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How to Find (and Keep) Your Joy in Ministry

How to Find (and Keep) Your Joy in Ministry

Psychology Today once asked 52,000 Americans, “What does it take to make you happy?” Their answers varied, but the interesting thing is that most of them dealt with external situations instead of internal issues. The popular idea of happiness involves having the right circumstances. It’s what I call “when and then” thinking.

When I get out of school, then I’ll be happy.

When I get a job, then I’ll be happy.

When I get married, then I’ll be happy.

When I have kids, then I’ll be happy.

When the kids leave home, then I’ll be happy.

Perhaps happiness isn’t the goal. At least not the way most people think about the word happiness.

Joy is a much better word because it describes a state we can choose regardless of our circumstances.

Joy is a choice. You choose to be joyful—often in spite of your circumstances. Right now, regardless of what you are facing in your ministry, you’re as joyful as you choose to be.

Life is difficult. Parenting is difficult. Ministry is difficult! There are a lot of things that don’t go right and don’t go your way in life. If your joy in ministry depends on everything going your way, you’ll be miserable for much of your ministry.

My wife, Kay, wrote in her book Choose Joy, “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right, and the determined choice to praise God in all things.”

She’s right. Real joy can be chosen, by faith, in any circumstance.

Of course, the greatest instructions on how to be joyful can be found in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus began his most famous message with eight ways to find joy and I believe the first one is the most important. Matthew 5:3 says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (NIV). What does he mean by “the poor in spirit”? Jesus was talking about humility.

What does it mean to be poor in spirit? It simply means to be totally dependent on God. That is true humility: admitting that I don’t have it all together, that I haven’t arrived, that I haven’t learned it all, that I’m a long way from perfection, and that I’m not God!

Joy and humility go together! They’re twins; soul mates. If you want to have lasting joy—in life and ministry—then you need to learn true humility.

How can humility increase my happiness?

Humility reduces stress.

When I’m humble I don’t have to have all the answers; I realize that the world, or even the church I pastor, does not depend on me for its existence. Humility allows me to resign as general manager of the universe. I let God be God.

When I choose to humble myself, I am able to live with the tension between the real and the ideal—my ideal for my marriage, my kids, and my ministry, as opposed to the way things really are right now. You will always have that tension. Humility is accepting life with gratitude even though things aren’t perfect.

Did you know that the words human, humanity, humor, and humility all come from the same root word? Humility is, in essence, being in touch with your humanity. It is having a realistic view of both your strengths and weaknesses.

Humility is also not taking yourself too seriously. Humble people can laugh at themselves. Prideful people often are humorless people. They are too impressed with themselves or too insecure to let down and laugh at themselves.

I’ve noticed that pastors can be particularly susceptible to over-inflating our importance. We can take ourselves way too seriously, and we don’t take God seriously enough. That is the source of so much stress in ministry. You spend so much emotional energy trying to impress people with your importance, your spirituality, or your knowledge that you feel drained all the time.

On the other hand, when you walk in humble dependence upon the Lord, your stress goes down, and your joy goes up.

Humility improves relationships.

No one enjoys being around arrogant people. Selfish, self-absorbed people are an irritation. They wreck relationships and destroy fellowship. Because self-centered people are unhappy, they make everybody else unhappy, too.

On the other hand, all of us love being around genuinely humble individuals. When you are humble, you get along better with other people. Humility doesn’t mean you think less of yourself; you just think more about others! And when you become interested in others, you become interesting to others!

When you’re poor in spirit, it reduces your stress and improves your relationships because you are more likely to ask forgiveness when you are wrong. You don’t have to be right all the time. It’s easier for you to say the two hardest words, “Forgive me” or the three hardest words, “I was wrong” or the four hardest words, “I need your help.”

St. Francis of Assisi had an unusual method of maintaining humility. In his memoirs, he said anytime someone praised him, in order to stay humble, he would have a fellow monk sit down and tell him all his faults. Of course, the reason he had to ask a fellow monk was because he never married!

Actually, it is not your wife’s job to keep you humble. That’s your job! Humility is a choice.

Ruth Graham said about her husband, Billy Graham: “My job is to love Billy; God’s job is to keep him humble.” But God only steps in to humble us when we have failed to humble ourselves. Over and over again in the Scriptures we are told to “humble ourselves.” Again, humility is a choice—to think of others instead of yourself.

I’ve discovered when I’m walking humbly before the Lord, just being who God made me to be and depending upon God, I’m almost immune to insults. They don’t bother me but pass through me because my focus is on pleasing the Lord, not gaining the approval of others. Whenever I become extra sensitive to criticism, it’s a sign that I’ve stopped walking in humility.

Humility releases God’s power.

Humility releases God’s power in your life. James 4:6 says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (NLT). Would you like to have God’s grace poured out in your life and ministry? The secret of spiritual power is to walk humbly before the Lord, focusing on others and depending on God.

I often pray a particular prayer on my way to church. I offer my resignation to God: “God, you have used me in the past, but I never presume upon your graciousness. Whatever will bring you the most glory is exactly what I want.” Then I recommit my life to the Lord and ask him to empower me. I have a memorized list of affirmations and confessions that I pray, but the bottom line is that I humble myself before the Lord in solitude.

If you have to prepare and preach fresh messages on a regular basis, you already know how essential it is to express total dependence upon God. Nobody can possibly meet all the different needs in a typical congregation. But God can.

God’s power is seen in your life not because of who you are but because of who God is! The secret of strength is admitting your weakness. The secret of power is admitting helplessness. The secret of joy is humility. And the secret of victory is total surrender to God.

I urge you to get alone with God right now, choose to humble yourself, and say, “God, as your humble servant I surrender my will completely to yours. Please help me!”

There’s nothing God won’t do for that kind of person! The kingdom of heaven will be yours.

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