I remember the discussion like it was yesterday. I was sitting with a pastor friend of mine, and we were enjoying a cup of coffee and good conversation. I was expressing my recent ministry struggles and how, as a young pastor and a newly married man, I was feeling “crispy” from the endless demands on my time. My workload was too great. I lacked the time to fully meet what felt like an endless line of people and problems waiting for my attention. I was not enough. Yet, because I felt like I had to be enough, my health and marriage was suffering from the strain. What my friend said next would change the trajectory of my life.
“Chris, God doesn’t need you. God is choosing to use you for His Kingdom, but He doesn’t need you.” While I nodded my head in agreement, I could feel an internal tug-of-war in my mind. The logical part of my brain was saying, “Of course, God doesn’t need me. God is God! He can do what He wants, when He wants, how He wants.”
Yet, I could feel the emotional part of my brain drawing a different line in the sand. I felt driven to serve and work. I felt as though I had to do more with less. I had less time, less energy and less availability but my To-Do list was constantly growing. “God must need me! Look how hard I’m working! Look at all the people I’m helping! Look at all the stuff I’m doing!” My emotional brain was running on the fuel of fear instead of joy. I realized in that moment that I was afraid to stop or slow down. “Who would I be if I didn’t do all this stuff? Who else will meet these urgent needs?” These questions lingered in my mind as I realized my “joy reserve” was at an all-time low. My joy tank was on “E” for Empty.
You see, joy is the fuel that runs the relational engine of our lives. Our brain thrives on joy! Joy touches what matters most to us. Joy is what we feel when someone is genuinely glad to be with us. Their eyes light up. Their voice tone conveys, “I am really glad to see you right now!” Joy is the response when we are the sparkle in someone’s eyes – or they are the sparkle in our eyes. Simply, joy means relationship. In fact, joy is so important, it is given as a reason Jesus endured the cross.
(1) Now that says something! When our relational joy levels plunge, we are vulnerable to burn-out and addictions as well as the pursuit of non-relational strategies to find purpose, comfort and connection. Joy gives us strength for life and the endurance to navigate hardship.
(2) Looking back on my conversation that day, I can see my main problem was the lack of relational joy in my life. Even though I had many people who cared about me, I was giving too much in ministry without pausing to refuel. I wouldn’t drive my car on fumes, so why was I driving my marriage and ministry this way?
Joy can be easy to start but we must sustain our joy over the long haul. Unless we bolster our joy levels, marriages and ministries soon become focused on problems instead of relationships.
(3) The good news is, we can learn brain-friendly habits to start and sustain our joy levels.
(4) When I first started practicing some simple joy exercises with my wife, my “marriage joy” grew to an entirely new level. I began to notice an abundance of joy spreading into other areas of my life. Joy changed me so much, that I recently wrote a book about marriage joy with another pastor friend of mine, Dr. Marcus Warner, called The 4 Habits of Joy-Filled Marriages: How 15 Minutes a Day Will Help You Stay in Love.
(5) The practical joy habits in this book set the tone for life, marriage and ministry.
Unless we practice habits to sustain our joy, our joy levels eventually fade. In my new book, Marcus and I introduce the concept of “shrinking the joy gap” in our marriages. Here is where couples increase the frequency of “glad-to-be-together” moments. As we invest in our marriages and fill-up our joy tanks, we can give from an excess instead of running on fumes and empty tanks.
Pursuing a life of joy will be one of the best steps we can take to increase the quality and character of our ministry. Joy provides much-needed resiliency and flexibility to bring out the best in us – as well as those we serve. Go on, start some joy and watch what happens!
(1) Hebrews 12:2
(2) Joy Starts Here: The Transformation Zone by Coursey, Khouri, Sutton and Wilder, Shepherd’s House, Inc. 2013. Visit www.thrivetoday.org for more.
(3) RARE Leadership: 4 Uncommon Habits For Increasing Trust, Joy, and Engagement in the People You Lead by Warner and Wilder. Moody Publishers, 2016.
(4) Learn more about joy-based relational skills with Transforming Fellowship: 19 Brain Skills That Build Joyful Community by Chris M. Coursey. Visit www.thrivetoday.org for more.
(5) The 4 Habits of Joy-Filled Marriages: How 15 Minutes a Day Will Help You Stay in Love. Warner and Coursey. Northfield Publishing, 2019. Visit joyfilledmarriages.com for more.
About the author
Rev. Chris M. Coursey is the president of THRIVEtoday, a non-profit ministry focusing on training leaders and communities in the 19 skills that make relationships work. Chris is an ordained minister, pastoral counselor, published author, curriculum designer and international speaker. Chris is the husband of Jen and the father of two young boys, Matthew and Andrew. Learn more about Chris and his work at joyfilledmarriages.com.