As I was prepping for Monday’s podcast, I stumbled across an article by Mark Arnold over at Europe’s Evangelical Focus called “Self Care in the Darkness.” Mark first makes the point that in many parts of the world, we’ve reached that time of year in which “the nights start drawing in, the weather starts getting colder, nature starts to shut down in preparation for the winter… It can be a time that can affect [people] mentally, as [they] struggle with the relative lack of sunlight and being cooped up at home more…”
Then he shares how “‘Hygge’ (pronounced hyoo guh) is a Danish and Norwegian word for a mood of coziness and comfortable conviviality with feelings of wellness and contentment.”
That’s my kind of word.
He writes, “Studies show that people living in the arctic circle are armed with a mindset linked to [hygge] that helps combat the long ‘polar night’, a bit of ‘hygge’ might come in handy for us all… In the depths of winter, Tromsø in Norway gets no direct sunlight at all, and only the faint glow of indirect sunlight for a couple of hours or so a day. Yet, despite this, Tromsø’s citizens do not seem to struggle with low mood or seasonally affective disorder (SAD) in the way that might be expected.”
“In fact, generally, the mental health of the good folk of Tromsø is in excellent shape.
“So why is this? What is the secret that they share?
“Well, it seems that there is a ‘mindset’ that people living north of the arctic circle share, and the further north you go, the stronger this mindset becomes. How people perceive and frame stressful events strongly influences how they are affected by them… How we respond affects our mental health and well-being, as well as our physical health… However, by recognising our own capacity to control our responses we may all find some hidden reserves of strength and resilience to help us face each day.
I love the point that how we perceive and frame stressful events influences how we are affected by them. Are you keeping everything in your life in its proper spiritual perspective? Are you seeing this world through the vantage point of the Pauline doctrines of grace?
There is a great source of light you can turn to if you ever find yourself stuck in darkness, and that light is His Word, specifically the sound doctrines of grace in the epistles of Paul. And dare I even say it? When you get into the epistles of Paul, God’s grace produces hygge in your life! His grace becomes your hygge! His joy becomes your hygge!
I’m reminded of Nehemiah 8, which is the record of a revival in Israel following their deliverance from their Babylonian bondage. After their reconstruction of Jerusalem, they’re having a revival celebrating their return to a living faith in the living God. As part of that great revival, as a united people for the Lord, they had but one desire and that was to hear the Word of God. Ezra stood before them, “upon a pulpit of wood” (Neh. 8:4), and he “read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading” (Neh. 8:8). The result was that “all the people wept when they heard the words of the law… because they had understood the words that were declared unto them” (Neh. 8:5-13).
His Word was joy for their souls, and Ezra would tell them in Neh. 8:10, “Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
THE JOY OF THE LORD IS YOUR STRENGTH
I’d suggest that this story in Nehemiah 8 may well be a timeless principle. In that episode of Israel’s history, His joy had become their joy. There was a spirituality to their joy because their newfound joy mirrored the joy the Lord felt and that joy had become their strength.
I wonder. How did they feel His joy? They knew about His joy through His Word and Spirit which strengthened them. For us, we feel joy about our salvation and peace within our standing in God’s grace through the Word aided by the Spirit, which is inside of us. Christ’s teachings through Paul for us was meant to produce the fullness of His grace and His joy in us.
I’m also reminded how the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace… (Gal. 5:22). God isn’t forcing us to feel a certain way. When we get into the Word, when we renew our minds, allowing the Word of Christ to dwell in us richly (Col. 3:16), the natural result is that we become filled with the Spirit, fully influenced by the Spirit, and His joy becomes our joy, His love becomes our love, His peace becomes our peace, but most important of all, His grace becomes our grace and that characteristic of His grace becomes our strength. All of those fruits of the Spirit, those attributes of God living out of us, with His grace being the most defining attribute of all, all of that characterizes our spiritual lives and our spiritual walk in this world, and we also find the comfort and the strength to endure all longsuffering with joyfulness. As it was true for the Israelites, so it is true for us – the joy of the Lord Himself has become our strength.
Paul called teachers today of God’s grace doctrines the “helpers of your joy” (2 Cor. 1:24) because that’s what ministry is. Ministry is all about helping other people find the joy we all know that God wants them to feel every day. He’d teach us all that we are empowered by His grace (2 Cor. 9:8), and we are to be strong in that grace (2 Tim. 2:1). Joy is the product of His grace. Because of His grace, we have that joy which is a holy and spiritual joy, the joy of the Lord Himself, the joy that we have being in His will, the joy of knowing all things work together for the good, the joy of being made more than conquerors, the joy of being so loved by God that nothing can separate us from His love, the joy of the goodness of God, the joy of being sealed forevermore, of being forever accepted in the beloved, and of being blessed with all spiritual blessings. All that joy is the product of His grace.
His grace becomes the oil to the wheels of our spiritual lives, and one of those spokes on the wheel is joy. We are not left to search for joy on our own. Joy is brought to our doorstep by the grace of God through the all-sufficient sacrifice of His Son on the cross and the sound doctrines of grace in the epistles of Paul.
God understands your deepest needs better than you ever will and He gives you the solution to those needs to deal with the problems of life and sin at its root by crucifying your old self on His cross and by identifying you with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection the moment you believed through the baptism of the Spirit, by making you alive unto God, alive unto His joyous righteousness, His love shed abroad in your heart, His peace in your mind, living free from sin’s dominion forever. And He gives you the power to endure all longsuffering with His love, His joy, and His peace, all of which are products of His grace. Without His grace, there would be no love, joy, peace. So if we are strong in His grace, we are also strong in the knowledge of His Word, and that makes us strong in His grace, strong in His love, His joy, and His peace.
HIS JOY IS A SOURCE OF GREAT STRENGTH.
“The joy of the Lord” within us is always the evidence of a strong spiritual life. Spurgeon once said, “Holy vivacity betokens spiritual vigour.” In other words, that joy and peace we seek in our lives may be found in direct proportion to how well we let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly, which fills us with His Spirit, which then fills us with His grace, which then fills us with all of His love, joy, and peace in believing. You cannot be strong without getting spiritual strength from God through His Word, a process by which we’re transformed into the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ, in which we’re given His strength through His grace by His Word, which produces joy, a joy that was strong enough to compel Christ to endure a cross for the joy set before Him.
A joyous man in the Lord is a spiritually strong man who found his strength in God’s grace. That man is not broken by the evils of this world. His heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord. He doesn’t rely on others to bring him happiness. He finds that happiness in God’s grace, which is then shared with the world. A man strong in His grace is firm and steadfast in the truth. He is not carried away by every wind of doctrine. He knows the truth. He clings to the truth, and the golden anchor of his soul, which is grace truth in Paul’s letters, keeps him steady no matter how evil or sad the circumstances may be. He stands where others fall. He sings where others weep. He flies where others crawl, and he glorifies God… where others might blame God for their pain. God grants us inward joy that springs from divine grace, His love transferred to us, His joy transferred to us, His peace transferred to us, and His grace transferred to us, which is the predominant character of our walks.
GRACE IS ALSO OUR STRENGTH
Paul would write in 2 Tim. 2:1 to be “strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”
There may well be a connection to that principle that the joy of the Lord can be our strength to the principle that we can be strong in His grace. Just as His joy became Israel’s strength, so too, His grace can be our strength. Just as His joy can live out in us, so too, His grace can live out in us.
We know that the God of all grace made His only begotten Son the source, the channel through which His grace has been showered upon us, and we know that the ministry of His grace to our souls is through His written word by the power of the Holy Spirit. Every good thing we have and every good thing we are and every good thing we do is because of His grace, and when we allow that particular attribute of His divine character to inspire us, to motivate us, to shine out in us, we become strong in His grace, by His grace, and through His grace. His grace gives us the ability to be conformed to the image of His Son, and His grace enables us, empowers us to live the grace life by exhibiting that attribute of His nature to the world.
In other words, His grace has become our grace, from which we derive all our strength through all the trials of life. We’re to not only allow His grace to be our sufficiency but also our strength to carry us through all those difficult circumstances of our lives.
Plus, when we exhibit grace to unbelievers, we’re pointing the way to His grace and the means by which God saves them, which isn’t through any works of their own but by His grace alone.
Living in strength by His grace relieves us of bitterness, hatred, and vengeance toward those who may persecute us and we become strong in His grace in the midst of this present evil world.
Just as His joy became Israel’s strength, so too, His grace can be our strength. His grace is that predominant characteristic through which we can experience all those other fruits of the Spirit, because without His grace, there can be no love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance, and we know that the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth, which was made known to us through His gift of grace as revealed to us by Paul. The gracious attribute of His divine character was made known to the world through Jesus Christ and there is enough grace in Him for all of us.
We must be strong in this grace, not in ourselves, or in our own strength, or in the grace we have already received, but in the grace that is in Him now living out in us. When we see the way that God has acted in grace toward us and we act in grace toward others, and thus, His grace becomes our strength particularly during difficult times.