Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. (Nehemiah 8:10, NASB)
Like any good parent, my wife and I take time to coach our kids in proper table etiquette. We tell our girls a princess should always sit up straight and never use hands but always their utensils at the table (unless of course it’s pizza!). We know they’re just kids and learning and still have a ways to go. The Coronavirus pandemic has given us new incentive to practice proper hygiene—the kids have the handwashing part down pat and are making steady strides when it comes to not touching their faces. We remind them gently about good manners, although they occasionally show frustration.
So we decided that whenever we bring up appropriate hygiene with the kids, we’ll use it as an opportunity for memorizing a new Scripture verse. We recently encouraged them, whenever they feel frustrated, to recite Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through him who gives me strength” (NIV). I also let them know that this is one of my mom’s favorite verses. She would often remind us when we doubted ourselves, to look to Him as our strength. By the expression on their faces, I can see they’re catching on. To fill the picture in, I remind little Katarina that she was named after her grammy—her middle name comes from my mom’s first name, “Joy.”
In the Bible, the joy and strength of the Lord are integrally joined. God’s joy helps us, indeed, acts as the means through which we’re able to do anything through His strength. In the book of Nehemiah, we read of the priest Ezra delivering the book of the Law to the Hebrews in Jerusalem. The period in Israelite history following the Babylonian exile was a time of renewal and restoration. When the Hebrew people returned to Jerusalem, they set to task first rebuilding the Temple, and subsequently, the surrounding Temple walls. After the walls were completed, Ezra challenged the people of the holy city to reconsecrate themselves to Yahweh’s covenant. This seemed like an incredibly daunting task. Given their long history of rebellion, they feared they’d be unable to uphold the standard of God revealed in the Law. Lest they grieve beyond despair, Ezra reassures them that “this day is holy”—a day of remembering the favor of God in saving His people from slavery and exile. With this realization, Ezra ensures them, “the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
As God’s people call to mind his unfaltering favor, even amid trial and despair, they’re able to experience His joy. The joy of the Lord will help us accomplish more than we thought possible. Like the Law of God, the standard imposed by national governments to social distance and observe sanitary precautions can seem overwhelming. Yet, the new protocols are meant for our good, to prevent further spread of a disease that’s traversed the world in a matter of months, claiming untold travesty.
When you and your children grow weary from tedious hygiene standards, remind yourself and your little ones that they needn’t grieve nor be frustrated. God has saved you from your faults and hardships in the past, and He’ll deliver you again. Let His joy be your strength to carry on.