I’ve spent two years waiting on joy. I really have. Joy isn’t something I can produce, or simply muster up. It’s a gift that God gives us, like peace and hope. Obviously, once He gives it, we have to choose to grab hold of it, but we can’t make it. So, I’ve prayed for it and waited on it for two years. More than two years, really, but we’ll go with two years for this story.
I spent my entire life from 18 to 41 years old as a youth pastor. I loved it. Yeah, there were days I didn’t know if I could eat one more slice of pizza, or find another creative way to talk about purity with 8th grade boys, but overall, I loved it. I loved it year over year, decade over decade. When God made it clear He was asking me to move to another role in our church, I wasn’t too thrilled. For a long time. But I knew if I did what He asked, He would fill me with joy in my new role, and all would be good. Because that’s how it works. If we obey, then we get joy. It’s a one to one trade-off, at the least. Most of the time, we look for God to give us much more joy back than the sacrifice we made to get there.
So, I agreed to His plans (pretty generous of me, don’t you think?) and moved into a new role, letting go of all that I knew, for all that I didn’t know.
Joy was coming.
I kept waiting.
I did my job well. I pointed people to Jesus. I helped replace myself with an amazing youth pastor, and helped him succeed.
And I waited.
I worked hard. I prayed hard. I was patient, sometimes.
And I waited.
God owed me joy, and it needed to show up.
But it didn’t.
I knew what I was doing was the right thing. I knew I was obedient. He was crystal clear on that one. But joy was absent. For six months. Nine months. A year. 18 months. Two years. I regularly asked other people to pray for joy in my life.
I pleaded, bargained, begged, prayed, cajoled, and any other word you can imagine that describes me trying to get my way with the God of the universe.
So, what do we do in this spot? What happens when you do the right things, you are faithful, you clearly hear a call, and you obey it, and joy isn’t paid back to you? You know giving up isn’t the answer. But living in a place of pure obedience without that deep sense of satisfaction and joy isn’t right, is it?
Yeah, it is. As I’ve studied more, read more, and prayed more, there is no equation to this. We are called to faithfulness for the sake of faithfulness. Being faithful is reward in itself. As “give everyone a trophy for trying” Americans, we’ve lost this. We see God as a senior partner in the business of our life. If we punch the clock, He owes us a paycheck and Christmas bonuses. (If anyone is going to give Christmas bonuses, surely Jesus would.) But it’s not the case. It’s not a one to one equation.
Joy is a gift, not an expectation.
So, honestly, I quit looking, and I quit praying. Not because I believed God was being selfish or not listening. I realized that’s not the goal. I embraced faithfulness as the goal, God’s Kingdom as the hope. And no, that didn’t produce joy in my either. It’s not that type of Jesus centered fairy tale. I quit looking and asking, and instead began praying for God’s provision and for Him to use whatever parts of me He wanted to.
And not much changed.
That was ok. It’s actually more than enough. I doubt Jesus felt joy as He was going though the ordeal in the last 48 hours of His life. But His faithfulness was enough. If it was good enough for him, I figured I could give it a good run in my life too.
Then, I was shocked when the other day I was trying my hardest to make a budget work out for our church (part of my job now). I hate numbers, I’m a words kind of guy. I was struggling through something I am woefully under trained to do, and finally it all came together. And it was there. Joy. I wasn’t even looking, but it snuck in the back door, and sat down at the table with me. We laughed at how long it had been, and reminisced a little. It was good.
I will not complain. It’s a beautiful gift, however and whenever it comes.