Up until recently, whenever I heard the verse, “The joy of the Lord is your strength,” or any biblical snippet about joy really, I heard a command. And people often have used that verse and others like it to inform of us why we should be joyful. From these kinds of words myself and many others have often heard, You should be joyful because God is joyful. Stop being sad; He is your strength.
Then, for the person struggling to cling to faith, contentment, trust, or whatever pinnacle of safety they aren’t feeling right then which is causing their present anxiety, these verses induce more shame.
Before being brandished with, “Stop that! ‘The joy of the Lord is your strength,'” the listener is already experiencing symptoms of the “not enough” illness. Thus, when that verse and others like it are used as a commandment, the already-struggling listener hears just another reason to be ashamed of themselves.
The pain has now doubled from one of merely feeling down for whatever reason to feeling guilty for not knowing how to lift themselves up. Surely, God is disappointed in me for not believing that His joy is my strength.
What if I told you that that verse, and the concept of “being joyful,” are not commands. Its misuse as a shame-inducing reprimand completely contradicts the true and only point of its words.
All my life, I’ve been ruminating over a truth communicated to me as a child by my Uncle Tim: “God’s greatest desire is to be with you forever.” I didn’t know what it meant at the time, and to be truthful, I still don’t; but my Spirit knew that it was true when I first heard it. I suspect I will spend my life seeking to understand that reality more and more. Earlier this week while reading Soul of Shame by Curt Thompson, I encountered a break-through in that truth which, for perhaps the first time ever, enabled me to know God’s joy. Religion, legalism, unfounded tradition, misunderstanding, and, unfortunately, much of Christianity-culture has conditioned us to live under a works-based mandate even while we are taught to know and proclaim that nothing but the blood of Jesus saves us. We know that we have fallen into this thinking by virtue of how the joy of the Lord is discussed and used as means of telling you that you should do more.
That is so not the point.
As C.S. Lewis describes in Weight of Glory, “How God thinks of us is not only more important, [than how we think of Him] but infinitely more important.”
How does God think of us? These Scriptures answer our definition of joy and our quest for belonging:
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”
“But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.”
“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy...”
“He brought me out into a broad place, he rescued me, because he delighted in me.”
On and on the Bible roars again and again in truths, tales, parables and examples, “I WANT TO BE WITH YOU! I DELIGHT IN YOU!”
For me, Lewis surmises this truth best: “To please God…to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness…to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son, it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.”
This, this is our joy. This is what gives us strength. The acceptance of the ultimate truth that God’s joy is because of us. He feels delight because of us. He is waiting for us to get home so he can embrace us and say, “Well, DONE!” Why else would his angels, which praise Him without ceasing, rejoice over “one sinner who repents”? Knowing these realities makes sense of the title, “Weight of Glory.”
Before I finally grasped God’s joy, simply hearing the phrase “weight of glory” incited the same panic and shame mode so familiar to me that came along with the words, “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” The word ‘weight’ implied, (I thought,) that I had something to carry and feel burdened by, just as the word ‘strength’ reminded me how much I was lacking in that. But “glory, as Christianity teaches me to hope for it, turns out to satisfy my original desire and indeed to reveal an element in that desire which I had not noticed. By ceasing for a moment to consider my own wants I have begun to learn better what I really wanted” (Lewis 10).
Never let any person, worship song, teaching, prayer, bible study, or demon trick you into believing that feeling joy has anything to do with your responsibility. Joy is empowerment to be giddy with delight through the knowledge that God loves you, wants you, accepts you, and that’s it.
He created you to be with you. He made a way to be with you for all eternity. The whole narrative of the Bible is God swooping down and digging paths so He can fulfill His greatest desire of being with you forever. Let Him in and eat with Him, for you are known. Allow him to present you with His exceeding joy as He delights in you for all of the heavenly host to see.
This is how the joy of the Lord is your strength.
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