkindness and faithfulness, God heard their cries, responded to their prayers and acted according to his foreknowledge and plan. 

GOD'S COVENANT RELATIONSHIP

God’s covenant relationship toward his people does not end with the Jewish nation but it extends to all nations. The material distinctive separating Jewish people is in fact spiritual not ethnic, and thus, those who worship YAHWEY God and serve him alone are welcomed into the family of God. Today, both Jews and gentiles have access into the family of God by faith in Jesus Christ the Son of God, who fulfilled the law, died in our place and was raised from the dead for our justification.

THE SPIRITUAL LAND OF REPENTANCE AND OBEDIENCE AND WORSHIP

In ancient Israel, God bestowed joy on his people who returned not only to the physical land of Judea and Jerusalem but to the spiritual land of repentance and obedience and worship. The Son of God bestows joy on us who believe in him and who abide in his body and blood. And when we are tried and tested by various trials, we take heart because we know that those trials are shaping us more into the image of Christ - as we grow in steadfastness. And finally, the joy of the Lord is our strength because Jesus has overcome the world! 

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. John 16:33 ESV