Where joy goes to die

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

What started me thinking of this was a line from 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.” 

James Comey explains further about his days at the Justice Department: “Places where morale had gotten so low and the battle scars from bureaucratic wrangling with other departments and the White House so deep, I worried that we were on the verge of losing some of our best, most capable lawyers.”

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 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 a few decades ago.  We were having some kind of event at church–I’ve long since forgotten whether we were in the sanctuary or fellowship hall–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, no doubt, 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, the deacons worked hard to find 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,” many people voted against my coming as pastor because I had used humor in the sermon.  The Lord sent me anyway (I’m smiling) and either they learned to loosen up and laugh 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 that they felt guilty about it and abandoned the practice as quickly as they could.

–In sketching congregations far and wide, I tell people, “Look me in the eye and smile.”  You’d be amazed how many Christians tell me, “I don’t smile.”  I have had more than one pastor say, “I don’t smile.”  If the situation is right, I’ll say, “You don’t smile? Are you saved?  Then you have everything to smile about!”  (I told one pastor, “Fully one half of your members 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!

–“I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice; and no one takes your joy away from you” (John 16:22).  This joy of ours is HIS, and it is permanent!

–“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 full and He wants it to be permanent, lasting.

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, 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 consistently 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.






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