Psalm 28:7 The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.
Do you know how many times I’ve received that pronouncement? A LOT!
It’s strange to hear and my mind struggles to manage two simultaneous thoughts.
First, “Wow! So my life is so terrible – you don’t even know how I can stand to be me.” And immediately, “Well, you’re wrong . . . I’m not that strong.”
I don’t think I’m alone in these reactions. I’ve noticed that many who receive the “strong person” label recognize we haven’t really earned it; partly because others just aren’t around to see the tears and hear our discouraged complaints, and partly because any strength we might have actually comes from an outside source.
Most people won’t venture ask about this source of strength – I think they are afraid to catch what I’ve got! But, a few people have risked curiosity, and I also know that many struggle with circumstances far too difficult for any person to bear – much more horrific than my own set of troubles. So . . . I’ll share my secret.
The joy of the Lord is my strength.
Believe it or not – that’s it…just some words from a song. This phrase actually does make one appearance in the Bible:
Nehemiah 8:10 “This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
But there is just not enough information here. How does that even work? What is the “joy of the Lord” anyway? Where would it come from? HOW would the joy of the Lord result in strength?
So, here are more seemingly contradictory and impossible verses to help clear things up.
Romans 15:13 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
I Thessalonians 1:6 “You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.”
James 1:2 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,”
That last verse has always seemed particularly unreasonable to me. I have always believed the best I could hope for would be to see the purposes of suffering after the fact . . . to consider actual trials as joy (pure joy to be exact) was just not realistic!
Two things, though, I see in these verses (and many others): Joy is given by the Holy Spirit in response to trust in the Lord; and joy is not just something we have after enduring the trial – it is something we have in the midst of suffering.
So then: Trusting in the Lord brings peace and joy. When we trust in the midst of trouble, the joy sustains us – and becomes our source of strength. God also warns He will take away joy when we fail to trust – particularly in good times – but that is another topic!
This is not merely academic stuff – this is how we survive life.
It’s not about “digging deep” and “thinking positive” and all that other “I can do this” nonsense. Positive thinking and determination can get us through some tough situations, to be sure, but when life is just too unbearable to go on and we come to the end of our own resources, that’s when we realize the only place to go is to God.
Ironically, many of us get angry at God about this time. We complain, blame, try to control, and everything just about the opposite of trust. And anger robs us of peace and joy and the strength to endure.
I actually started writing this a while ago, but decided I needed to finish after a recent traumatic weekend. I’ll tell you about it to illustrate how this can work.
My husband’s health, mental and physical, has declined rapidly over the past year. (That story here) He has become increasingly despondent about the “burden” he places on our family. We had a very scary couple of days when he recently struck out on his own, got lost, and ended up in an emergency room about 60 miles from home. Given his struggles and state of mind, we were very worried about him for about 24 hours until we got him back home.
Let me be clear, that 24 hours was NOT fun. It was stressful and exhausting. But, having been through one or two stressful and exhausting events in the past, and in the midst of writing this, I decided to try this trust thing out and immediately surrendered the situation to God, or trusted in the Lord. I felt so liberated knowing Caleb’s welfare was out of my hands! I prayed for wisdom and made plans according to what seemed best, even knowing that things might not go the way I would prefer, but having a peaceful confidence no matter what happened, that God’s will would be done, that God loves Caleb even more than I do, that God loves and cares for me…and yes, there was even joy.
Now, I don’t want a repeat performance of that weekend! But I suspect I have a few more traumas ahead before we find some resolution. And so I choose to live day by day:
Day by day, and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He whose heart is kind beyond all measure,
Gives unto each day what He deems best,
Lovingly its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.
Every day the Lord Himself is near me,
With a special mercy for each hour;
All my cares He fain would bear and cheer me,
He whose name is Counselor and Pow’r.
The protection of His child and treasure
Is a charge that on Himself He laid;
“As thy days, thy strength shall be in measure,”
This the pledge to me He made.
Help me then, in every tribulation,
So to trust Thy promises, O Lord,
That I lose not faith’s sweet consolation,
Offered me within thy Holy Word.
Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting,
E’er to take, as from a father’s hand,
One by one, the days, the moments fleeting,
Till I reach the Promised Land.