The Fruit of the Spirit: Joy

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I was taught this acrostic in Sunday School:  J.O.Y.  Jesus first.  Others next.  Yourself last.  It sounds simplistic.  It runs counter to our culture, which advises us to put ourselves first (“Look out for number one.)  Even in church circles, it has become popular for counselors and others to advise us to “Take time for yourself, or you will get burned out.”  Well, there is some good sense in that sentiment.

But what would John Wesley have said about that, or Francis Asbury?  Wesley is reputed to have traveled some 250,000 miles on horseback (mostly in England).  He preached some 40,000 sermons.  Similarly, Francis Asbury traveled some 250,000 miles on horseback in the United States.

I just came back from a trip to China.  I had the privilege of meeting many Chinese pastors who are serving mostly bi-vocationally in unregistered churches.  They work a full-time job, then do their pastoral work in the evenings and weekends:  visiting people, preparing sermons, preaching, pastoral care, counseling, teaching Bible studies, etc.  They do all the work that a pastor does in any church setting – all under the threat of persecution and arrest.

In this country, there are also many churches served by bi-vocational pastors, perhaps the church that they serve is small and cannot support a full-time pastor, or perhaps it is a church plant that is just starting out.  They have to earn a living and do their pastoral work.  As a full-time pastor for the past 7 years, I’m grateful that I’ve been able to study and work full-time in the ministry.  But I respect those pastors who also minister and still must work a full-time secular job in order to support their family.  This is true in almost every country in the world.

For me, the deepest joy that I have comes from doing the work to which I am called:  ministering and serving as a pastor.  The best time I can take for myself is the time I spend in reading the Bible, studying the Word of God, meditating on it, and in prayer.  Sometimes walking my dogs and praying for the houses and people I pass by.

Is it possible that much of the joylessness of our society, even of the church is a result of failing to pay attention to our first love?  Jesus said, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”  (Matt. 6:33)  Jesus gives this as an alternative to worry.  Single-minded commitment to God and seeking the reign of Christ must be the primary concern of the followers of Jesus.

The best time we can take for ourselves is our time of devotion before God.  Burn-out may be a symptom of our neglect of our primary relationship with the Almighty.  As we follow Jesus Christ, we remember that even he would often withdraw to be alone and spend time in prayer with his heavenly Father.  How much more do we need it?

Every powerful saint of God like Wesley, Asbury, Luther, Calvin, Augustine, etc. has been a person of prayer and contemplation.  They would rise early to meet the Lord and spend hours on their knees in prayer.  In this way, they prepared themselves for the ministry that they had to face each day.  And this may also explain the tremendous length of their ministry.  They were not flames that burned bright for a moment, but God used them to transform the world.

Heavenly Father, what a comfort to read of the prophets and saints who despite the difficulties and dangers that they were called upon to face, were able to rejoice in the Lord and trust in Your unfailing faithfulness.  We pray that like them we too may receive Your abiding joy and discover like them that the joy of the Lord is our strength and that the peace that comes from You is an abiding peace that enables us to overcome all difficulties of life.  Fill our hearts with Your abiding joy and that we may rejoice in life whatever the circumstance.  Thank You for we are Your children and You are our Father.   We rest in Your love and trust in Your unfailing goodness.  Amen

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