uring a meager moment, I discovered how easy it was to please Ray.
Ray was one of the charter members of the church I was pastoring. The church was in a small community that saw little excitement. As do many churches, we promoted a “friend day” in an attempt to draw newcomers. We went all out. Half of our sanctuary/fellowship hall was allocated as a social gathering venue for the grilled pork-chop lunch that was to follow the morning worship service. Special singing and door prizes were advertised as incentives to get people inside the door.
It worked well─we had 42 in attendance. Before you scoff at our success, you should know we had only 50 seats in our sanctuary, so we had exceeded 80 percent of our seating capacity. Moreover, at least for the day, we were in the top five churches in the city and even in the top 10 in the county.
I realize how weak those talking points are, especially given the fact it was only 42 people. To tell the truth, I wasn’t that excited. In fact, to me it was almost a disappointment . . . but not to Ray. He was bubbling over with exuberance. This day was a milestone in his eyes.
After the cleanup, a few of us hung around for a while to reflect on the events of the day. It was then that I took advantage of a teachable moment. I advised Ray, “Don’t be too happy when things look good, and don’t get too sad when things don’t go your way. Stay on the radar, and you’ll always keep flying.”
There is an underlying principle that led me to give that advice. If we allow our experiences or benchmarks to control our level of joy, we have set ourselves up for emotional carnage. Just as sure as good days will come, so will bad ones. When we allow our joy to be attached to things or moments, many of which we have no control, we are in for a ride.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t celebrate our wins; I am saying we should always keep our feet on the ground. We do this by prioritizing the things we allow to be attached to our joy.
Reason to Rejoice
In Luke 10, Jesus sent out 70 of His followers out to preach in the towns and villages where He planned to later visit. He had no intention of letting them fail. Jesus sent those 70 out to succeed; therefore, He empowered them.
Upon their return, they told Jesus the demons were subject to them through the use of His name. The context seems to indicate the disciples thought Jesus did not know or expect this. They were in a state of euphoria because of what they had experienced.
Jesus explained He had witnessed the demise of Satan and He had given them complete authority to tread on him. This was certainly good news. However, Jesus then said something that must have surprised them: “In this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you” (v. 20).
Jesus understood the importance of His followers not getting caught up in the experiential. This became a lesson in priority. Importance had to be redirected, but to where? Jesus continued, “Rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.”
Think of how many things we have allowed to devastate our joy. Did those things erase our salvation? Were some of them of no consequence at all? Do they carry any weight in the scope of eternity? When all things have run their course, only one thing will matter: Is our name written in heaven?
Misdirected joy leaves us grasping after things that are, eternally speaking, nonessentials. However, these temporal matters exercise much control over our lives. When we place our joy in the experiential, it is easy to seek for validation through accomplishment, position, or human acceptance. This can easily lead to pride, arrogance, greed, resentment, depression, and insecurity.
Misdirected joy can leave us vulnerable to unnecessary devastation. Even worse, it can cause collateral damage to those around us. That is why we must focus our joy on important matters.
Joy That Lasts
We spend an incredible amount of money and time on things that render no other return than making us feel joyful. We are naturally prone to pursue joy, but the pursuit of it can lead into addiction, a state of insanity, or even death. Joy based on outward circumstances cannot be maintained.
However, if we receive the inward joy that comes from God, it leads to freedom and peace.
Joy is listed second only to love in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22).
Did you know you can channel your joy? It is a choice God gives you. This doesn’t mean there is never a time to cry. Even Jesus didn’t bypass that human experience. It does mean human experience can hold your joy captive only if you allow it. As Jesus told the Seventy, “Rejoice not . . . rather rejoice, because. . . .” That was a command to channel their joy, and there is much benefit in doing so.
By channeling joy, Jeremiah found peace while lamenting . . . Paul and Silas sang in the dungeon . . . and John worshiped in the Spirit on an island where criminals were abandoned to die.
I suppose the greatest benefit of directing your joy is the empowerment to fulfill the will of God in your life. Understand this: Nehemiah appointed a day of rejoicing on a day when the people’s natural response was to weep. He was aware of the need for spiritual empowerment in their current condition. He verbalized this concept in a simple but direct way: “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (8:10).
Godly joy causes us to press forward when it seems like all of our strength is gone. It empowers us in ways that may defy explanation. That is why rejoicing in the things that matter to God─especially His will for our life─is so important. This joy causes us to “finish the race”; in other words, complete God’s will. This held true even for Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2).
First, what are we capable of without joy?
Second, what are we capable of through joy?
The answers to these two questions stand as far apart as light and darkness. With so much riding on joy, let’s heed Paul’s advice: “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice” (Phil. 4:4).
Jonathan Harrell serves as outreach pastor at Azalea City Church of God in Valdosta, Georgia.