There's a spiritual dumbing down characteristic of this culture too. It's a sad mark of a society growing more secular by the second, and we're partly to blame. It's about happiness. Over and over again there's a popular refrain, the credo of unsettled, searching, and empty people: I'm not happy! It's even common among ministry colleagues, those pastors and spiritual leaders who ought to know better. it's a symptom of busy, aimless, over-worked, and stressed-out people. It's not really the problem, but a outer evidence of something wrong at a deeper level. It's just that we've allowed circumstances to define us. Happiness is lost somewhere in the mix.
The confusion between happiness and joy are part of the problem. We've contributed to it by going light on some of our biblical interpretation. Take for example the first modern renderings of the Beatitudes from Matthew 5:2-12. There's this great word "blessed", makarioi in our transliteration. What a fabulous, descriptive word, from a root meaning "great". Most of the word studies around this Bible term render it "happy". So, in many translations the Beatitudes read, "Happy are the...", and the terms that complete the thought. Now, I'm no Greek scholar, and have only my own limited study on which to base this thought, but I cannot believe the exalted position of a believer under the gracious provision of God is happy. Blessed must mean something great than happy.
Here's my take. Happy is an emotion that is circumstantial. When my circumstances are favorable, then I am happy. When they take a downturn, then I am unhappy, even sad. It's very obvious in the Beatitudes that "blessed" isn't circumstantial. When Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit..." (Matthew 5:3), he couldn't have been referencing something positive. So, blessedness is above the circumstances. it must be something greater than the emotional thrill of happiness.
Then there's joy. Once again, this is just me, but joy isn't an emotion. It's a fruit of the Spirit that grows in our life as we take on the character of Christ (see Galatians 5: 22-24). It is not circumstantial but is abiding regardless of the personal realities we are facing. Jesus endured the cross for the joy that was set before him, the lasting knowledge of being at the right hand of the throne of God in eternity (Hebrews 12:1-3). The agony and pain and shame of the crucifixion were real. They would not have been happy hours for Jesus or his followers. But, there was joy.
Reading the demographics of the times are shocking, especially those relating to pastors and spiritual leaders. Earlier this week I spend a good bit of time at the Into Thy Word site to review page after page of data compiled by the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development regarding their survey and research into pastor and spiritual leaders lives (you can also access this information at http://www.intothyword.org/apps/articles/?articleid=36562). This material may explain why our churches are in decline, have lost influence in the market-place of ideas, and why there are revolving doors to the pastor's study. Having been in that world for thirty-five years I can attest to how true their numbers are! And, of course, the profiles of believers in America aren't much more encouraging.
Where is the joy, that may be the question? Where is that enduring, over-riding inner peace that guides us when the realities of everyday are so difficult? Perhaps it is hidden by our circumstances. Hard times have made us unhappy and have hidden our joy.
One day a few years ago I was painting the gutters on the highest side of our house. It was a thirty- foot ladder and I was having to move it when my reach exceeded my grasp. I was nearly finished and decided not to move the ladder. So, I stretched just a bit too far and the ladder fell. There I was, all 260 pounds at the time, hanging by my fingers from the flimsy gutter. At that instant a Bible verse flashed across my screen---To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy-- (Jude 24). About that time a neighbor saw me hanging on for dear life, rushed over the get the ladder back in place, and rescued me. I thanked him but looked up when doing so. He had answered my prayer.
But, the truth was greater than those circumstances. The promise was that he would "...present me before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy...". Great joy! No wonder the writer of Hebrews counseled to look to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrew 12:2). He will be there to present me faultless and with great joy.
Life is hard. Ministry is demanding and hard. These times will become even more trying and difficult for his people and leaders. The demographics affirm the truth of what Jesus told his disciples, that life would be filled with trouble. There will be moments of unhappiness, and times that bring laughter and a smile. But, then there is joy.
And we must not let our circumstances hide it from us.