Imagine this: You arrive at a women’s ministry meeting, casually ask the Coordinator “How are you?” and she sighs, “Okay, under the circumstances.” What is your initial reaction? Are you inclined to follow this woman and crawl under the circumstances with her? How long before you are weary with
the weight of those same circumstances?
Joy Embodied in a Life-Giving Leader
I was in my forties and Mrs. Johnston was in her seventies when she began attending our church. Her radiant love for Jesus enfolded us. When she moved to an assisted-living facility, I loved taking my Sunday school class to visit her. From her bed, she always welcomed us with a big smile and a cheerful greeting. At Christmas we sang carols for her. The next Sunday, I read Luke 2:10 to the children: “And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy.” Then I asked, “What is joy?” One of the boys immediately answered, “Mrs. Johnston.” The children nodded their agreement. They could not define joy, but they had seen it embodied in her. They intuitively knew that true joy transcends circumstances. This life-giving leader took me closer to Jesus. I am still energized by the legacy of joy she gave me.
Being a joyful leader does not mean faking an outgoing, enthusiastic personality. Joy is not an emotion we produce. Biblical joy is a gift of grace, the fruit of the Spirit:
Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11)
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (Gal. 5:22–23)
Though we are focusing on joy, note that fruit is singular. This is the comprehensive, progressive work of the Holy Spirit producing in us attributes that reflect the character of Christ. As we utilize the means of grace He gives—the Word, prayer, worship, sacraments, fellowship—He transforms our desires, attitudes, and actions.
Many good things give us joy. I have been known to clap for the beauty of a sunrise. We should join the angels who rejoice over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:10). And John says, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4). But there’s more. In Romans 5, Paul piles up the blessings that are ours because God has justified us, and then he crescendos with verse 11 (emphasis mine): “More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is a joy that pushes beyond people and circumstances. As Psalm 21:6 declares, “You make him glad with the joy of your presence.” In a confusing, unprecedented situation Mary sings of this joy: “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:47, emphasis mine).
While studying Psalm 92, I began to want the more than that was described by Paul.
“More Than” Joy
As an eighty-year old I was intrigued by God’s promise in Psalm 92:12–13: “The righteous flourish . . . they still bear fruit in old age.” To understand how one with diminishing physical abilities can flourish, I needed to look at this promise in the context of the entire psalm. It begins:
It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night . . . For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy (v. 1–4).
The idea that God—not circumstances or people—makes us glad captivated me. I also saw a progression: give thanks, begin and end the day declaring His steadfast love and faithfulness, and He makes us glad. This became the pattern of my prayers.
Several months later, my precious husband went to heaven. During his illness and death, I was not surprised that God gave me peace, but I was surprised by both my overwhelming gratitude that my beloved was in the very presence of Jesus and by the gladness in my soul. Then I realized that God was answering my prayers. I cannot explain how grief, gratitude, and gladness can co-exist, but this I know: Gospel joy is big enough to contain my grief. We grieve, but not as those without hope (1 Thess. 4:13), and also we grieve, but not as those without joy. Gospel joy is a wondrous mystery.
I suspect Mrs. Johnston fought hard to greet us with a glad heart. I’m sorry I took her joy for granted and did not ask her how to engage in this fight of faith. But now it’s my turn to tell you how the profound simplicity of the Psalm 92 pattern is giving me “weapons of righteousness” (2 Cor. 6:7) to fight for joy. What follows is certainly not exhaustive. It is simply what this older woman is learning right now.
It Is Good To Give Thanks
We readily agree with this until we come to the shocking command in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
How do we give thanks in every circumstance?
It seems to me it involves trust in His sovereign love, submission to His authority, and obedience to His Word. No matter what situation we faced, for decades my husband confidently and calmly recited Romans 8:28–29: “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” This passage is so woven into the soul of our family that our grandchildren had it written on wood to give Gene for his eightieth birthday. It hangs over our front door so when they leave this is the last thing they see.
God can keep the Romans 8 promise because He is sovereign. He will keep it because He loves us. So, if He works all things to accomplish this glorious purpose, I can thank Him in all things. Nothing is random and nothing is wasted. As Paul said from prison, “What has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (Phil. 1:12).
Each morning, I ask the Lord to open my eyes to see His mercies and to give me the grace of gratitude. I’m beginning to “see” things I overlooked before. His beauty in nature and His kindness through others are heavenly hugs, reminding me of His Presence with me. I’m increasingly aware of the long-view and enabled to thank Him that the gospel is being advanced in my life and the lives of others even if I don’t see it.
Declare the Gospel
I’m learning the joy of intentionally beginning and ending each day declaring His steadfast love and faithfulness to my own heart and to others as I have opportunity.
His steadfast love and faithfulness are validated at the cross. Repeatedly reminding myself of the gospel helps me think biblically and pray for grace to glorify the Lord in every circumstance and relationship.
Psalm 92:4 is a prayer: “For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy.”
I’m learning the joy of listening to God as He speaks in His Word and then responding by praying His Word into my life. Too often I come to Him with my frustration and disappointment and ask Him to change others so I will be joyful. This is self-centered praying. Consider these prayers from Scripture:
Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you. Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace. (Ps. 86:4–6)
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. (Ps. 90:14)
The privilege of prayer is our access to the presence and power of the Lord. Joy is a gift, so simply ask Him for it and then steward this gift for His glory.
You arrive at a women’s ministry meeting knowing the Coordinator is going through a difficult time. You tell her you have been praying for her. Her face is radiant when she says through her tears,
I am “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10). When Jesus was reviled “he did not revile in return . . . but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). Pray that I will entrust myself to Him, “serve the Lord with gladness” (Ps. 100:2), and remember that I am under His grace—always.”