At 19 while a student in London, England, I met Rev. David Luce who with his family lived off the Highgate Tube stop in North London. At 45 he pastored Muswell Hill Baptist Church, a place I wandered into one Sunday seeking worship and like the prodigal son in the parable, I found home.
After leaving London, David and I corresponded across the pond for years. I filled my blue aerogram letters with family news alongside my questions, fears, doubts, confusion and a tumultuous growing-up journey. His return letters were filled with encouragement and hope. In nearly every letter, David would quote, Nehemiah 8:10, writing,
“Remember, Brian, ‘The joy of the Lord is your strength.’”
The very phrase was hard for me to fathom.
God has joy? And God’s joy is my strength?
The people of Israel wept as they heard the law read and interpreted to them by Ezra the Priest and the scribes. But all the leaders exhorted the people, “This day is sacred to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep…Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:9-10).
In 1990, David visited Karen and me and our three kids in California. With David, joy entered our house. At 56, he sat right down at the little kids’ table, received a plate of pancakes and fruit on his lap and began to chat with the children. Karen loved him immediately. I wrote in my journal the next morning:
“David is a gem. I remembered how wonderful he was but had forgotten how truly tremendous. Such a great man! Such a saint of God! So real and down to earth.”
This year it has been 45 years since David and I met. He just turned 90. And people tell me what joy they encounter in my life. I think it is simply because God’s joy finally penetrated deep within. I have been on a slow cook method under David’s tutelage. For 45 years, I’ve marinated in joy. The joy of the Lord is not something to achieve but to receive.