I always thought the Biblical phrase, "The joy of the Lord is your strength," must come from somewhere in Psalms or maybe Proverbs. It wasn't until a few years ago that I found it in Nehemiah, of all places.
It's interesting that it is in the middle of Nehemiah. Under the circumstances - rebuilding a wall in hostile territory- you'd think other things would be considered their strength. Things like faith or perserverence or fighting come to mind as key ways to stay strong in the Lord, but nope - it lists the JOY of the Lord as their strength.
As you look closer at that statement, it starts to make sense though. It doesn't say joy in your circumstances or joy in your feelings, but joy IN THE LORD. What does that mean?
I think we can see several things that bring us joy in the Lord. In verse one, it states the very first one - unity. It says, "And all the people gathered as one man..." It is hard to have joy in the Lord when you are experiencing strife with other Christians. It sort of just sucks the joy right out of you to carry around anger and bitterness, doesn't it?
The second thing we can see is the people's desire for Truth. They requested the Scriptures. They stood out of respect when Ezra opened up the book of the law and started to read it to them. They listened for HOURS. They listened not only to the law, but teaching that explained what it all meant for them. They sincerely desired that truth - not just to hear it but to really understand it.
This led them to the third thing - true worship. When they heard the truth, they bowed low and worshipped God. True worship of God leads to great joy in simply who He is! We can't experience the joy of the Lord without seeing who God truly is and falling down in awed worship.
The fourth thing we see is their true repentence. They heard the truth; they worshipped God for who He was; a true picture of God gave them a true picture of themselves; this true picture caused a sincere repentence. But their tears didn't last long - Ezra told them to rejoice in God and all that He had done.
The fifth thing we see is their obedience. After sincere repentence, they went and celebrated the Feast of Booths which it says the people had not celebrated since the time of Joshua (which was many generations removed from these particular Jews). The act of obedience brought even more joy.
The chapter ends the way it started - with reading God's law daily. I find in my own life, if I let my time with God go because I am busy or lazy or whatever, my joy seems to slip too. I can't find my joy in the Lord if I don't daily spend time in His presence.
I hope that you can follow the path of truth - true worship - true repentence - obedience - and find that your joy in the Lord truly gives you strength!
~ Blessings, Bronte