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Rejoicing: Joy as Strength

(This is a continuation of the Three Essential Habits series – an excerpt from an upcoming chivalry devotional.)

“For this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” -Nehemiah 8:10

The New Testament commands us to “rejoice evermore.” What does this really mean, what are some ways this can fortify us, and how can hope help us move forward in joy?

What is the Joy of the Lord? It is more than carnal merriment. It is holy joy, “joy of the Lord” described in the passage. It is a gladness over our spiritual state as redeemed people. There is no news greater than the gospel, the proclamation that the absolute worst thing possible to happen to us (eternity in hell) has been assuredly and permanently averted by Christ’s great work. This ought to make us glad. The spiritual joy described in Scripture (as C.S. Lewis is famous for observing) is a longing sort of joy also. It is the sweet pang of hopeful yearning we have for a better land, a better life made certain to us by Christ. 

How does Joy make us strong? One of the biggest ways joy imparts strength is by giving us courage. Christian joy assures our souls that we’ve already won the most cosmically important battle in life. So what do we have to be afraid of now? Read Romans 8:31-35, and you’ll find these thoughts echoed in different terms. If God is for us we should rejoice instead of be afraid.  

Joy gives us good reason to obey God. Obedience is stronger when flowing from a stream of delight in God and his ways than it is from a dark stream of dread. Matthew Henry (commenting on Nehemiah 8:10) noted, “Holy joy will be oil on the wheels of our obedience.” The indelible, permanent aspect of heavenly joy gives us reason to carry on. This is true, even when we’re talking about picking up the pieces of our own broken lives and moving forward with them. Matthew Henry reminds us that the context of Nehemiah 8:10 is one of repentance, of Israel rediscovering God’s law and being fearful of it: “Even sorrow for sin must not hinder our joy in god, but rather lead us to it and prepare us for it.”

Joy is good for us. “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones” -Proverbs 17:22. In Christian joy we can see echoes of the holy hilarity of Heaven. Joy is rooted in God’s character, and in our makeup as his creatures. He’s made us in such a way that it’s good for us to be joyful. Here we may be speaking even more broadly than a spiritual, ethereal joy. The good God our Father loves us, and He wants us to be merry whenever appropriate. He wants the default state of our hearts to be one of happiness, not one of gloom. He wants, nay, he commands us to be ready in our hearts to be joyful even in the gloomiest of physical or emotional circumstances. 

Christian Joy gives us a mission. We become knights in Christ’s train when he saves us, and we have the honor of serving him and furthering his mission on Earth today. We have something to love for. The heavenly joy wrought by the gospel gives us the ultimate chivalric quest! Christian Joy helps us focus on the quest to glorify and enjoy God. It sees so clearly the infinite value of the work of Christ that every lesser thing shrinks in proportion. And it paradoxically enhances our enjoyment of lesser things because we can innocently rejoice in them through Christ. 

Hope and Extraspection. “Why are thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted in me? Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.” -Psalm 42:11. Here we read the twin passage to the last verse, in David’s remarkable demonstration of pulling himself from an emotional low point to rejoice in God. Two practical ways to manufacture joy in our hearts come to light.  

We get Joy by looking ahead in Hope. David calls himself to “hope in God” instead of despairing in his circumstances. Faith, looking ahead to good things not yet seen, is the basis of our joy. Like David exiled at Jordan, even in the worst times in our lives, we have a steel-solid, unkillable, indelibly sure hope of eternal bliss with Christ to look forward to. Remind yourself of this frequently: even should the very worst thing you can imagine happen, you still have the ultimate victory in Christ over sin and death, and only eternal bliss to look forward to in the future. “If God is for us, who can stand against us?” (Romans 8:31). Hope of eternal joy is a great motive for joy in the battle of this life now. As the anonymous author of the Ordene de Chevalerie wrote:

“That coming to the end of all
We to good ending may befall,
And win unending joyance then
Which hath no end for righteous men.”[i]

Whatever you are walking through right now – bad circumstances, crushing guilt or a clinging habit you battle again and again – it may be incredibly hard. But there is happiness waiting on the other side if you can just hold on and keep fighting for a little while longer. And it is this ability of hope to sustain our joy even in suffering which makes it an indispensable part of chivalric courage. It is the emotional basis for fortitude. It gives us an iron will. Ramon Lull went as far as to say that “hope is the principle instrument to the office of knighthood, as the hand of a carpenter is the principle instrument of carpentry.”[ii]

We get Joy by looking outside of ourselves. So much of depression and joylessness is rooted in selfish introspection. What we need to be joyful people, is to look outward and upward, instead of inward. We need more “extraspection” in our lives if we are to bath ourselves in joy. Forgetting yourself is perhaps the key to much of the battle against joylessness. “If self were to furnish comfort, we should have but poor provender,” Charles Spurgeon wrote of Psalm 42:6.[iii] As Christians we are called to fight for joy by forgetting our misery in worshipful thoughts of our God, and caring acts toward others. That’s why action, just doing something, is a useful way to fight for joy.

The Japanese have a theory that depression is best defeated by action (called Morita therapy). Forgetting ourselves and our woes by working on something physical (even something simple) can be a great antidote to the introspective despair that Satan often attacks us with. This is exactly what chivalry would say as well. It teaches us to be Christian servants, it rouses us to action, which leaves behind morose reflection.

Are you depressed about your world, or despairing about your own faults? Remember God forgives you in Christ, then go out and do good things! Romans 13:12-14 preaches something similar.

There is no time for despair. The night is gone. God’s bright day is at hand. Let us then put on his armor and merrily rush out to do good acts of chivalry! 

[i] Price, Brian. Ramon Lull’s Book of Knighthood and Chivalry & the Anonymous Ordene de Chevalerie. The Chivalry Bookshelf. 2001
[ii] Price, Brian. Ramon Lull’s Book of Knighthood and Chivalry. The Chivalry Bookshelf. 2001. P. 79
[iii] Spurgeon, Charles. The Treasury of David, Vol. 1. Hendrickson Publishers. Peabody, MA. 1984 P. 273

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