On the island of Rügen, in its most beautiful bay, lies the city of Prora. It is the site of a mighty building complex: the so-called Colossus of Prora, now under protection as a historical landmark. It originally comprised eight apartment blocks lined up in a single row more than four kilometers long. The facility was designed to offer some 20,000 people a vacation opportunity in the midst of nature’s beauty. However, it was never completed. Construction was interrupted by the start of World War II, and much of what had already been built was destroyed during the war.
The original purpose of this huge compound along with its assorted leisure facilities is of particular interest. It was designated “KdF-Seebad Rügen”: Seebad means “seaside resort,” and KdF stands for Kraft durch Freude, which translates as “strength through joy.” The idea was to structure the leisure activities of the German population in the 1930s, simultaneously monitoring the people and bringing them into line, all to give the German people “strength.” On one hand, healthy workers would boost the economy; on the other, the German people would be made stronger and prepared for war. The idea was that healthy “joy” through sports and abstention from immoral pleasures would give workers “strength” and improve their performance. Today, we know that the National Socialists did not have the people’s best interests in mind but were rather in the process of plunging them deep into disaster for their own selfish gain. We thank God that this horrible time is in the past, and we should pray for our governments so that nothing similar ever happens again. Let us remember that this kind of joy did not have the desired result.
Strength through joy. Does God’s Word not support a similar idea? In the book of Nehemiah, we read about the Israelites returning from captivity. The reading of the law brought them to the realization that they were no longer living in accordance with God’s commandments. This revelation dismayed and devastated them, and the entire nation began to weep. For their part, Nehemiah and Ezra tried to encourage them, urging them not to stop at this insight but to focus on the Lord and grow stronger in Him. In Nehemiah 8:10, we find the remarkable words: “The joy of the Lord is your strength!” And it seems that the people took this advice to heart, because they soon started to turn to the Lord, fasting, praying, repenting, and renewing their covenant with God. They returned to God’s old laws and commandments and were greatly blessed by God (Nehemiah 12:43).
In contrast to the National Socialists’ ideology, the Israelites’ joy in the Lord did have the desired effect, and their faith was strengthened.
Their story is not unique: the Bible reports of one person after the other seeking joy in the Lord and finding strength in Him. Often, they found this joy by simply staying close to God and putting all their hope in Him. This was the case for both Asaph (Psalm 73:28) and David, whose example is particularly powerful. In 1 Samuel 30, we read of him being trapped in a terrible situation. As related in the preceding chapters, the worst thing was that he had, in a sense, brought it upon himself. However, instead of giving up, David sought and found strength in the Lord, his God (1 Samuel 30:6).
Do you want to let this example encourage you? Maybe you, too, have ended up in a situation that seems hopeless, and maybe you, too, have only yourself to blame. Maybe you feel that you will lose no matter what you do. But be assured: If your outlook is this bleak, it is only because you left God out of the equation. He stands by His Word, and no situation is hopeless before Him. Cling tightly to Him, confess your helplessness to Him, and let Him strengthen you.
Do you have joy in the Lord? If joy in the Lord is strength, a lack of joy among Christians will translate to a lack of strength. May God help us stay joyful and strong!
Niko Ernst, Herford (DE)