The joy of the Lord is your strength. Nehemiah 8:10 (NIV)
The Joy of the Lord is Your Strength – Finding Joy Series – Part 1
Happiness, success, wealth, fame, integrity, love, passion, sweat, work, achievement, winning, rebellion, traveling, exploring, discovering, leaving, apologising, forgiving, justice…
There are glimpses of joy in these things; little reflections of light, like seeing someone the second before they disappear round a corner.
That’s what separates joy from happiness for me. Happiness is something I can pursue: it's derived from my ‘happenings’ – all my ducks lining up in a nice, neat row. HAPPY.
But joy seems to be more complicated than that… or at least, a little more surreptitious.
Joy sneaks up you like a child in the night: one minute you’re asleep, none the wiser to a presence next to you. The next minute, you're transported from peaceful sleep to grim reality – you feel hot breath on your face, your eyes pop open, and before your brain has had a chance to wake up and let your body know what's happening, you’ve seen two glowing orbs not two inches from your face, have near bitten your tongue in half and have taught your alien/child a new word they may be a bit young for (*wink). After the initial shock wears off, all you can do is laugh.
Joy is not unlike the snitch in a three month long game of Quidditch (name that reference). And for those few fragile, precious moments when you finally have it in your grasp, it's beautiful and triumphant, all of heaven and earth, it seems, cheering in the background
As my literary hero said:
“Happiness turns up more or less where you'd expect it to – a good marriage, a rewarding job, a pleasant vacation. Joy, on the other hand, is as notoriously unpredictable as the one who bequeaths it.” Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking.
For many of us, joy has been just that: wishful thinking. Happiness comes and goes depending on our ability at any given time in our lives to conjure it into being through circumstance and happen-chance. But joy?
We achieve and collect and buy and do, and for all of it, it never seems to be enough to fill the deep well in us that thirsts for nothing but pure joy.
“All great spirituality is about what we do with our pain… By trying to handle all suffering through willpower, denial, medication, or even therapy, we have forgotten something that should be obvious: we do not handle suffering; suffering handles us in deep and mysterious ways that ironically become the very matrix of life. Suffering — and sometimes awe — has the most power to lead us into genuinely new experiences.” Richard Rohr.
And somewhere in there, in the middle of trying and suffering and learning and transforming, joy comes into bloom. It’s miraculous that way. Almost offensive in its presence.
Pain has long been my teacher, now I’m ready for it to share the platform with joy. For once in my life, or maybe from this point on, I want to discover joy.
The book of Nehemiah records the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the return of exiles from Babylon under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. When the walls and towns had finally been restored, and the people settled into their new homes and lives, they celebrated with rituals and feasts. Nehemiah said:
“This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (8:10 NIV).
What is the ‘Joy of the Lord'?
And if it is so strong, why does it seem so slippery?