This devotional series was originally posted on Daily Fast Fuel. Thought I would give it a second run here. Enjoy!
Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” –Nehemiah 8:10 (NKJV)
I imagine if heaven had a cheering squad, this would be one of their staples:
The joy of the Lord is your strength!
Rah! Rah! Rah!
Give me a J-O-Y!
JOY! JOY! JOY!
JOY IS YOUR STRENGTH!
It’s so peppy, right? And quite catchy, I mean, how many times have you heard the phrase repeated in moments of encouragement?
But what does it really mean?
Does strength come from slapping a smile on my face and clapping a little bit?
What is this “joy” He speaks of?
As I meandered through the Word this past week, seeking to understand the true meaning of joy, I began to stumble upon verses that challenged my preconceptions of it. Joy had always been such a simple thing, I thought. And yet God’s Word was painting a far richer and deeper picture than I had known.
Joy – you’re not from around here, are you?
On my journey of tailing Joy, I followed her to and fro, picking up what clues I could about her identity. Though trying my best to act aloof and blend in to my surroundings, I had a feeling Joy knew I was on her tail, and more than that, welcomed my pursuit.
I imagine it was intentional, then, her dropping her date book. I thought it common courtesy, of course, to pick it up with intentions of returning it at some point. I confess, I couldn’t help but look inside – after all I am a detective and I owe it to my craft, at least this week.
Her schedule was full of appointments – at reunions, and births, and betimes with Dad, wedding days, Bible studies, walks around the block… Joy seemed to get around. I tried my best to stay on her trail through the day’s adventures, but rarely caught a good sight of her. Then I spotted it – at the bottom of today’s schedule- “head home”. This should be good, I thought. I’ll get to see where she lives.
And so I journeyed on, trying my best to keep her in focus and in my sight. As we got closer to her home, the clearer her appearance became – until I could see her clear as day, beautiful as could be imagined, standing at the foot of Father’s throne.
So this is where she lives.
“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psa 16:11
Taking out my journal, I noted, “If I need to get a hold of Joy, try the throne room.”
Father, today I ask you would draw us into your presence, that we might find JOY in all her fullness.
Curiously, as I turned the page in the date book to see what Joy was up to today, I saw she had scheduled me for coffee around 4 p.m. This was all beginning to feel like a set up. As the hour approached, I filtered through the multitudes of questions I wanted to ask her.
The bells above the door jingled as I nervously entered the shop and scanned the tables. There she was, reading the paper at a round table by the window. Still beautiful, but rather unassuming. Joy was quiet, and apparently focused on whatever article she was reading.
I ordered and approached her with my vanilla iced chai in hand.
She smiled cordially and invited me to join her. I played with my straw unsure what to say.
“I’m glad for your company, you know?” She finally broke the ice.
I tried to apologize for stalking her and thanked her profusely for meeting with me. She laughed.
“I expected,” I paused, looking down to gather my words, “you to be, well, more joyful.”
She nodded understandingly, “I seem demure to you. I know. Most expect me to be full of endless giggles or jumping up and down.”
It’s true, that’s exactly what I expected. The Old Testament recounts the joy of God’s people – shouting, singing, dancing in joy before the Lord. But she was so – laid back. She wasn’t even bubbly, really.
She explained, “I have that effect, you know – the laughter, the dancing, the songs. But that’s not who I am. I am not a giggle.” She grinned. “I’m both a promise remembered and a promise fulfilled.” She continued, “I work in tandem with Hope quite a bit. But Hope has a different assignment; Hope begins in your heart and journeys to the throne room. I begin in the throne room, and end in your heart. Sometimes I spill out into the giggling you speak of, but sometimes I spill out in tears, and sometimes I just quietly abide in hearts.”
My mind was spinning.
“My purpose is to fill you up, as it was in the beginning. That is what the Son has requested – that your joy would be complete. That your heart would be filled with recollection of the promises of the Father, and that as you remember what He has promised and abide in His love, you would overcome.”
And the joy of the Lord shall be your strength, I thought to myself.
She nodded knowingly.
“I have told you this [to abide in love*] so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” John 15:11
*my addition describing what the “this” was Jesus was talking about from the previous verse.
It was a quiet morning on the park bench, Bible on my lap, a bag of grapes by my side. I kept thinking of what Joy had said the day before – that she was a promise remembered, a promise fulfilled. I remembered the verse – “…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).” I considered what must have been on Jesus’ mind as He approached His last days. It was the promise of the Father that carried Him through, I imagined. I suppose I didn’t realize Joy was so strong. I hadn’t noticed her quiet arrival until I turned and saw her sitting peacefully on the bench beside me.
“It’s time,” she said pointing down at my Bible.
She was right. I was just afraid to ask.
She smiled affirming, and gently took my Bible out of my lap. She held it before her and read, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds…James 1:2.” She touched the page with affection, as if these words were of particular significance to her. I held my breath waiting for an explanation.
“I am not the only joy,” she finally offered, turning towards me, “but I am the only pure joy.”
I looked at her quizzically, asking for more.
“There are other joys roaming around. Some are twisted and evil, and I will not speak of those now. Others are simply earthly. They aren’t bad, necessarily, but they are weak. When trials come, they scatter. Only pure joy remains. I’ve observed the only real desire of earthly joys is to make people happy, but my purpose is to make them strong and to connect them to the Father. This is one of the ways He uses trials for good. He doesn’t wish them on you. He has great compassion towards you, and because of this, He will use them to scatter the things that cannot sustain you, and highlight what brings you strength.”
“In the end, it’s all about Him. I am who I am and do what I do to reveal the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. I am here to bring Him glory.”
Joy was on the far end of the farmer’s market patting watermelons and smelling baskets of berries. When I approached her, she was already biting into a large strawberry, from the basket she purchased. She offered one to me.
“Don’t you just love fresh fruit?” she asked delightfully, wrinkling her nose.
I nodded, mouth full of strawberry.
“So sweet, so delicious,” she continued, “and all packed in a little seed.” She marveled at the fruit in the stands as we walked by. She twirled at least three times as we passed the peaches and nectarines.
She directed me to walk with her to the middle of the market. “You see, don’t you?”
“I think I do.”
“Of course, you do.” She grinned, then lifted her arms in abandoned and cried out, “I AM A FRUIT!”
I froze with the rest of the market goers, as Joy sheepishly looked around and then at me, until neither of us could hold back the laughter brewing within.
As the crowds continued on their way, making little of her outburst, she gathered herself together, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”
“I am a seed, planted in your heart by the Spirit – to grow and bear fruit.” She handed me another strawberry, “so others might taste the Kingdom through you.”
I smiled at the thought, and the sweetness of the strawberry.
“He’s always had a thing for gardens, you see. And now you are one. He took you out of the garden to protect you, he dealt with your sin to free you, and now he plants the garden inside you, hidden and protected. I am fruit born in your life as you abide in Christ, that you and those around you might taste and see that the Lord is good.”
I stood there amazed at Joy. It was apparent that she loved to be shared, and that she loved revealing the Gardner.
Jesus, help us understand and appreciate the riches that you have planted in us by the Spirit – how to feast on your presence, on your JOY, and invite others to enjoy you too!