When my husband and I are wheels down in Italy for our someday-dream-trip, we will have finally arrived at our destination. And not. Because if we only ever stayed at the airport, we would not have had much of a vacation. Think of all the places we’d want to go while in Italy — Tuscany, Rome, Naples, the Amalfi Coast. Think of all the sites we’d want to see — the Colosseum, vineyards, villages, beaches.
Hearing the captain say over the plane’s intercom, “We have landed in Italy,” certainly denotes destination arrival, but the adventure itself has only begun.
The same is true of joy. We’ve spent weeks researching and doing deep dives in our hearts and minds. We’ve committed hours to reading and writing down all our experiences and revelations. We’ve traveled a long way, but to say we’ve arrived cuts the trip short. Yes, we’re discovering joy but there’s more yet to uncover. And, as we learned last week, this excursion was never really about the destination but the journey.
Continuing our Journey of Joy
We’re stepping off the plane into the great adventure of learning how to journey this life with joy. Just as we might coddiwomple through the streets of Florence, we’re going to take our time as we take-in all that joy has to teach us. And, we will heed Nehemiah’s advice as we set out to explore our destination:
“Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.’”Nehemiah 8:10
Nehemiah, governor of the returned exiles to Jerusalem, extolled the people to celebrate even as they wept over how they’d grieved God. Their repentance was appropriate, but excessive mourning can become a hindrance to the joy of experiencing God’s redemption, which is why Nehemiah instructed the people to celebrate.
The Matthew Henry Commentary on this passage helps us clarify: “Even sorrow for sin must not hinder our joy in God.” I invite you to read that sentence again. Like the Israelites, we can grieve over our sin so much that the sorrow shadows what God has for us — joy. We can be tempted to believe that what we’ve done is too much or too great to be forgiven. We can become so consumed by grief that we can feel guilty when joy comes along. And these responses to our sins and sorrows are not what God wants for us. Instead, God offers us His joy for all kinds of sadness, and we’re meant to receive it.
Joy Our Strength
If you’ve listened at all to our Journey of Joy playlist, you’ve heard several songs claim Nehemiah’s credo — the joy of the LORD is your strength. I admit I’ve listened to our playlist so many times that even as I write that verse, I hear Audrey Assad singing it in my head. I also confess that when we began this adventure of ours, I didn’t fully understand her lyrics or Nehemiah’s tenet.
I have wanted to know — how is God’s joy our strength? Looking back over what we’ve learned recently about joy, truths accumulate to help understanding dawn on us and in us:
- Joy transcends earthly emotion — we feel joy, yet it’s beyond a feeling.
- Joy is not dependent on our circumstances.
- Joy becomes an action when we choose to rejoice in Jesus, no matter how we feel.
- Joy is much more likely to be our reality when we become present in the moment.
- Joy is found in God’s presence.
Upon such recollection, our evidence helps us deduce that joy is profoundly more than any state of mind we can recall. Add to that the impactful verse we studied earlier — Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him — plus Nehemiah’s exhortation to set aside grieving for rejoicing, and the power of joy emerges.
It’s how Jesus could withstand belittling, torture, and death on a cross — He could look ahead to the joy of defeating death, to the joy of redeeming mankind.
It’s how Paul could bear shackles, shipwrecks, and stonings — he could see ahead to the joy of the church finding its footing and moving forcefully into the future.
It’s how Nehemiah could confidently tell his followers to lay down their sorrow and celebrate — he knew that God’s joy would help them rise above their shame and sadness.
Just as joy empowers, it also strengthens.
This is revelatory for me. I’ve never stopped long enough to understand how God’s joy could be my strength. For too long I’ve believed that joy was only a feeling that happened when things were going well. What a gift to arrive at our destination to realize that joy is so much more than I could have imagined. But my comprehension feels fragile — like I’m getting it, but my grasp of this joy-as-my-strength could crush under the weight of fear, shame, or confusion at any moment.
Let’s bolster our understanding of joy as our strength.
God As Our Joy
One way to deepen our discernment of God as our source of joy is to look back at our Nehemiah passage. The joy of the Lord is a phrase that presupposes God possesses joy. Therefore, to know joy we must know God. As we consistently talk with God, read His Word, and sing His praises, we are setting ourselves up for finding joy because as we draw closer to God, the more His joy becomes our joy.
Another way to get our understanding of joy’s power to stick with us is to recognize that joy isn’t just for our pleasure. While Jesus promised joy to His disciples and God takes pleasure in our pleasure, that’s not the end of the story. Our second word of joy today sheds light:
Sing to the Lord, all you godly ones!Psalm 30:4-5, NLT
Praise his holy name.
For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favor lasts a lifetime!
Weeping may last through the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
This Psalm echoes the theme of Nehemiah’s urging — let go of sorrow. There’s joy to be had! And, as familiar as this passage is, we miss a big chunk of the message when we stop at verse five. If we read the rest of the Psalm, we see there’s more to learn about joy:
You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.Psalm 30:11-12, NLT
You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy,
that I might sing praises to you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever!
God clothes us in joy so that we can sing His praises! The joy of the Lord takes away our sorrow, not just for our sakes but for His glory.
