There's this idea in Scripture that our spiritual life must be nourished. Paul's counsel about being filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) uses a language construct that indicates repetitive action, more faithfully translated "...be filled, and continue to be filled". So, the question of the hour, when considering the topic of Christian joy, is, what happens when we become empty, that is, not filled. Can the boundless joy of the Christian life be hidden behind worn-out, stale experiences of faith.
Evidently staleness is possible for believers, even pastors, ministers, and spiritual leaders. Paul advised Timothy to "...fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands..." (2 Timothy 2:6). Clearly, spiritual fires can burn low, the proverbial ax does need to be sharpened, we need to go to the well regularly, and be filled over and over again. In a world like this one, spiritual freshness and vitality is even more critical with so many competing priorities, treadmill living, the demographics of fear right here in our own country, political uncertainty, world-wide conflict, and the growth of a faithless secular culture. As church attendance and participation in mainline evangelicalism continues to trend downward, the potential for a hybrid joyless faith becomes more real.
Biblical faith is newness. God spoke through Isaiah, "Behold, I am doing a new thing" (Isaiah 43:19), setting the stage for what Jesus would bring into the life of those called by God. If this new life is anything, it is a total transformation of an old creature into a new one. So, there's an anticipation of vibrant living, fresh new things that would be part of our growing communion with him. Still, even in the early church, the rigors of life and service weighed on his disciples. They were tried and tested, scattered by persecution, threatened by the religious people and government, and often uncertain about how they were to act when they were together. Yes, Paul wrote his Epistles to deal with their internal matters. Under all of those circumstance some of them became empty, perhaps joyless. As a result, there are many references to spiritual refreshment, the personal disciplines necessary to overcome the forces that would steal their joy, or at least hide it from them.
The folks at the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development have compiled pages of data that make sense of some of our spiritual lethargy today. They say 1,500 pastors leave the ministry every month. Ninety percent of them are fatigued before they leave. Eighty-nine percent of the ones who stay consider leaving at some point, and 50% of them would leave post haste if they had somewhere else to go. Seventy-two percent never study the Bible except when they are preparing a sermon or teaching segment. Seventy-four percent indicate they have no regular personal devotion time. Good grief, think about the domino effect these leaders are influencing their congregations. You can review pages of these studies and stats at http://www.intothyword.org/apps/articles/?articleid=36562 Be prepared toe be shocked.
Scripture addresses spiritual refreshment too.
1. The source of spiritual refreshment is Jesus. Luke wrote, "...times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord..." (Acts 3:20). Being in his presence in personal Bible study, worship, prayer time, and in a corporate setting with other believers is the most essential component of spiritual vitality.
2. We must serve as refreshers to each other. There's this thing of spiritual accountability. The reformers called it church discipline, and that sounds rough to us sometimes. But, it is vital. Paul wrote to the Romans, "...by God's will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company" (Romans 15:32). Hey, kids, we can't do this alone.
3. We all need an accountability partner. The Apostle Paul turned to several people for personal refreshment. He wrote to Philemon to anticipate a visit, "Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my spirit" (Philemon 1:20). What a great blessing to have an encourager in your life. Pastors: staleness will haunt your entire ministry service if you try to stay spiritually vital alone. Get in a pastor support group today.
4. There is a dynamic connection between our spiritual freshness and joy. Once again, Paul wrote to Philemon, "For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you" (Philemon 1:7). When we are vitally new and refreshed our joy is more apparent.
5. Trusting him in fresh, current ways keeps us fresh and results in joy. Here's how Solomon said it, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and and refreshment to your bones" (Proverbs 3: 5-8). See, there's refreshment in trusting him daily.
Sometimes our joy can be hidden behind stale faith! When it's old and worn, tried and tested by life, and when it just drains us, and we're empty, we just need to be filled.
My saddest hours are when I'm with believers whose faith is a past-tense experience, pastors, ministers, and spiritual leaders at the top of the list. Dont' get me wrong. I'm thankful they have a past experience. His word is real and brings comfort. Not one will fall from his hands. But, talking to believers whose point of reference is back there somewhere hurts me. Especially pastors. These are the ones whose devotioanal life was a long time ago, their latest book is old and dated, they won't listen to new music or preaching or teaching. It is something that happened back there somewhere and isn't pulsing in their life today.
Solomon wrote, "The hope of the righteous brings joy..." (Proverbs 10:28). That's what I'm talking about! Faith that is real right now and produces hope no matter my personal circumstances. And that hope brings joy from behind the veil of staleness.
I love what Paul wrote to the Romans, a sweet prayer---May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope (Romans 15:13).
In believing. Now.