Would your life be different if you knew in your bones that when he turns his thoughts toward you his heart fills with joy?
The Joy of the Lord is Your Strength
Nehemiah contains a mysterious verse: “The joy of the LORD is your strength,” (Neh 8:10).
How can someone else’s joy strengthen us?
Nehemiah may have meant “joy from the LORD” will strengthen you. But I think the phrasing suggests something even more wonderful.
The people Nehemiah speaks to are weeping as they hear the words of the Torah read to them. The realization that they have sinned against the Lord by neglecting his commands and promises cuts them to the heart.
But Nehemiah tells them not to cry, and that’s when he says it: “The joy of the LORD is your strength.”
What kind of joy could comfort them? Wouldn’t the most astonishing, strengthening joy be to know that in spite of their rebellion and apathy, God looks upon them and His heart fills with JOY, that they are a joy to Him?
I believe this is, at least in part, what Nehemiah meant.
A Groom and His Bride
Listen to the Lord speaking through Isaiah: “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you,” (Is 62:5).
Think about that. An Israelite man would have chosen a wife and entered a time of betrothal, an extended period for preparing his affairs and his home – a time during which he could not touch her.
Then the wedding night arrives, and she is waiting for him – looking more beautiful than ever before and ready to belong to him for life.
What does the groom feel in that moment? God knows: He feels JOY.
And though we struggle to grasp it, God uses this image to portray his joy in his people.
He says it again through Zephaniah: “The LORD your God . . . will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing,” (Zeph 3:17).
The prophet describes a joy that cannot be contained, a joy erupting into loud singing. And what causes this joy in the heart of God? His people. Us.
Jesus spoke of the same thing: “there will be (more) joy in heaven over one sinner who repents,” (Luke 15).
Joy. In heaven. In God’s heart.
God’s people – rescued sinners – are a JOY to him.
Every soul craves knowing their existence is a joy to someone. The truth is a GREAT someone with a GREAT heart rejoices over those who are in his Son.
A Parent and Child
Just looking at my children can give me joy. I look at their perfect noses, or bright eyes, or watch them walk into school with their backpacks tossed over their shoulders, and piercing love erupts in my heart.
Why would I think I could love more deeply or better than God who created love in the first place?
Psalm 94:9 declares, “He who planted the ear, does he not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see?”
We could also say, He who puts love in the hearts of mothers and fathers, does he not love?
Timothy Keller writes in his book “Encounters with Jesus” that when God looks at us he sees a person of “captivating beauty.” And I believe he is right.
God is captivated with you and me. But how can this be?
God’s Son and Us
God loves his son with a love that makes my love for my children meager by comparison. At Jesus’ baptism, God said, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well-pleased,” (Matt 3:17).
God’s son became a man, and though he lived the perfect human life, in absolute obedience he suffered and died for us: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,” (2 Cor 5:21).
The wonder, the joy, of this is that – because of Jesus – when God looks at us he is free to see the righteousness of his son and to love us with the same love with which he loves his son. Jesus says this in his prayer to his father in John 17: “you (have) loved them even as you loved me,” (v. 23).
And Paul says we are “in the Beloved,” (Eph 1:6). Jesus is the Beloved and we are in him.
This is how God can see us as a captivating beauty.
And why? Are we so hidden in Christ that we disappear and we get Christ’s love by accident?
Because Paul says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” (Rom 5:8).
God loves us when we hate him, reject him, befoul his planet, and hurt others that he loves. He loves us so much that Jesus died to pay the debt for all that sin so that he can make us clean and REJOICE over us like he wants to.
This is how the Joy of the Lord can be our strength. Will you dare to believe it?
Photo Credit: By Lies Thru a Lens (A Father’s Love Uploaded by tm) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons