Before I start this week I want to mention two pretty cool things that happened recently. First off, Happy Easter! He is risen! Always a great way to start the week remembering what Jesus did for us and that He didn’t stay in the tomb! Had an amazing weekend full of Easter activities like spending time with some people who had leprosy, meeting lots of new students at our study, and hanging out with three different fellowships on Easter Sunday. I am extremely exhausted because of it but am also filled with joy because of what Jesus accomplished that day. The second is that I just finished watching another sermon by Matt Chandler and it just happened to be almost exactly what I said in my last post! That’s cool to me because I wrote it before listening to the sermon which means some of the stuff coming out of my head may be slightly useful which encouraged me. It’s also cool cause you can go and listen to Matt Chandler more thoroughly explain it in his Habakkuk series, (see below for link)
So the past few weeks have been a lot of planing and organizing for my job, the ministry and my future. I’ve had some ups and downs, but overall have felt pretty happy about my life and my circumstances. Then on Saturday, we had the chance to invite around 50 people to our study, many of them first timers. Praise God right? Well after study, I found myself feeling frustrated and upset. From my vantage point, we also had a number of people who have been coming to study for between 1 and 3 years who were there. I was really hoping some of these people would take that step of faith this weekend but no one did. We even had a place for people to request prayer or ask questions, and not a single person wanted either!
I left that night wondering if all this work was really worth it. I had been putting hours into planning activities, sending emails, preparing lessons and many other little things that are necessary for ministry. Yet all these tasks and hours felt almost wasted as I saw people seem uninterested and even defiant against God and our ministry. So I laid down to pray that night and God spoke to me. Now God doesn’t speak to me in an audible voice, but rather, he puts verses, songs or thoughts into my head that could in no possible way come from myself.
That is exactly what He did Saturday night. “Why are you downcast, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” (Psalm 43:5). While I could only recall the first part, (Why are you downcast, O my soul), I knew this was God speaking to me. How did I know this was God? Because even though I have read this verse before, it is not one of my favorites or one I have ever memorized or gone to for guidance. Out of the thousands and thousands of verses I have read in the Bible, my brain isn’t smart enough to sort through them all and provide the perfect one for the situation I am in, let alone one I barely know. That only could be God. I realized I was doing the very thing I had been warning others against for years. I was placing my joy in my ministry, my circumstances and my success.
I am what you might call a completionist, (I know its not a word but it should be!). While many people have moved to digital planners and online calendars, I still use the old paper daily planner. Why? Because of the immense pleasure that comes from crossing out something that has been completed on the “To-do” list. Google calendar only lets me delete things which just isn’t as fun. And for the past few weeks, my joy has been tied directly to my circumstances. If I was able to complete the tasks for the day it was a good day, if I got distracted, it was a bad day.
Or maybe I would judge my day based on how well the ministry was going. As things were going smoothly and we were growing and advancing I would feel happy, but when bumps came or something happened that I did not plan for I found myself frustrated and lost. That’s what hit me Saturday night. Myself and many other Christians alike have accidentally slipped into finding our joy in ministry rather than who the ministry is all about. It was like God was telling me, “You don’t save anyone, I do. You don’t control your circumstances, I do. You don’t make something successful or not, I do. So stop placing your hope and joy in these petty things and place all your hope and joy in Me!”
And that is exactly what I did on Saturday night. I let go of circumstances and ministry and decided my joy is found in Christ alone. That next day, (Easter Sunday), although I accomplished very little in my planner and although no breakthroughs were made in the ministry I had an amazing day. God had helped me reorient my joy and place it back on Him.
For Christians I challenge you to remember to keep your joy in Christ alone. Don’t be the seed that gets chocked out by the cares of this world, (Matthew 13:22), but also don’t allow your circumstances or your service to God cause you to misplace your joy. While ministry is amazing and necessary, it is not the ministry we serve and find life in, but rather God.
For non-Christians I challenge you to look at where you are placing your joy. If it is in health, beauty, money, career, family, intellect, food, circumstances or even service I can tell you that those won’t ever bring you true joy. I see many people each day looking for something more in life. They want to have hope in something, but the demand of everyday life keeps them distracted from finding their true joy. So they find temporary joys through things like drugs, sex, and alcohol or through more common things like KTV, marks in school, work or family. If you are looking for hope, for a reason to live or for joy I promise you none of those will satisfy. “For He satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul He fills with good things,” (Psalm 107:9). Satisfaction, hope and joy can only be found in Jesus.
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15: 9-11). May we all place our hope in the only source that can really provide lasting joy, Jesus Christ.