As I reflect on 15 years as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I am often reminded that I am still learning. Because of this, on average, I read three books at a time on different aspects of pastoral ministry. Right now I am simultaneously being blessed by reading a book on the vocation of a pastor, a book on preaching and one on the need to find simplicity in following the spiritual disciplines. Each book provides me with the opportunity to examine my ministry and giftedness. While I often find something I am already well aware of, I am also being reshaped and retooled to continue in the ministry.
One thing that has stood out to me recently is the idea of joy, and the accompanying source of that joy. Yesterday, during my day off, I was sitting down playing videogames when my son looked at me and asked what was wrong. I felt it was an odd question because I didn’t think anything was wrong until my wife spoke up and said I looked like I was in pain. At that point the realization hit me that my chosen activity to relax for the day was not providing me a sense of joy. Honestly in that moment I don’t know if there was a particular event that would have provided joy for me. I was reminded of something I read a couple weeks back that argued that people are constantly looking for joy but seldom find it because they place their joy in something that is often fleeting, or joy is caught up in the perception of what they ought to have.
I have often struggled with idea of contentment in my life. I do not know where this comes from. Growing up I always had what I needed and often had what I wanted. When I married Laura, there have been times when things are really tight, but more often than not I again have what I need and often have what I want. Yet for some reason in the dark recesses of my mind is always the thought that I will lose what I have. I am a retrospective person that often dwell on my failures and cannot get past my failures. I do not share this for pity, but rather because I have come to understand that many people live with this mentality. We are left to ask were our joy is and how do we receive it.
I worry often, especially as a pastor, that people come to Jesus with the mindset of what can I receive through this relationship. When I’m in my right mind (consider all the possible jokes you can make of that statement), I realize that my joy comes from that single element of my walk with Christ: the relationship he has given me. I realize that joy comes from the ability to delight in the Lord and have fellowship with Him. Consider the words of the Psalmist, “May Your compassion come to me so that I may live, for your instruction is my delight.” (Psalm 119:77, HCSB) Every word of God becomes the source of my joy and the more I meditate on the word of God the more the Holy Spirit permeates and changes my focus on failures and reminds me that my relationship with Him is pure joy! I need to delight in His instruction daily to drown out the small still voice of negativity that plaques my mind.
Often the movement from sadness to joy is a change of perspective. Sadness often focuses on what I don’t have, what I do have but can possibly lose, or what I simply lost. Joy requires that we focus on what we do have the biggest of which is our relationship with Jesus Christ. He promises to never leave us or forsake us, He promises that we are not orphans and He promises to come again to allow us to experience pure joy in eternity! What is the source of your joy?