Beautiful Between

living fully in the now & not yet

Why everyone is wrong about “the joy of the Lord”

After weeks of working, trying to make it better, trying to bring restoration, they finally heard the word of God. The priest read and the Levites explained the meaning for hours, filling in huge gaps in Israel’s collective memory.

They have come to rebuild and inhabit Jerusalem after long, hard years of exile. And now, as they hear of the promises and requirements of God, their hearts are torn. They begin to weep tears of deep grief, this crowd of people shaking with sobs. We have been so far from the Lord. We have broken every promise we’ve made to Him.

In those days, that grief would have been mixed with fear. Because they had broken their end of the covenant, God was freed from His: He was no longer bound to His word to care for and protect them. With enemies surrounding and God’s protection removed, they would have realized how dangerous their position was.

What will become of us?

But the priest and leaders soothed the people. Don’t be grieved, they said. Don’t mourn or weep or lament. The joy of the Lord is your strength.

Instead of a day for fear and grief, it was a day to celebrate, to make sure everyone could participate in the festivities. And, just like that, the people stopped weeping. They went on their way and celebrated.


This story strikes me because of the sudden change. One moment, they’re wailing. Somebody tells them, “Don’t be sad or afraid. The joy of the Lord is your strength,” so they just stop.

We’ve heard this before, haven’t we?

We’re heartbroken, afraid, upset. Our hearts are being wrung out like old dish rags with legitimate, palpable pain. And someone tells us to not be upset because the joy of the Lord is our strength.

But what does that even mean?

For so long, I thought “The joy of the Lord is your strength” meant that I was always supposed to “be joyful” and that would make me strong. But I couldn’t make it work.

I never figured out how to summon enough joy to be strong. I still struggled and felt like I was drowning in my problems. I figured if I couldn’t choose joy on the inside, I needed to show it on the outside regardless of how I felt.

But that didn’t work out, either, as I found myself unable to perform and pretend constantly. Sometimes, life was hard and I couldn’t even muster the “joy” to hide how I was really feeling.

Is this what God actually wants? Or do we have it all wrong? What if the priest was saying something different?

It turns out that word for strength can mean so much more. It’s not about muscles or power or even emotional fortitude. It can mean a refuge, a stronghold, a safe place. It’s a fortress, a harbor, a protected place.

And joy? It’s the same word for “gladness.” In other words, happiness.

God’s gladness is your refuge.

God’s happiness is your safe place.

God’s joy is your fortress.

God’s delight is your stronghold.

It hit me hard, reading and wondering: what if the Israelites heard “God’s joy in you is your protection”?

Maybe they heard something like this:

I know you’re hearing all of this Scripture and you’re afraid and overwhelmed. I know all you can think of is everything wrong you’ve done and how you’ve broken every one of God’s perfect rules.

But don’t weep and wail and mourn. God delights in you. He finds joy in you. And that happiness He has in you, His children? It’s a refuge, a hiding place, a shelter and safety from the storm.


I think of my sister and my wild whirligig of a niece. She’s two-and-a-half, teeming with energy and enough mischief to keep my introvert sister constantly on her toes.

My sister constantly tells me how naughty and hilarious this kid is. She can’t help but laugh when she finds a handful of paperclips at the bottom of her morning coffee.

Like any good mama, my sister finds her kids deeply delightful, even when they’re breaking rules and causing trouble. She doesn’t punish them harshly for doing something wrong because she just wants to help them grow.

That’s true for all of us with those we delight in.

When we’re frustrated or hurt, the deep current of joy in our heart for them shields them from how we otherwise might react.

That’s God’s response to me, to you, to all of us.

God doesn’t want to punish you.

He isn’t irritated with you.

He’s not disappointed in you.

He delights in you.

Like those Israelites, we sit in awareness of our failures, dreading punishment that we expect for breaking the rules.

