Where joy goes to die

“Joy is the business of Heaven.”  –C. S. Lewis 

What started me thinking of this was a line from former FBI director James Comey’s book A Higher Loyalty.

“Although I have had a different idea of ‘fun’ than most, there were some parts of the Justice Department that had become black holes, where joy went to die.” 

Sound familiar, pastor?

“Where joy goes to die.”  A fit description for a place–a business, a family, a team, a congregation–characterized by low morale, battle fatigue and discouragement.

I’ve worked in places like that. I’ve pastored a church or two like that.  And I’ve known several such congregations.

God help your church.

Comey says,“The more stressful the job, the more intentional I’ve always been about helping my team members find joy in our work.  Laughter is the outward manifestation of joy, so I believe if I’m doing it right and helping people connect to the meaning and joy in their work, there will be laughter in the workplace.”

This blog is about churches and church leaders, not governmental offices or bureaucracies.  So, let’s think of those churches where joy goes to die…

–A church where people reject new ideas and new people is a graveyard for joy.

–A church where the pastor preaches harsh messages and delights in banishing people to hell is not a welcoming environment for joy.

–A congregation where the leadership looks askance at newcomers, forbids children from having fun and being children, and turns a cold shoulder toward innovation and instrumentation in the services is a joyless place.

I’m remembering a congregation I attempted to pastor for a brief three years.  We were having some kind of event at church–I’ve long since forgotten–and the sweetest little child, a boy perhaps two or three years old, stepped into the aisle and began dancing.  It was so charming.  But one of the older ladies of the church, first cousin to Ebenezer Scrooge, said, “Someone stop that child from dancing in the church.”  I wanted to say, “No! Let’s follow his example!”

Fortunately, everyone ignored the critic and enjoyed the child.

–In one church I served, the deacon leadership worked at finding ways to stop other men from being qualified to serve as deacons.  This was their little club and they had to protect it from intruders.  Joy is a stranger to such a gathering.

–In one church where I was preaching “in view of a call,” numerous people voted against my coming as pastor because I had used humor in the sermon.  The Lord sent me anyway (I’m smiling).  Either they loosened up and laughed or found another church.

–I’ve known congregations that treated laughter as an intrusion into a worship service, rather than an integral part.  When they laughed–as they did, rarely–you got the impression they felt guilty about it and stopped as quickly as possible.

–In sketching church groups over these decades, I tell people to “look me in the eye and smile.”  You’d be amazed how many Christian people say, “I don’t smile.”  I have had more than one pastor say, “I don’t smile.”  I have no patience with this, I need to confess.  I look at these people all serious-like and say rather sternly, “You don’t smile? Are you saved?” When they assure me they are, I reply, “Then man, you ought to be giggling.  I’m saved! I’m going to Heaven! My sins are forgiven!”

I told one pastor, “Fully one half of your members have told me they did not smile.  My friend, there’s something wrong here.”  He dismissed it as unimportant.  Which probably explains everything.

The Lord Jesus had much to say about joy.  Here are three statements from the Lord’s last night with the disciples in the Upper Room….

These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full (John 15:11).  This joy we feel is HIS joy and it is full!  (Don’t rush past this.  His joy is a Heavenly joy. See what Jesus said about that in Luke 15:7,10. See what David said about the joy of Heaven in Psalm 16:11.

I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice; and no one takes your joy away from you (John 16:22).  His heavenly joy in us is a permanent joy.  What part of “permanent” do we not understand.  I hear people say, “Well, you don’t know what I’m having to deal with, preacher.”  My answer is Matthew 5:12 (“Rejoice in persecution”) and Second Timothy 1:8 (“Join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God”).

Until now you have asked nothing in my name; ask and you will receive, that your joy may be made full (John 16:24).  Our joy runs over when we are constantly being used of Him.

The Lord wants our joy to be His joy, to be fulness of joy, and to be permanent joy.

Why should we rejoice? 

We rejoice “in the Lord” (Philippians 4:4).  What does that mean?  It means to make a conscious decision to praise Him and love Him, to serve Him and thank Him.

When the disciples returning from their preaching mission on fire–“Lord! It was wonderful! Even the devils were subject to us!”–Jesus agreed with them.  Then, He said, “But do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you.  Rejoice because your names are written in Heaven” (Luke 10:20).  Do that and you will never run out of reasons to rejoice.

Joy is the business of Heaven, said C. S. Lewis.  Perhaps Dr. Lewis is remembering Psalm 16:11. “In Thy presence is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore.”  Billy Graham called that his favorite verse.

Given a choice, I’d rather my church be a birthplace for joy, not the black hole where joy goes to die.

And make no mistake– we always have a choice.

Check out Acts 16:25.  In prison in Philippi, locked into stocks, their backs open wounds from the beating they had received, Paul and Silas did something truly amazing.  About midnight (they) were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.  

They’re always listening. And watching.

Joy did not die in that prison cell that night, friend.

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