There is a powerful scripture passage in the book of Nehemiah that many of us have heard from the pulpit, seen on wall hangings, or listened to in songs from our favorite Christian artists. It is the beautiful line in Chapter 8, verse 10 which states: "the joy of the Lord is your strength".
For many years this passage shot straight over my head, as if it were meant for someone else - and held little meaning for me. Then one day, I got it. I heard it at the core of my being. His joy would carry me and be my strength in thick and thin, good times and bad. How is that possible? He was calling me to understand this teaching in a deeper, faith-filled light.
Time and time again during the months that followed I heard or saw the word "joy" come at me, and it forced me to really meditate on why this gift of joy from God was our strength. What did that mean? Why was it so important?
Praying with this scripture, I began to understand that true, deep and lasting joy can only come from one source - an intimate relationship with the Lord. This gift of joy can not be duplicated by great wealth, tremendous power or worldly fame. Even our closest relationships with loved ones can not substitute for the joy that the Spirit of God offers us from the treasury of His graces.
It wasn't until almost a year later that I specifically remember learning the difference betweenjoy and happiness. Happiness comes from a general pleasing of the senses or desires in the moment. It can come from a great cup of coffee on a sunny morning while we are relaxing at the kitchen table, or burst forth from a friendly conversation with a neighbor that has a great sense of humor. It can be a reaction to a funny movie that brings laughter and a smile to our face, or even dive in unexpectedly when discovering a surprise sale at our favorite book store. Happiness can come from a thousand external sources throughout each day, bringing us a temporary great feeling and relief from the stressors of the day. It is a wonderful emotion that causes us to put away the struggles of life in the moment..... but it is fleeting.
Joy is very different in its lasting effects and its true source. The ultimate foundation of all true joy comes only from God, Himself. It is a gift that is freely given from our Beloved Giver, poured out in proportion to the openness of our hearts, and wrapped in an unquenchable love. When we are able to drink deeply from true joy, there is no tragedy on earth that can destroy it. Difficult days at work or harsh words from a friend will not drown it. The struggles within our human relationships won't pry it out of us, nor will the failure of our own efforts in our daily endeavors. Even in the midst of great sorrow from the loss of a loved one, we are able to hold on to the grace of His joy - as it is a fruit of the Spirit of God, Himself. While it may be very difficult to be happy in tragic or harsh circumstances, the peace and joy of the Lord can live vibrantly in a heart that is grieving or suffering through intense struggles.
With this focus on our hearts, I share with you another journal entry. This one was a recent entry written as our group was studying the powerful formation series of Fr. Robert Barron entitled, Seven Deadly Sins, Seven Lively Virtues **. As I was reading one of the scripture passages suggested in the workbook, (Col 3:12-13), it was the two words, "holy" and "beloved" that seemed anointed for me. I felt called to look up these words and their understood meanings in the dictionary. I like using the 1825 version of Noah Webster's dictionary online, and here is what it said:
Holy - consecrated or set apart to a sacred use, or to the service or worship of God. It was on this point that I sensed the Holy Spirit had something to reveal, and here is what I felt He spoke to my heart:
My precious daughter, to you I hold out this gift, embraced by My love and My truth - and that is the grace to be consecrated to Me, to be set apart from the world so that every thought, every word and every deed is done for Me, through Me and with Me. This grace in its fullest form contains the joy of doing all things for Holy Love, no matter where or why or when you are going about your daily duty. This grace is My gift to you, and all you need do is receive it. The more you surrender to its blessing, the more you shall recognize the treasures that lie within - that your joy may be complete.
You are My joy......
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I pray for this precious gift for each of us, that we will receive the grace to be consecrated to Him - holy and set apart - and that we may receive His joy in its fullest measure!
John 15:11 "I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete."