The Joy of the Lord is Your Strength…
Normally, if you ask someone how they’re doing they’ll list the three harshest difficulties they’re facing and end with a platitude about how that’s really all you can expect from life these days. The unfortunate part is that you’re as likely to hear the same thing from believers. Then there are believers that seem to be invincible. They can suffer great loss, injury, illness, strain, and pressure and not be moved. They can smile and help others genuinely while they themselves suffer personal tragedy or mind numbing physical pain. I immediately think of Peter walking out onto the water to meet Jesus; he was able to do something that was impossible for any human to do—walk on water in the midst of a raging storm—and his sole qualification was that he believed.
At the end of Nehemiah 8:10 God’s people are commanded, “Do not be sorry, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” When Jesus died on the cross and was risen again three days later He made the impossible reality of walking with God available to anyone who could believe it (Mark 9:23). Before, you needed to be born of the right lineage or present many sacrifices to have a relationship with God according to the law. Otherwise, you’d have no right to the peace of the God which surpasses all understanding. You couldn’t live from day to day with a shouting joy in your heart after you’d just lost a child, or suffered a bankruptcy, or received a terrible medical diagnosis. That kind of happiness has always been far beyond human strength. The Lord granted me once to see a believer survive what certainly should have been a tragic car accident and laugh that the accident had only granted him another testimony to share of God’s goodness. This believer’s laughter wasn’t the nervous laughter of a person who was struggling with the fact that he had just narrowly avoided death; this believer’s joy was not dependent on whether he lived or died.
Israel faced many hardships after the Lord delivered them out of Egypt. One of those difficulties were the bitter waters of Meribah. The waters at Meribah in Exodus chapter 17 were bitter to all of Israel but most of the Israelistes had forgotten the waters of the Red Sea that the Lord had parted only days earlier. Even after such a great display most of the Israelites didn’t believe that God’s intent was to do good to them and not evil. The bitter waters of Meribah weren’t a light thing—no water meant a million or more people, women, men, children, the elderly, would all die—and God provided, but unbelief caused most of the people to walk through a difficult time in an unnecessarily difficult way. A few of them did rejoice and laugh even in the face of severe dehydration and the only difference was that those few believed that God meant good for them even if it felt like they were going to die of thirst. It wasn’t that they were stronger Israelites then the rest. It was that the joy of the Lord was their strength.