Many of us are familiar with Nehemiah’s words, ‘The joy of the Lord is your strength’, but it’s quite a challenge to us, as Christians, for the essence of this little phrase to be a living reality in our lives. I’ve often berated myself with Scripture in the past, beating myself with it when I’ve been going through a particularly tough time. I would say to myself, “The joy of the Lord is my strength. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. For a time, when I was clinically depressed, I had, ‘This is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it’ stuck on my dressing table mirror (Psalm 118:24).
Of course, it’s right to encourage ourselves with God’s Word. It’s one of the very reasons He’s given it to us. He doesn’t want us to sink under the weight of our problems and be consumed with negativity that can so sap our strength.
But I’ve learnt, and am still learning, that it’s the way I use His Word to encourage myself that really makes a difference. Paul tells us in Romans 8:1, ‘There’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’. God doesn’t want us to condemn and rail at ourselves, using Scripture as a means of somehow trying to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps.
He cares about our circumstances and the struggles and difficulties we might be experiencing. So rather than try and push them away or override them with His Word, He wants Scripture to be an encouragement that builds us up right in the midst of whatever we’re facing, so that we don’t become drained and exhausted, but receive strength through the joy of belonging to Him and knowing we are truly loved by Him, so that we can press on through the problems and the battles, knowing He’s there with us.
How did I move from beating myself up with Scripture to allowing it to encourage me? One thing the Lord taught me was to follow David’s example in Psalm 42:5. He tenderly spoke in to himself, ‘Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God!’ (Psalm 42:5) As I do that too, the anointing of the Holy Spirit comes, and rather than going back into a cycle of: striving and overriding, failing, feeling deflated and picking myself up and trying again, I find my spirit rising, strength comes, and I can progress to warmly speaking more of God’s truth to myself as follows, “Take joy in the Lord Jesus … this is a tough time I’m walking through, but God’s at work. He will use even these difficulties to work everything together for good.”
Prayer: Father God, thank You for giving us the Bible, especially to encourage us when the going is tough. Please help me not to beat myself up with Your Word, but to learn to feed on it and allow it to penetrate my heart and strengthen me in my present circumstances. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
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