The Joy of the Lord is Your Strength…

During my second year of ministry I was ready to quit and find something else to do.  I was frustrated with myself and with the church, and wondered why God would have called me to this ministry in the first place.  I had become so involved in the business, politics, and issues of “Pastoral Ministry” that I had been neglecting the actual ministry that I was called to do.  I felt dry, empty, and passionless; and it was showing in my work.  Fortunately, God brought another pastor into my life who told me, “Remember that which brings you the greatest joy in ministry, and let that be your focus rather than all the other busyness.”  Those words pulled me back from the edge, and helped me more than he could know.

At first I thought he was talking about the things I like to do as a pastor; teaching, preaching, visiting, and that by doing these things I would find new joy in ministry.  Doing these things does bring me joy and satisfaction in my work, but only temporarily.  What I have discovered is “that which brings me greatest joy” refers not to the things I do, but the one who calls me to do them.  The thing which brings me greatest joy is the time I spend in fellowship and communion with God.  When I let slip my time in God’s Word and my time before God in prayer all the joy and passion is drained from my work.  But when I remember the Lord and seek His face, when I “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” all other things seem to fall into place.

Each of us goes through times when it is difficult to find any joy in life.  The death of a loved one, the diagnosis of a terrifying disease, a broken relationship, the loss of a job – these can shake us in ways as to cause us to lose our joy.  When all joy is lost, it is easy for us to want to quit, to pack it in and go home.

But let us remember what the Psalmist says:  “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning… To you, O Lord, I cry, and to the Lord I plead for mercy… You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent” (Psalm 30).  When we walk closely with the Lord, when we cry out to him in our sorrow and loss, He will turn our mourning into dancing; He will fill our hearts with joy. 

G.K. Chesterton put it this way,

“Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial.  Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul.  Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labor by which all things live” (Chesterton, G.K., Orthodoxy, (New York: Double Day, 1959) Pg. 159).

The Spirit teaches that while it is appropriate to mourn our loss and grieve our sins, we should always remember that “the joy of the LORD is [our] strength” (Neh 8:10) There is a time for mourning, but joy comes as the morning.  The Christian life is all like one of a spring shower, when the rain-drops weave a mist that hides the sunshine; and yet the hidden sun is in every sparkling drop, and they are all saturated and steeped in its light.  ‘The joy of the Lord’ is the natural result and offspring of all Christian faith.

Remember that which brings you greatest joy; and may the presence of God be your joy and strength. 

Grace and Peace,

SDG

The Degeneration of A Microwave Society

OK – I admit it – this is a rant – but maybe you feel the same way.

The Microwave, one of the greatest inventions of the past 100 years, enabling you to pop your popcorn quicker, cook your frozen veggies faster, and for the mischevious one out there – “accidentally” blow things up in your own kitchen (not that I have any experience with that at all).

It struck me this week, however, just how much the mircrowave has destroyed us as a people.  Because we can cook our meals faster, we expect everything else to come faster too. Do you get impatient while waiting in the line or drive through of a fast food chain?  (Which is ironic – shouldn’t we prefer something that is cooked just for us, taking a little more time, rather than something prepared hours before hand, waiting in a warmer tray, ready in 30 seconds or less?) 

We have Dish on Demand, where you can instantly watch a movie at your convenience.  We have wireless internet that downloads at rates fatster than the eye can process.  We have credit/debit cards, where (at least in the commercials) you never have to wait for the computer to process your payment; and those who write a check or pay in cash are bumbling, backwater, baffoons who just get in the way of progress.  We have miracle pills that will help you shed pounds instantly without ever exercising or dieting (sounds tempting, right?).

Just this morning I had two emails from someplace like Zimbabwe, offering to make me instantly wealthy if I’d just let them have access to my checking account.  Then I open another email telling me how I can see instant growth in my church by using their new curriculem or theme-based sermon series.   Somehow, getting those emails at the same time seemed a little ironic.

Isn’t this really the heart of most of our problems today?  We want prosperity, health, success, happiness; but we want it now – without the sacrifice, work, and patience that these things take.  We expect things instantly, and if it doesn’t come easy, doesn’t come quick, is it really worth the effort.  I find myself taking shortcuts and compromising the integrity of my work simply because I want things to come together faster.

I have found that all things worthwhile take a while to be worthy.  Financial independance, as Dave Ramsey teaches, comes from the crock pot, not the microwave.   Diets and pills don’t work – eat less and exercise more – that’s the only real way to lose weight and stay in shape.  Likewise, spiritual growth and maturity takes time, it comes with many sufferings, setbacks, and dissapointments.  Through these things God weans us from the material trappings of the world and builds within us a greater desire and yearning for His presence and sustaining grace.  Healthy churches today are seen as those who are expereincing numerical growth right now, but I am reminded of the parable of the sower, when Jesus said, “some seed fell upon the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away because it had no moisture.”  For the seed to grow, bear fruit, and multiply, it must have a strong root system, and it takes time for the roots to grow deep and strong.

There are no real shortcuts in life.  You can have easy, cheap, and fast, but you sacrifice quality, value, and perseverance.  When Christi and I were first married, all we could afford was the pressed-wood furniture – which was functional, but didn’t last more than a couple of years.  Now, we have made the decision that any furniture we buy will be “real wood,” with lasting quality and beauty.

Maybe we should all make that decision for our spiritual journey.  No more shortcuts.  No more quick fixes.  If we are to be a people of the Word – then we have to buckle down and really study God’s word together.  If we are to call ourselves disciples of Christ, then we have to purposefully discipline ourselves and take up our crosses to follow after him.  If we are going to reach our community for Christ, we can’t wait for someone to come and do it for us, we have to go out and start sharing our story. 

I can’t remember where I first heard it – but if you notice in the gospels, Jesus was never in a hurry.  He never ran.  He was always walking.  Our God is a patient, long-suffering God, who works things out in His time, not ours.  Perhaps we should be as well.

SDG