Have you ever known that one person who is always negative? They may not mean to be that way, but it seems as if they suck the life out of even the best situation. They are the person who literally makes the mountain out of the mole hill. If their thoughts were a movie reel, the title of the film would be “Joy Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.” Yet, this same person knows how to instantly turn on the smile, say the most encouraging words, and see people lifted out of the darkest places. Pastor, does that describe you? The ebbs and flows of ministry can lay a great burden for any pastor to carry.
Last year, I thought I was doing fine, but in reality I wasn’t. On the outside I produced the smile and encouragement for others, but inwardly it was as if every bit of joy seemed to have gone. Walking through tough seasons of ministry tend to leave more hurt and scars than we often like to admit. It can also cause us to lose our joy.
Biblically, joy can be described as a feeling or an action. We see many who found reason to rejoice! In Luke 24:52, we find the disciples rejoicing after Jesus ascended back into heaven: “And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” In Luke 13:17, Jesus heals a women with a disabling spirit and the Scripture says the crowd rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by Him.
Indeed, the Scripture also commands us to rejoice despite how we feel.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. (Philippians 4:4)
Rejoice always. (1 Thessalonians 5:16)
The reason for much of my joy being lost was the false reality I tried to create for my life in ministry. I continually forced myself to think, “This should not be this hard, people shouldn’t be leaving the church, or ‘Why does it seem so much is against me?’” Ministry and such is our life, done within a broken and sinful world. We live between the healthy tension of struggle and peace. I lived with the lie that the environment for my joy to flourish was in the ideal place of pleasant circumstances.
As Pastors, we must accept the reality that ministry at times may be challenging, come with pain, as well as disappointment; but the Lord has given us grace to endure it all. My joy in ministry should not be based on the ideal ministry situation, which will never happen, but on the faith I have in Christ and the grace he gives me to press forward. What if the suffering you are facing right now, is the catalyst that God is using to bring greater joy in your life? James writes,
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2–4)
With this in mind, here are some ways we can continue to have joy in the midst of the struggle:
Remember God is working.
At this moment, you may not be where you want to be, but in God’s Providence you are probably right where He wants you to be. Through the most difficult circumstances God is working on and through you to become more like His Son. Philippians 1:6 says, “I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” God is doing a work today, rejoice!
Remember God is for you.
Oftentimes, it is so easy to get in the rut where we begin to believe the lie that God is somehow against us. Emotionally we can feel sad, but this does not change the fact that God is for you and not against you. Instead of dwelling on all that is going wrong, take a moment to reflect, even in the midst of the struggle, how God is on your side!
Remember to enjoy His blessings.
This may seem like a small thing, but it is huge. When was the last time you simply took time to enjoy the wife of your youth? When was the last time you rejoiced in what God was doing in your family or church? So often we are in such a rush to the next destination, we actually miss out on enjoying where God has us. Stop wishing to be some place and look around and see the richness of God’s blessings where He has you!
Remember to rest.
God did not create us to operate like robots who don’t need rest and refueling. Sadly, many of us operate on a 24/7 schedule without adequate sleep or personal time with the Lord. Could it be that your joy has been affected because of your lifestyle of continual depletion? Instead of staying up ’til the wee hours of the morning worrying or vegging out on technology, go pray and go to sleep. Trust me, the thing you are worrying about will be there when you get up. Why not give it to the Lord and literally rest in Him. In Luke 5:16, it tells us that “Jesus often withdrew to deserted places to pray.” If Jesus withdrew often to be with the Father, how much more should we?