Is your joy complete?
If I am completely honest, I have to admit that my joy is not complete.
We sing about having the joy “down in our heart” in church, but I wonder how many of us actually have it there. The past few weeks I have been thinking a lot about “joy.” How do you get to a place where it can be complete? Biblically, I see a difference between joy and happiness. I suspect what I have been experiencing is the lesser (happiness), and I have not really gotten ahold of the greater (joy). Consider the following verse from the scriptures:
John 15:11 “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. (New International Version)
In the passage, Jesus has just told the disciples that if they obey his commands they will remain in his love just as Jesus himself has remained in the Father’s love by obedience to him. He implies in this that obedience to his commands keeps us in his love, and that love is the secret to our complete joy. I have been seriously seeking Jesus and his will for my life nearly 17 years. Over that time, I have had some good times.
I do not miss my old life at all. However, I cannot really say that I know of a time when my joy was “complete.” In fact, I have to admit, I have no idea how to extract “complete” joy out of obedience to Christ. I obey him because I know it is what is best for me. I know I am loved by Christ, and I do extract a great deal of peace from knowing that, but I cannot say I find joy in it as well.
The wording of this verse also seems confusing. Are we to expect the literal “joy” of Christ as part of his Spirit indwelling us? Or is it just that we bring “joy” to him because of our obedience? You would think that if the literal joy of Christ were part of being indwelt by his Spirit that finding “complete” joy would be just a prayer away. I cannot see that the secret to our “complete” joy rests in only our obedience to him. These questions are the root of my recent ponderings on the subject. If “complete” joy is available through Christ, then obviously I want to find a way to tap into it.
I am a “part time” pastor to a church full of the most wonderful and generous people I have ever met. They inspire me to grow stronger and go deeper with Christ than I ever have in order to be the best pastor I can for them. The problem is we are just too small of a church for me to pastor full time. I am happy to have and work a secular job, but I only do so to support my family because I cannot do so working solely as a pastor. I find no “joy” in my secular job. Working my secular job takes a significant amount of time away that I used to use working for the church. Right now, no one notices the little details. I used to post my sermon titles on the marquee out front once a week to try to generate interest in those who pass by. I have not done so in weeks. I try to be creative and challenging with my sermons, but lately I feel like I have become dry and predictable. I am working equally hard to be a good pastor, but personally, I feel like I am only at half strength. My obedience to Christ is what led me to be a pastor, but my current situation makes it hard for me to extract “complete joy” out of that work. So, as you can see, my “joy” has been taking some hits lately.
Well, now that I have sucked all the joy out of you with my questions, let me pull all of this together and end this with a positive note. The important thing is that Jesus left us the key to “complete” joy in his word. We also learn from his word that he rewards those who diligently seek him. I suppose if you are like me, and finding it hard to experience “complete” joy in your walk with Christ, then we just need to look harder.
I do not know about you, but I am not content to let “fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains” repeat the sounding joy for me.
Dennis McFarland is the pastor of the Plumwood Church of Christ in Christian Union, 175 Arthur Bradley Road. He can be reached at (740) 857-1714 or by e-mail at: email@example.com