HIDDENJOY: Vision problems.
The terms create almost contradictory images, the ideas of joy and endurance appearing in the same sentence. But, the writer of Hebrews, unknown though he may be, was guided along by the Spirit to unite these very words in a thought that has encouraged so many people called to serve him. Over in one corner of my mind is the lofty ideal of rejoicing always, the outcome of the joy that grows out of our communion with Christ. In the other corner is that dogged, worn down but not out blood brother, Mr. Endurance, hanging on for dear life. Like many other opposites, they become one in Christ.
Each day I am broken by the number of people whose joy isn't so obvious. Well, that's an entire topic of debate, whether or not a thief can crack the code of our well-guarded hearts and make off with our joy. Only as we piece together groups of conditional Bible phrases can we believe that even the adversary can take the joy of a believer, or in my case, one who has answered his call. Let's not give him more credit than he's due. Still, there is the troubling issue of a believer's joy, and what happened to it. , or a pastor or spiritual leader, for that matter. Where's the joy that should characterize my life in Christ and the service to which I have yielded everything to follow him? Have I laid it aside? Is it lost? Did, in fact, a demon steal it from me?
Well, there are several layers to those questions, and perhaps this week I'll get to them. Up front, however, are the verses the anonymous author of Hebrews penned with such great precision. You know the ones, where joy and endured are mentioned in the same phrase. Here they are---
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.
So, Google Hebrews 12:1-3 and in .94 seconds you'll get 408,000 potential sites about them. Some really great scholars and Bible teachers and preachers have written a page or two about these great verses and have no doubt explained them and why joy and endured are linked. Here's my thought, for whatever it's worth. Evidently the joy in front of Jesus moved him through the agony and pain so that he endured the suffering of crucifixion. It's seems that joy produced endurance in Jesus. Thanks, Sonny, that clears it all up for me! Now I understand why so many of my believer friends, and especially my colleagues in ministry, appear to live haggard, joy-less lives. End of story.
Pause a minute. Demographers say that 85% of our churches are plateaued or declining. More than five reputable research institutions (PEW Research, the Francis Schaeffer Institute, Peacemakers Ministries, LifeWay Research, expastors.com, NineMarks, and more) indicate that 1,700 pastors leave the ministry every month. The divorce stats among believers has now outpaced those of unbelievers. And these numbers are just a domino effect of downhill trends that reflect the church's low profile in a growing secular world. As a result, many believers are on the sidelines. Ministers too. Where's the joy?
So, here's my thesis: the joy is hidden by our circumstances. My first impulse was to say our joy has been stolen. Certainly I acknowledge the work of the adversary and know the devil is a thief. There's some reluctance, however, in giving his power over what only God can give. So, perhaps stolen is too strong a concept, as if anything could possibly steal something given to us by God. Maybe it's hidden behind the clouds of our busy-ness, obscured by the dust storm of our colliding priorities. Or, worse, there's a vision problem.
It's something I've seen in thirty-five years of pastoral leadership, this vision problem. Yes, the landscape is stirred by our frantic activity, especially so in the contemporary church. Busy and mission aren't synonyms! Even more, however, our sight is easily diverted from the one who gives us joy to the urgencies that keep us moving. Our vision problem is that we aren't always looking in the right direction at the one and only one who makes sense out of two such clashing words---joy and endured. So, it's not the dust storms. It's spiritual myopathy, taking our eyes off of Jesus. Our joy is often hidden behind those other idols we worship and adore. Do Christians take their eyes off of Jesus? How about ministers? The short answer is "yes".
Life is hard, and ministry is hard too. I loved every one of my thirty-five years in pastoral leadership. There were some hours and minutes that weren't as lovable, however. Many of the called pastors, ministers, and spiritual leaders are side-tracked by the rigors of ministry---budgets, buildings, bulletins, business meetings, and by-laws---and their vision is shifted to managing his church and not leading it. It's a vision problem. We must keep our eyes on him.
When Jesus spoke to the Father before his agony, he prayed, "But now I am coming to you and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves" (John 17:13). He means that he wanted us to have his joy. This joy is one that only he can give. And, when we're not intently focused on him, the joy is hidden, and guess what? Endurance dims too.
We must keep our eyes on him.