But when you mess up, break the rules, put paperclips in the coffee out of curiosity or mischief or whatever, He’s not waiting there to punish you.

So don’t weep and mourn. Don’t grieve.

You fill His heart with joy. And His joy is your hiding place.

Want more joy?

I'm working on something to help you find it in every season. Enter your email to join my weekly newsletter. You'll hear all about this and other fun updates!

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit

17 Replies

  1. Sky

    This was absolutely beautiful amd just what I needed to hesr right now. Thanks for sharing ❤

  2. Janet Robinson

    My sweet daughter-in-law, Sarah. You’ve hit another home run! Your writing is profound. Isn’t God’s love amazing? Thank you for this.

  3. Jen Baynes

    Great article Sarah! 🙂

  4. Mary P. Nettles

    I’m constantly amazed at how your words touch me right when I need it. Strength can mean a safe place, fortress, stronghold, or refuge is something I never head before and need to hear to silence all those negative thoughts about how imperfect I am. Thank you.

  5. Linda

    Often joy is in the heart, especially during difficult times. Others don’t see happy and a few assume there is no joy.

    1. Kim

      Hard when you just want to give up and die- can’t seem to get life right

      1. Hey Kim,

        It is hard when you feel overwhelmed by depression and feel like you just want to give up and die. You’re absolutely right about that! This article is just one tiny piece of the puzzle – the things that have helped me most when I’ve felt like I wanted to give up were first knowing that God isn’t going to abandon me in my hurt, but then doing the really practical things, like going to therapy, taking medication, trying to get some gentle exercise (which is hard when you don’t have any motivation), and making gratitude lists/reminding myself of good things in my journal. I know a lot of those things seem almost too simple, but over time they do add up to help immensely if we do them consistently.

        Please take good care of yourself, Kim. You are worth whatever it takes to get better!

  6. You have given me a new perspective on the scripture and ignited a curiosity in me to dig deeper into how Gid really feels about me. I love your wisdom! Thanks Sarah!!!

  7. Thank you. This was lovely. I didn’t know this scripture referred to God’s joy in ME!!!
    (You don’t mind if I research that a little, do you??). ?
    And your reference to your sister and her child is just plain PERFECT. I understand! And I am grateful ?!

  8. Gary LA

    “About Sarah – Hi, I’m Sarah. I love coffee, pancakes and street tacos. I’m a learner, a traveler and a creative mess. I’ve got a thing for redemption and seeing broken people living beautiful lives. That’s the story I’ve lived, and the one I want for you. Let’s be friends!” == Hi Sarah I’m Gary 75yo male painfully ill disabled SSI welfare recipient facing terrifying homelessness abandonment & death in city streets of unaffordable greedy inhospitable Los Angeles, suffered 2 lifetime TBIs with relentless around the clock painful brain TBI dysphoria syndrome causing serious considerations of suicide from extremely dire hopeless life circumstances, but like you as a creative mess I too love coffee and yet do not see much of any evidence of “God’s Love or Joy or Redemption” anywhere around at all except on TV amongst the very fortunate rich safe secure famous affluent and yet cannot consider my extremely depressing life threatening situation as anything like nebulous mental suicidal depression at all but as a real life tragic terrifying horror story of one of millions of “broken people” fallen helplessly into hopeless poverty by a super selfish ruthless inhospitable greedy price gouging extortion committing US population of very fortunate property owners landlords and CEOs who only care about their own ever soaring profits. So I can’t see how or why you want this “broken people” story living horrible terrifying hopeless but socalled “beautiful lives” for anyone really and also want to be friends!?!? And how does God and Religion and Redemption care and bear upon us “broken people” living painful hopeless terrifying unsurvivable but so-called “beautiful lives” I wonder??? Maybe I’m just too tired exhausted and worn out I guess to appreciate or understand that “God isn’t waiting to punish” me but it sure feels like it. Nevertheless Thankyou for your very interesting very complex views on suicide!!!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.