As we begin this final week of looking at the connection between joy and strength, my heart is heavy for my city. We have called the "Queen City" home, as residents of Charlotte say, for the past year. Returning to the States, we had the option to live wherever we chose. The last place on earth I thought we might land was Charlotte. At the time, it was not on our radar. Yet, here we are.
We found two acres in the heart of Mecklenburg County and with some persuasion from family and friends, we decided to give it a try. My viking-man longs for the mountains, and although he escapes often to the nearby Asheville wilderness, he still longs to escape this metropolis.
But for now, we call Charlotte home, and our home is in a state of unrest. Charlotte is not the only city; our country is also unsettled. The U.S. our family returned to after living in the U.K. for two years, is not the same country we left. And my heart hurts as I watch all the pain, anger, and despair played out in the riots of our city, a few miles away.
Thousands of years ago, the Israelites also returned home to a country much different from the one they had left before. For years they were exiles in the land of Babylon. Finally, the Jews were given permission to leave Babylon and return to Jerusalem.
The Israelites waited years to return to their country. Some were unable to go because age had caught up with them, some had assimilated into the Babylonian culture so deeply, like Daniel, that a return was not in their story. But for those Jews who chose to go back, it was like a second Exodus. This time they were returning to build the Temple.
When they arrived in their beloved city, they found it in ruins, the walls were destroyed. The opposition to rebuild was fierce, but in the midst of their weariness, Nehemiah encouraged his people with the key to strength:
"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)
Strength to rebuild, strength to love, strength for the weary comes from joy. The joy of the LORD.
May we find this joy in our weary spirits. May we find this joy in our broken cities. May we find this joy as His kingdom comes to earth.
Enjoy This World
Miroslav Volf in his book, Flourishing, writes, "Attachment to God amplifies and deepens enjoyment of the world."
When you are so weary and need the strength to carry on, attachment to God carries you across the finish line.
When you are so broken and find no hope in the current state of your world, clinging to the Lord is the only refuge of strength we have.
The vehicle of receiving this strength is His word. God speaks His promises and unfolds His nature within the pages He breathed upon. The more we know about Him and His ways, the more attached we become to Him.
When Nehemiah told his people the joy of the Lord would be their strength, the people were in the midst of hearing His Word read aloud to them for the first time in years. They were weeping as His truth poured over their ears, but Nehemiah asked them to adjust emotional gears. He encouraged them to receive the joy of the Lord and move on in the power of His strength.
The joy of the Lord empowers us to overcome any emotions, discouragement, or doubt we may feel.
In his book, The Strength You Need, Robert J. Morgan writes,
"When we cry out to God for strength, He gives us His Word ... that brings a surge of joy, which imparts the strength needed to bear the burdens, fulfill the work, and finish the job."
The more we know His Word, the more we will savor the beauty of this world and push forward in strength.
Run Like Lions
The other day we were driving in the car listening to Skillet and the song "Lions" came over the airwaves, "Today we know that we are strong when we are weak."
Brielle, my deep soul-thinker, said "That's not true. We can't be strong when we are weak." And so for the next ten minutes I tried to theologically explain to her six-year old mind how with Christ, we can be strong when we are weak.
And so I see a generation rising on the wings of eagles, walking as lions, strong in the joy of the Lord.
He is our joy. He is our revival. And when we are so weary and need the strength to carry on, He will renew our strength.