In September, God gave me the privilege of traveling to Nepal where I provided Bible teaching at two conferences for rural church leaders and pastors. My husband and I ministered there with the United Mission to Nepal (UMN) from 1982-85, so I felt like I’d returned home.
Some things in Nepal never change, but the Church is not one of them. Persecution, Maoist attacks, and other such challenges have sifted and strengthened it. The 2015 earthquake also left an impact. In the wake of political red tape and corruption withholding foreign aid, Christians rose to the challenge of providing life’s basic necessities for fellow believers in need.
My teaching sessions dealt with deeper Christian life issues—forgiveness, gratitude, the power of praise, overcoming the fear of inadequacy, and more. The attendees—men and women ranging in age from 15 to 50-something—soaked up the Word like human sponges. But in the end, I think I received the greater blessing.
One day, a group of eight or so pastors shared personal stories. They’d come from the region where the earthquake’s epicenter struck. These guys represent earth’s poorest. What precious little they owned prior to the quake is now gone. And yet, as they told of surviving the trauma, they focused not on tales of destruction. Instead, they spoke enthusiastically about God’s protection and of His provision amidst the chaos.
When they finished speaking, the worship team took its place on stage and broke into song. The pastors followed suit. Smiles lit their faces. They lifted their hands heavenward, and then they began to dance. Joy filled the room as they celebrated Jesus.
I watched with humility and awe. And I felt convicted. How often have I lost my joy in ministry because I lost my focus? How often have I forgotten one of God’s basic commands—to rejoice—because complaining felt easier? How often have I griped about my lack of finances or material possessions, forgetting that the majority of the world’s population lives with a fraction of what I own?
I’ve returned from Nepal with an insatiable desire to experience joy in ministry as our Nepalese brothers and sisters do. Here are five things I’m making a point to remember:
- Joy is a choice.
Joy is more than a noun. It’s an action word. It’s something we do: “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).
The Bible’s full of commands to obey—think pure thoughts, remain faithful to our spouse, respect authority and forgive your enemies. You know the drill. As with any other command, we chose whether or not to do what it says about rejoicing.
- Joy is a fruit of the Spirit.
Galatians 5:22 says, “But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy…”
We can’t manufacture joy in life’s hard places. That’s the Holy Spirit’s role. We make His job easier when we give Him greater access to our inner selves. The more we allow Him to fill and control us, the more joy we demonstrate. It’s the natural by-product of supernatural empowering.
- Joy comes when we walk in obedience to Christ.
Jesus said, “When you obey me, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father and remain in his love. I have told you this so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” (John 15:10,11)
It’s easy for us to tell our flock how to live according to biblical standards while we fudge on those standards in secret. Enter guilt. Exit joy.
If we want to experience joy in ministry, then we need to practice what we preach. God will honor us for it.
- Joy brings strength.
The more we focus on ministry challenges, the more discouraged we feel. Before long, we feel like resigning in lieu of a “real job.” Been there, done that. But remembering Nehemiah’s words has helped me stay on task: “This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the LORD is your strength!” (Nehemiah 8:10) Indeed, every day is a sacred day so I couple Nehemiah’s words with, “This is the day the LORD has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24) and find the energy I need to keep going.
- Joy results from looking at the big picture.
Jesus held a heart-to-heart talk with His disciples before His arrest. He told them that they would feel sad about what would happen to Him, but their sadness would turn to joy afterwards. He said, “It will be like a woman experiencing the pains of labor. When her child is born, her anguish gives place to joy because she has brought a new person into the world. You have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy” (John 16:21,22).
Face it—career ministry’s hard. Our people make life-destroying decisions. They squabble and do stupid things. They criticize us and leave the church. If the downside is all we see, then our burden soon feels too heavy to bear. Hence, the need to look at the bigger picture.
Jesus is coming back. Someday we’ll see Him face-to-face, and He’ll set everything right. He’ll wipe every tear from our eyes and we’ll hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of the Lord” (Matthew 25:21).
Back to Philippians 4:4, but this time let’s add verse 5 to the mix—“Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.”
Yes, the Lord is coming soon. In the meantime, we have a job to do. Let’s do it not begrudgingly or half-heartedly but with joy. Lots and lots of it!
Grace Fox has authored eight books including Moving from Fear to Freedom: A Woman’s Guide to Peace in Every Situation and produced its corresponding DVD-based small group Bible study. She and her husband co-direct International Messengers, a mission organization with 200 career staff in 25 countries. Grace’s books are available on her website, at bookstores nationwide, and on Amazon. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter for the latest and greatest.