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 (NIV)
And from Psalm 126:
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.
Restore our fortunes, Lord,
like streams in the Negev.
Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.
The joy of the Lord does not spring from us, but from the action and character of God. We are aware of being built up by that joy when we are conscious of it. But sometimes we are not conscious of it.
First, we are not conscious of it because we do not see the actions of God. We are blinded by the events that swirl around us. We are like a spectator sitting in a crowd watching a play behind someone with a large hat. We know something worth watching is down there; we just can't see it. We have faith that a play is going on, but we cannot testify to it. Or we are like one whose vision is unobstructed, but whose ability to perceive what is seen is hampered. We see a remarkable event but do not understand it is remarkable. With a nod to C.S. Lewis, we see an ordinary human being where others see a wondrous creature made in the image of God. We see an ordinary worship assembly where someone else sees myriads of angels gathered around the throne with an extraordinary crowd of witnesses joining in joyful assembly.
Secondly, we at times are not conscious of the joy of the Lord because we do not understand the character of God. Fundamental to understanding God is a belief in his goodness and faithfulness. If we constantly doubt his goodness, we are prone to say “what are you doing!?” and “where are you in all this?!” This feeling that God is either faithless or fickle causes us to be unstable when difficulty comes our way. We don't know how to stand firm because we don't see a place where we can stand firm. We don't appreciate that the joy of the Lord is available regardless of our ability to understand it or to even perceive it.
Must we perceive it? I have framed my thoughts so far on the “consciousness” of the joy of the Lord or of the “awareness” that we stand on his actions and character. Could someone be strengthened by the joy of the Lord even if not aware? I'm firmly convinced that this is true. At times we come to God in faith, and at times we are brought to God through the faith of others. But always we are there by the faithfulness and goodness of God. Our stamina is too short, our strength too small, our arms too short, to grasp the goodness and joy of the Lord. We sense highs and lows, success and failure, where the Good Father sees a constant lifting. We are rising into communion with God through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. What a joyful thing to be aware of this gift! But the key to the gift is not our personal feeling of joy, but the joy and delight of the Lord. It is God's joy to strengthen and save us.