for the joy

“. . . for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

That snippet of scripture runs through my head over and over. As Grandpa is in the hospital,[1] as Grandma is on hospice, as nine people are gunned down while praying, as friends watch one of their newborn twins die—as the week unfolds in hard upon horror upon agony—those words slip through the static.

And when they do I am back in a blue-walled, un-air-conditioned sanctuary in inner city Philadelphia. It’s a steamy, hot July day fifteen years ago, and the words are coming out of the mouth of a puppet named Job, accompanied by a guitar and energetic day campers. It’s always the setting for those words. Always.

But today I read the words and the soundtrack stopped. The singing of the children faded away as I noticed the beginning of the sentence: “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”[2]

Do not be grieved.

There is reason to grieve. Reasons are piling up by the minute. Grieving is necessary. The pain and loss is real. But it is not the end.

Even in the face of death—in a setting different from the one in which the words were first declared—strength can still be found. Not in retribution or even justice. Not in peace or resignation. No. Strength comes in a more disarming fashion: joy.

“. . . for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

I need that strength. I need that joy. I need that God.


[1] He is now rehabilitating out of the hospital.
[2] Nehemiah 8:10 (ESV)

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