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“…do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

It’s one of the more famous verses in the Bible. We put it on t-shirts, social media posts, songs, and poems. But do we know where it comes from?

I’ll be honest, I didn’t remember. Had to look it up. It’s from Nehemiah 8. Again, speaking honestly, I don’t spend a lot of time in Nehemiah. I heard it spoken on a podcast and decided to check out the context. So, after Israel had made its way back from captivity and had decided to rebuild Jerusalem. Specifically, the wall around the city. But after they finished the wall, and more Israelites returned to their territory, the prophets began to re-establish God’s authority among them.

That included reading the Law. Here’s a little something you need to know about Old Testament Law. It was nearly impossible to keep in full. People messed up all the time, but it established a steady system of justice and morality that guided Israel as they continued to grow as a nation.

But this time, the Law humbled Israel. Big time. To the point that they realized how far they had fallen from the close relationship they used to have with God, and they were totally ashamed of it. Shame led to sadness, and sadness led to grief. If grief isn’t held in check and doesn’t spark the healing process, it can be dangerous.

So, the prophet Nehemiah looks out at his people, who are in pain. Not unlike our own country today. As believers, it’s easy to look around and fall into a sense of grief, frustration, and hopelessness. It’s humbling. Because we tout ourselves as the greatest country in the world, and in many respects, we are. But in many others, we aren’t. Our current circumstances are pointing out our flaws in a way that is sobering.

But rather than let them sink into hopelessness, Nehemiah says those famous words: “And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Joy. It seems like a lost art form at this point. Being quarantined for months on end and watching our cities burn will do that. But as believers in Jesus, we aren’t without the tools necessary for hope. We have been given strength, because God has given us joy. Joy in knowing that the ultimate outcome is going to be for the betterment of His people. Joy in knowing that love will win out. Joy in knowing that even in the midst of chaos, He is still in control.

As the world continues to fall apart, Christians should have one thing in common: Joy. Dallas Willard is quoted as saying that joy is “a pervasive and constant state of well-being”. Joy is ours regardless of our circumstances. And yes, our circumstances seem dire.

But the joy of the Lord is our strength.