I want each of you to maintain your joy in ministry. Let joy be a hallmark of your service to Christ’s church, and let your joy winsomely commend the faith to unbelievers.
At times, maintaining your joy will be difficult. Heartache, setbacks, and discouragement will find a place in your story, as they do in every minister’s. There are days and seasons when the burden of ministering to broken lives overwhelms. Sometimes new Christians appear to be off to a good start and suddenly fall away – and your pain will be acute. Other stumble and fall, and the work of restoration is intense, and even in the best of circumstances, many tears are shed. Frequently you will face decisions that perplex you, obligations that weary you, and trials that frighten you. If that were not enough, like every believer, you will struggle with your own personal temptations, conflicts with indwelling sin, stresses in your family, and bouts with poor health. Not every problem has a solution, nor every adversity an end – many difficulties, like Paul’s thorn in the flesh, persist.
Suffering comes in so many forms. But along with suffering, God supplies the resources you need for maintaining your joy. But you must know where to look. Here are several places:
Find Joy in Your Salvation
Paul commands: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). He maintained his joy in seasons of prosperity and adversity. Whether free or in prison – whether persecuted on land or in peril on the high seas – joy distinguished Paul’s ministry. Why? Because his joy did not depend on circumstances, but upon his position in Christ. He is in Christ, who was raised from the dead, and now sits at the Father’s right hand.
In Christ, Paul is justified and secure, with a title to heaven – and so are you. Take to heart Jesus’ words: “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
Find Joy in Your Calling
You are a herald of God and ambassador of Christ. God has sent you to a specific place to a specific people to proclaim his word. The message you proclaim converts the lost, sustains the weary, instructs the righteous, grants hope to the despairing, calls back the erring, comforts the mourning, and grants certainty to the doubting. Think of the joy your faithful ministry brings to God’s beloved people.
Find Your Joy in Confession and Repentance
The Lord disciplines wayward David. He confesses and repents, anticipating that he will hear joy and gladness, and rejoice; forgiven, he will experience afresh the joy of salvation (Psalm 51:8, 12).
Keep short accounts with the Lord. When he disciplines, respond quickly; confess and repent daily. As you do, the knowledge that God has declared you forgiven in Christ will fill your heart with joy and make you a rejoicing pastor.
Find Your Joy in God’s Providence
Trust that your all-sovereign King and loving heavenly Father works all things for your good – that is, he works to secure your conformity to Christ (Romans 8:28-29). Christ-likeness is the goal of God’s sanctifying work in you. Your trust in his providence plays a vital part of reaching that goal. Only as we trust will “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).
Find Joy in Your Studies
In your congregation, you will fellowship with very serious students of the word. They hunger to explore the Bible. They eagerly acquire the tools needed to understand the sacred text. Yet their time for disciplined study is limited. Work and family responsibilities claim the best parts of their day and time for extended study is scarce. Seizing scraps of time at the end of exhausting days makes for their steady but slow progress.
Unlike the members of your congregation, you are called to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). Hours of weekly study are indispensable, and you possess that time as your congregation supports you financially. Don’t squander it. Don’t waste the congregation’s financial commitment to you. As you enter your study, give thanks to God for the abundant time he has given you to study his word with undistracted care. Treasure the moments. Find joy in your studies to the glory of God.
Find Joy in Your Prayers
Prayer is the delight of every believer. But you as a minister possess the freedom to structure times of prayer throughout the day. You have been set apart to both the ministry of the word and prayer (Acts 6:4). A life devoted to prayer is one of the many joys of pastoral ministry.
Find Joy in Christ’s Heavenly Intercession
In our weakness, we don’t always know how to pray, but there is One who prays for us perfectly. “Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). “He always lives to make intercession”(Hebrews 7:25). All the benefits of salvation he purchased for you and for the well-being of his church will become ours through his intercession. Rejoice in his all-prevailing prayer.
Find Joy in Your Fellow Ministers
Identify other ministers who love their work, delight in their calling, and take pleasure in God’s people. Spend time with them. Joy is contagious.
Find Joy in Your Congregation
Not just the joy that your ministry brings to them, but also for their love and concern for you. Receive every word of appreciation with gratitude. Recount one-by-one their kindnesses. Talk about these more than the difficulties you face. Love them. Let them be your “joy and crown” (Philippians 4:1).
When you take a new church, some folks may be slow to warm up to you. Don’t worry. Be patient. Look upon them as people who, by God’s grace and over time, will become your enthusiastic partners in in the gospel. Find joy in them.
Find Joy in Your Church Teammates
In every congregation I serve, I work on teams to accomplish various tasks – the church’s session and deacon board, committees, and ad hoc groups that serve the church. Friendships form and affections deepen. Working together edifies the body of Christ refreshes the soul.
Knowing where to look is indispensable to maintaining joy throughout your life and ministry. So find it, and let joy distinguish your ministry!