When was the last time you asked the Lord for joy?
Perhaps you’ve spent these unsettling months asking Him for peace. Maybe in the face of your weakness you have an established habit of asking Him for more of the Spirit’s power. But what about joy? Do you have it? Do you recognize how desperately you need it?
I have encountered more joyless Christian leaders than I care to count. I have been a joyless Christian leader more often than I care to remember. In my flesh I’d stay in that state permanently: trudging through the Christian life, slogging through service to my King. Then I open my Bible and see them—leaders serving the Lord with gladness—and I am stunned anew by the winsome power of joy.
Joy-Filled Gospel Heralds
I think of Mary Magdalene on resurrection morning. The text doesn’t explicitly report on Mary’s joy, but I can almost feel it oozing out of the page. Can’t you? Mary went to the tomb weeping in grief and ran from the tomb with the news that Jesus had risen!
Did she skip? Did she leap? By the time she reached the disciples, did her cheeks hurt from smiling?
The disciples didn’t believe Mary’s praise report (Mark 16:11). Do you think that dampened her joy? She had seen the risen Savior! She had the best news ever to proclaim: Jesus had defeated death! Surely the joy of that news never left Mary’s heart.
How about you? Does the joy of resurrection morning permeate your life? When was the last time you looked inside the empty tomb and beamed about all that Christ has accomplished for you?
Joy-Filled Prison Cells
I think about Paul and Barnabas shackled in a Roman prison. They were beaten and bloodied, yet, Scripture does not report that they sunk into despair. Instead, in the darkest hour of the night, in what could have been a dark night of the soul, “Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God” (Acts 16:25). What’s more, “the prisoners were listening to them.”
Their joy reverberated through the prison walls. It moved past eardrums and straight into the hearts of those within earshot, so much so that the jailer who held them captive asked the question every Christian leader longs to hear, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (v. 30).
Over and over throughout Scripture, God tells us to sing. Are you so busy with the tasks of ministry that you’ve stopped singing all together? Perhaps your vocal chords need to be reminded that it’s their job to sing with joy.
The Joy Set Before Us
I think of Jesus, the model leader. Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2).
Though His crucifixion was far from merry, Jesus knew that joy waited on the other side. Because of Jesus, joy will be our permanent emotional state on the other side of glory. Do you take the time to consider heaven, reminding your heart that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9)? Do you regularly park your heart in passages filled with God’s precious promises? Do you consider the joy set before you as often as you think about the challenges that lie ahead?
Lord, Give Us Joy
If I reach back into my not-so-distant memories, I can pull up the thought of a season of joylessness. I can also remember the moment Psalm 4:7 leapt off the page for me. The Psalmist is describing a season of distress, exacerbated by those offering unfair criticism. (Sounds a lot like ministry to me.) He recalibrates his heart by remembering this truth: “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.”
I knew I didn’t feel that way, but I wanted to. Joy is a magnet that will draw others to Christ through me. I need it, you need it, if we are going to continue to serve as hope-bearers in a world when hope is scarce. So I simply asked the Lord for more joy. I prayed His Word right back to Him, “Lord, put more joy in my heart than others have when their grain and wine abound.”
Since joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, it’s not something we could ever drum up for ourselves. This is not a pep talk or a call to slap on a smile. It’s a reminder that joy is a gift God loves to give us. Joy is also the gift we give others as we serve the Lord with glad hearts (Ps. 100:2).
I developed the leadership habit of asking for joy. I needed joy as I served. Joy as I dealt with conflict. Joy as I fought through fatigue. For every area of life and ministry, I needed more joy. The Lord heard. The Lord cared. The Lord gave me joy by the dump truck load.
Do you have more joy in your heart now than others have in seasons of plenty? Is there evidence of abundant joy in your life? Or just a little? Or none at all? The world doesn’t need more cynical leaders. We’ve got those in spades. Leader, there is gospel-spreading, prison-shaking, world-changing power in your joy.
Lord, put more joy in our hearts than others have when their grain and wine abound. Amen.