I recently watched a teaching video by Angie Smith in which she echoed this same joy-truth:
“When we talk about joy, it’s easy to talk about it in reference to ourselves as if it’s a gift, a thing we want. Ultimately, the goal of joy is that it doesn’t end when we feel the joy itself. Rather, the full expression of joy is when we realize…the most beautiful thing we can do with it is return it to its rightful owner in praise! …When we praise God, giving Him back the joy — that’s the fullest expression of joy.”Angie Smith, If:Lead 2020
Angie has suffered much in her life, yet she exudes this joy she speaks of. These aren’t empty platitudes for her but truths she has discovered and lived out. God’s joy strengthens. And, her belief that praising God is the fullest expression of joy folds nicely into our lesson last week about rejoicing — the idea of praising God no matter how we feel.
God has been teaching me this exact lesson lately. In the last nine months, I have lived more secluded and in more silence than ever before. The solitude has done much good for my relationship with God, but there are days that grief swallows my hope and joy. Honestly, I’ve first had to learn how to allow the grief to happen as I sort out all my feelings of loss after our major move, yet I’m also discovering that grief could be my only response to life if I let it. So, I’ve been applying what I’ve been writing here. I praise God. No matter how I feel, I praise Him when I pray. I praise and worship Him as I sing along with powerful songs. I praise Him at the end of each day as I thank Him for at least three things I’m grateful for.
And let me just tell you, the craziest thing is happening — the joy of the Lord is strengthening me. Seriously, I am stronger today than I was last week. I even feel more joy today than I did last month. So I’ll keep praising — even on days when I don’t feel like it. Especially on days when waves of grief try to take me under because as I praise the Lord, His joy pours all over me, and I feel stronger.
Praise, Songs, and Journals
There are so many great songs on our playlist, and I have them playing in the background as I write this post. A minute ago, as I was struggling to write about how God’s joy strengthens us, Matt Maher’s song, “Alive and Breathing,” came on. Instead of pressing through my paragraph, I paused. I pulled up the lyrics on Google, and started the song over. As I read the words, their truth resonated like never before.
What I hadn’t realized before, rang true today. This song not only echoes Psalm 30’s mantra but captures the heart of Nehemiah’s story. I encourage you to pull up the lyrics and listen along as you read so you can feel its impact. For now, we can look at the chorus:
Joy still comes in the morningMatt Maher, “Alive and Breathing”
Hope still walks with the hurting
If you’re still alive and breathing
Praise the Lord
Don’t stop dancing and dreaming
There’s still Good News worth repeating
So lift your head and keep singing
Praise the Lord
The upbeat song encourages joy. Its lyrics resound with God’s truths as they differentiate our assumptions from God’s actualities, all the while inviting us into God’s joy.
Perhaps as we ponder our purpose here at our destination, we’ll recognize the rightful response to joy — praise! And, as we move into life with all we’ve been learning, we just might see praise as a way of life. Whether we feel joy or seek it, we can always praise the One in whom joy resides.
In your journal this week, I encourage you to go back over all your lists of gratitude. Notice what has caught your eye over the last few weeks — where have you seen God at work? When have you paused long enough to see something or someone to be grateful for? Write about that for a bit, asking the Holy Spirit to do some revealing.
Then, turn on “I Love You Lord” from our playlist and let it wash over you. As feelings and words rush to your heart and mind, write a prayer of praise and thanksgiving. Pour out to your Father all that has stirred your heart. Allow yourself to feel that YOU are a joy to God. Hear your voice among those singing, “take joy my King in what You hear. May it be a sweet, sweet sound in your ear.” Oh, my soul — rejoice!
While we’re on the subject of joy and journals, it’d be awesome if you kept up this practice of journaling long after this particular journey is over. Maybe look at it as your Joy Journal, a place to continue listing your “gratitudes,” documenting all your joys, and writing out your praises!
So, we’ve landed. We’ve deboarded and collected all our luggage. We’re ready to hail a cab and head out for our grand tour where we’ll see all the sights and encounter new experiences, discovering new ways to stimulate our senses. We’ll learn a new culture and discover ways to take joy with us as we go.
Goodness, we’ve come a long way! It’s good to celebrate all we’ve learned and even revel in joy’s transforming power. Yet, even as we’ve arrived at our appointed destination, let’s not give up searching for more joy-lessons. Let’s carry trust with us into all the places God has for us to experience, keeping our hands open to His ways, His timing, and even His joy. Let’s praise Him — for His joy will be our strength!
- This week’s journaling prompt asks us look back over our gratitude lists for some reflection time. But be sure to keep up with your daily practice of writing three things you’re grateful for. I’d love to hear what you’re seeing and learning through these practices, so comment below. What do you think of keeping a Joy Journal?
- Just for fun — find the “Easter egg” in this week’s post! It’s a travel word.
- Last week’s travel word was vacilando, a Spanish verb that means the act of wandering when the experience of travel is more important than reaching the a destination.
- The summer print edition of The Joyful Life Magazine, called Rest,* is open for pre-orders. The write-up of the magazine sounds so much like what we’ve been learning through our journey: “The summer print publication of The Joyful Life Magazine will invite our souls into genuine rest as we quiet our hearts and homes before the Lord, content in His sovereignty. We’ll be challenged to reexamine present circumstances and redefine the rhythms of our days in light of unseen goodness even when what is before us may appear anything but good. We’ll be encouraged to trust the Almighty in all things—resting wholeheartedly in His perfect character and loving plan.”
- Our Journey of Joy playlist on Spotify follows this journey. I chose these songs months ago, so it’s incredible to me how their meanings become more and more relevant the longer we journey. How have the songs impacted you?
*This is an affiliate link, so I’ll receive compensation for any purchases made.