The first words I sang during worship in church this past Sunday were, “We stand and lift up our hands, for the joy of the Lord is our strength”. I have wrestled with this verse about joy so many times since my middle son passed away a year and a half ago. I’ve been angry over it, thankful for it, threw it out the window, retrieved it, pondered the meaning of it, and just decided I have no idea what it means. I have lived, to the best of my ability, by the Word of God for many years. I’ve spoken it to myself and others often over the years. But, I have wrestled with it over and over for the past 19 months like I haven’t ever before. In addition, I have believed my feelings over my conviction like I haven’t ever before. I have told myself and others that feelings are always secondary to the truth of God’s Word, but I see myself waiting to feel like this scripture passage is true. I’ve felt it was true in the past, and believed that feeling indicated faith. What a hypocrite I have been, and still am. But, God is always faithful to us, whether we feel like it or not.
As I obediently lifted my hands in praise to God and sang “the joy of the Lord is my strength”, He gently spoke to my heart and said, “That is truth. A fact.” As I mused on this statement and marveled at the revelation it was to me I realized it IS a fact. It is a truth for the believer. The joy of the Lord is my strength. That doesn’t mean I have the strength of the Lord if I am feeling His joy. Or that I have to be joyful to have His strength. It is His joy that gives me strength. What an amazing truth. God’s joy – and isn’t it fun to know that God possesses joy?- is the strength of my life. His joy. Not mine. His joy is not related to my circumstances. It is one of His attributes; one I don’t often meditate on, but should. I think it could be said that the joy of the Lord being my strength is a state of being, not something that happens at certain times in my life, and related to my happiness. It is a state of being, thanks only to the great I Am.
My husband and I had a conversation a few days ago about blessing, another word I have had a difficult time with since the passing of our middle son. I have said many times that I am blessed, and I am. And, I am very thankful for the blessings God has bestowed upon us. But, when I hear others say they, or their loved ones, are blessed when their grandparents or parents live to a ripe old age, or a person walks away from a car accident they should have died in, or an adult child who is making unwise decisions still experiences good fortune (and the list can go on and on), it is like salt in the wound. I don’t begrudge anyone good fortune. I am thankful when someone is blessed. I’m having to rethink my definition of “blessed”, though. It has to mean more than what we consider good fortune. My son, a very good man, making (mostly) good decisions, trying his best to be an upright citizen, died in a stupid car accident. I don’t feel so blessed.
I expressed these thoughts and feelings to my loving and wise hubby and he said what we have both thought and discussed many times in the past several months, that we don’t really understand what being blessed means. He reminded me of Matthew 5, the Beatitudes. Blessed. Jesus says that word nine times in the first 12 verses of this chapter. We all know it well. I just reread it to be sure my memory of it is correct and skimmed right over most of it before I realized I was doing that, because I’ve read it so many times. I think I totally zoned out when I got to verse 4 – “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” What on earth? Does it really say, “Blessed are those who mourn”? What a paradoxical statement. I’ve always associated being blessed with being happy. As one who has been mourning for the past 19 months, I can assure you that I haven’t felt blessed in it.
I look to three or four places when I am in search of a word’s meaning – Yahoo or Google, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, and a version of the Bible that has definitions, like the NASB Study Bible or the Amplified Bible. I realize, as I’m trying to understand the word “blessed” on a deeper level, that I have carelessly accepted certain definitions of it, like “happy” or “fortunate”. I’ve often wondered, though, why we say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”; and of course, why does Matthew 5 say, “Blessed are those who mourn.”? Confusing, indeed. So, I began my search for more understanding of this obscure word in my own memory bank, remembering that I had read, in the Amplified Bible, that blessed can mean – happy, prosperous, fortunate, to be envied. I next went to the on-line dictionary, and my eyes began to open a bit more as I found this simple and succinct definition of blessed – made holy; consecrated. Ahhh, I think I’m beginning to understand “blessed are those who mourn” a bit more. Next, I look up the passage Dan and I were discussing, Matthew 5, in the Amplified Bible. Now I might be getting somewhere.
“When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and when He was seated, His disciples came to Him. Then He began to teach them, saying,
“Blessed (spiritually prosperous, happy, to be admired) are the poor in spirit (those devoid of spiritual arrogance, those who regard themselves as insignificant), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (both now and forever).
“Blessed (forgiven, refreshed by God’s grace) are those who mourn (over their sins and repent), for they will be comforted (when the burden of sin is lifted).
“Blessed (inwardly peaceful, spiritually secure, worthy of respect) are the gentle (the kind-hearted, the sweet-spirited, the self-controlled), for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed (joyful, nourished by God’s goodness) are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (those who actively seek right-standing with God), for they will be (completely) satisfied.
“Blessed (content, sheltered by God’s promises) are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed (anticipating God’s presence, spiritually mature) are the pure in heart (those with integrity, moral courage, and godly character) for they will see God.
“Blessed (spiritually calm with life-joy in God’s favor) are the makers and maintainers of peace, for they will (express His character and) be called the sons of God.
“Blessed (comforted by inner peace and God’s love) are those who are persecuted for doing that which is morally right, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (both now and forever).
“Blessed (morally courageous and spiritually alive with life-joy in God’s goodness) are you when people insult you and persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil things against you because of (your association with) Me. Be glad and exceedingly joyful, for your reward in heaven is great (absolutely inexhaustible); for in this same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:1-12
I have been a Christian for going on 40 years, and have considered myself a student of the Bible all those years. How have I never known (or retained the knowledge) that it is God’s joy, not mine, that is my strength? And, why am I just now beginning to wonder what “blessed” means?!?
My husband concluded our conversation about the meaning of the word “blessed” with a statement that I have been meditating on since he said it – “being blessed is a state of being”. It is who we are. It is not what we have or can acquire, or how we feel – whether we are joyful or not – it is not based on our circumstances at all. It is the Christian’s state of being. I have Jesus. “I am my beloved’s and He is mine; His banner over me is love.”. I am blessed.
“Blessed be the Lord, Because He has heard the voice of my supplication. The Lord is my strength and my shield; My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped; Therefore my heart exults, And with my song I shall thank Him. The Lord is the strength of His people, And He is a refuge of salvation.” Psalm 28:6-8