“The joy of the Lord is our strength.” Nehemiah 8:10
Though our modern world is filled with conveniences, many people find themselves exhausted. We can’t seem to keep up with life and the curve balls it throws at us. So many people - especially young people - are struggling with anxiety and depression. There is widespread suffering from a legitimate but unrecognized spiritual need.
The other night at a gathering of university students, our friend Jason was preaching and mentioned a documentary about a man who climbed El Capitan in Yosemite without any ropes or support of any kind. This was only a brief illustration to a point Jason was making, but my hands started sweating and my heart started pounding. I was sitting safely in a chair on the ground, almost 2000 miles from El Capitan, but just thinking about having to climb that thing with no harness or net made me feel anxious.
This is similar to how many people are navigating life. We live in an era that is increasingly godless. Certain members of society have been hard at work removing God from everything. Because of this, we have nothing that we can count on or trust in, and no firm foundation to stand upon. People are hopeless - literally without any hope. They have believed in the lie that there is nothing to believe in; nothing to hope in, nothing to trust in or put faith in. We, as a society, have believed the lie that God is not there. We have lost our joy and we have no strength.
Because of this, people have tried to put their hopes elsewhere: in marriages and relationships, in education and the government, in the prosperity of our nation, and even in the church. But all of these things, though they can be wonderful, can also fail us. When we have nothing true and right to trust in, we feel hopeless and afraid - like we are sure to lose our grip and fall. Though most of us have more possessions and nicer homes than the world has ever known, we are not happy. Fearful, anxious, and depressed, yes; joyful, no.
But there is good news! God is real and true and trustworthy. He is there, and He has created each of us with purpose and delight. He cares for each of us deeply, and wants the best for us.
God sees each of us and hears our hearts' cries. He goes to great lengths to order our steps and the steps of others to bring us to the right place at the right time. I am reminded of an example of this in my own life as a simple illustration of this fact. Many years ago, I had just dropped my husband off at the airport and was feeling a little blue about the prospect of not seeing him for two whole weeks. On the way home from the airport, which is about an hour from our home, I decided to stop at a store to pick up a few things. As I was headed out to my car, I realized I had forgotten one of my bags at the checkout.
I went back inside the store, and when I came out the second time I looked up to see a red minivan pulling up right in front of me. To my surprise, it was my mom and dad! Better than that, my two sweet little girls were in the backseat. My parents had been watching the girls while I made the airport run, and had decided to drive to the mall for lunch and shopping. Now, since I was in exactly the right place at the right time, I was able to spend a lovely day with my family. If I hadn’t gone back in for the bag I forgot, I would have missed them and been alone all afternoon.
I heard God speak to me that day. I was so touched by how kind God was to orchestrate such an encouraging "coincidence." God sees us and knows us. I truly believe that God orders our steps – on little things like this, and even more so on the big and important matters in life. As we walk with Him, no matter where we are we can be sure that we are on solid ground. We might be climbing up the cliff, but God Himself is our support. He is not like all of the other things in life that can be false and fail. We can trust Him, and be sure that He is with us and looking out for us.
With that knowledge comes JOY - something that the world cannot reproduce.
Joy is the feeling that wells up in the deepest places of our spirit; an excitement and undeniable assurance that the Lord of heaven and earth is concerned for me. It reminds us that no matter how difficult things might be sometimes, there is goodness and rightness in the world because of Jesus. It is an echo from the garden before sin came in, and a whisper of what heaven will be like.
Joy is inextricably connected with hope and faith. When we believe that God is who He says He is, we eagerly look forward to how He will work all things for good. We can know that no matter what circumstances are in life, God has loved us and made a way for us to be with Him forever in heaven. Nothing can separate us from His great love!
We can experience this joy only fleetingly in natural things. We feel joy for a moment when a baby is born, or on our engagement or wedding day, or even at a surprise birthday party. We sometimes experience a taste of joy, but it does not last. And it cannot be manufactured. No matter how hard you try, what product you purchase, or what you consume, you cannot make yourself feel truly joyful. Real joy comes from outside of us.
The only place that a person can find real and lasting joy is in the Lord. When we look anyplace else, it leaves us feeling like we have to climb a giant cliff with no support. Only the supernatural joy of the Lord can sustain us, and strengthen us.
We are so blessed to live at this time in history. We can look back and see all that God has done, and know that He is so good and so faithful. As believers, we are marked and can be filled with the Holy Spirit - the very Spirit of God! One of the fruit of the Spirit is joy, and this deep, sustaining, strengthening joy makes the difference between just making it through the day and really thriving.
When we allow ourselves to be overcome by the cares of this world, we - even as Christians - can sink into depression and despair. I am sure that most of us have experienced this at one time or another.
Through the work of the Holy Spirit, and by fixing our eyes on Jesus, we can have joy that helps us endure and overcome the hardships of life. We will have joy to share with others around us, those who are despairing and hopeless. As the psalmist said in Psalm 5:11-12, “But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. For surely, O lord, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as a shield."
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)