The Joy of the Lord Is Thy Strength

I read an article on “The Joy of the Lord” recently.

The biblical phrase, “the joy of the Lord is thy strength” is oft quoted and it is “so often repeated whenever there was any hint of sadness or frustration or boredom at our house: “The joy of the Lord is your strength!” It was a defeater statement, a kind of Jesus-juke meant to stifle any real emotions we might be feeling. Stop being sad/mad/bored/whatever and be JOYFUL! After all, you have a relationship with Jesus!”

I hear the author’s complaint and would agree.

Too many Christians believe that faith = happy. It’s the Joel Osteenization of Christianity. Unfortunately, it’s not just in whacky Osteenesque churches any more, it’s pretty much everywhere.

We believe that since we go to church God will give us the happiest marriage ever, the happiest kids, the happiest job, the happiest everything! Happiness is even used as a lure to believe the Gospel “God has a wonderful plan for your life!”

Happy, happy. Joy, joy. If you aint happy; you aint believin’!

“The joy of the Lord is thy strength” comes from the little book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah and a remnant of Jews went back to rebuild Jerusalem during the Babylonian captivity. The nation was gone, the walls were gone, and most devastatingly, the temple was gone.

Nehemiah determines to rebuild while Ezra the priest determines to hold a revival. Nehemiah 8, the passage with the above phrase, shows Ezra reading the law to them in the street. I believe elsewhere it points out that it was raining as well.

After a half day of bludgeoning by the law, the people are crushed. They hang their heads, bow to the ground and weep. Nehemiah 8:9 says,

And Nehemiah, which is the Tirshatha, and Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said unto all the people, This day is holy unto the Lord your God; mourn not, nor weep. For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law.

The people were weeping and Nehemiah tells them to stop, and then and only then does he go on to say verse 10:

Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength.

The only time the Bible tells people specifically to cheer up is when they are rolling in the dust in anguish. This is no plea to live in happiness day by day. This is a command to rejoice that though the law just crushed you, you still have the Lord and His promises. Rejoice in Him.

There is no way this verse can broadly be applied to American Christianity. The verse that fits better with American Christianity is “Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.

As I’ve said before, Christianity is way too happy.

Laughter and Christlikeness don’t really go together. Although I can show you several verses where Jesus cried, I can’t find one that said He laughed. I imagine that means something.

Granted, the Bible does praise laughter from time to time. We are to have joy. But the joy and laughter the Bible speaks of is not a distraction with worldly funny and worldly pleasure.

Biblical joy and laughter are centered in Christ, yet outwardly the believer should feel and show pain, tears, sorrow, and mourning. At least sometimes! Once?!

This world is falling apart, yet we laugh our way through, amusing ourselves to Armageddon. Our laughter may be one of the biggest things held against us at Judgment Day.

This post is one-sided, I mean it to be that way. We could all use a little sobering up.