Do you remember the thrill you felt when you first had a relationship with Jesus? Everything was new and exciting. You couldn’t believe what God was doing in your life.
I see many Christians, even pastors, who start off the Christian life with so much excitement and joy. Then their joy fades.
Life is full of killjoys. Ministry leadership has its own collection of things that rob us of joy. As leaders, we face unfair criticism, loneliness, and fear that get in the way of the joy God wants for us.
Joy is the recurring theme of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Even as Paul writes from a prison cell, he reiterates it over and over. He knew firsthand the killjoys in ministry because he had faced them, too.
Paul gives us three safeguards to help us protect our joy when we see it fade:
We must resist legalistic attitudes.
Legalism destroys joy in the Christian life more than anything else. Legalism ruins people, families, and even churches. I define legalism as any time we substitute rules and rituals for our relationship with Christ. It can have a devastating impact on a church leader.
Paul recognized the danger of legalism in his own life in Philippians 3. He goes through a list of ways he had attempted to please God on his own—from following rules and rituals to leaning on race and reputation. But none of them ever gave Paul bonus points with God.
Paul ended the list of ways he had tried to please God with this: “I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done” (Philippians 3:7 NLT).
When you feel overwhelmed by the demands of legalism, reach for grace. Because of Jesus’ work on the cross, God is always smiling at you. God won’t smile at you more if you have a great quiet time tomorrow morning. He won’t smile at you more if your church adds new people this weekend. He won’t smile at you more if you preach a good sermon.
Nothing you did this week earned God’s approval. You can’t lose it either.
We must re-evaluate our activities.
Too many people look for joy in the wrong places. After Paul listed all the ways in which he had tried to earn God’s approval in Philippians 3:4-6, he wrote: “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8 NIV).
Paul calls all these activities he had participated in simply garbage. In fact, most translators of this passage try to be polite. The word specifically means dung or manure.
Paul understands how serious it is to let our activities interfere with our relationship with God. He reminds us that life is a series of trade-offs. Jesus says, “No servant can serve two masters” (Luke 16:13 CSB).
In this letter of joy, Paul declares forcefully that he will give up everything to serve Christ.
You and I must make the same decision about whom we’ll serve. Pastor, you may have made this choice years ago, but if you feel like you’re losing your sense of joy, take another look at it.
Many of us want “Jesus-plus.” We want to serve Jesus in ministry, plus we want financial security, fame, and the approval of others.
But that’s not how we find joy in ministry. If that’s you, ask yourself if your priorities have gotten off track.
We need to refocus our ambitions.
Paul was clear about what he wanted in life: “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead” (Philippians 3:10 NIV). Paul isn’t just describing a casual relationship with God—he wants an intimate one.
To stay joyful in ministry, an intimate relationship with God must be the central goal of your life. Achieving a ministry or family goal should pale in comparison.
How can you grow closer to Jesus during your ministry? It’s not much different than the advice you often give those you lead.
First, you spend time with God. You’ll never get to know God simply by talking about him. Just like any other relationship, you nourish your connection with God through spending time with him.
Second, you talk with God. Relationships require communication. You get to know God by talking and listening to him. You don’t need to preach to God. You don’t need to impress him with your words. You need a regular conversation with him.
Third, you trust God. Relationships are built on trust. God allows struggles in our lives so we can trust him more fully—and show us how reliable he is.
God wants us to have joy—even in the tough times. Are you letting legalism, misplaced priorities, and incorrect ambitions steal your joy?
Let today be the beginning of a brand new start.
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