It's no secret that this life is full of ups and downs and riddled with uncertainty. Unfortunately, those down times are often accompanied by suffering. The pandemic, and its effect on individuals, is a potent reminder that everyone's life will, at some point, be touched by difficulty and distress.
Pastors and leaders are constantly called to the bedside of the sick and dying. They are always holding the hand of a mother who is distraught over a wayward child. Ministry leaders get called when a life has been turned upside down by devastation. As a leader, it can be challenging to stay encouraged during those times, much less take on the role of an encourager. The darkness of suffering can make it feel like an arduous task.
Encouraging others while you are struggling to see the silver lining can create such an uncomfortable dissonance that it would be much easier not to deal with it at all. However, you keep showing up. You keep speaking life. You keep modeling that there is more to the situation than what the eye perceives. Leadership requires the ability to offer hope in the face of adversity, and it shows up as the promise of joy.
Joy can appear as a feeling of happiness. We're told joy is something that we feel when everything is finally at peace, and we're experiencing a sense of ease and comfort. We've been taught that only a feeling of elation is proof of joy. By these definitions, joy is temporary and fleeting because it only exists in favorable circumstances, and, as previously mentioned, life isn't always positive. While defining joy this way may be accurate in part, the whole story of its definition is much deeper and much more comprehensive than just a positive experience. Joy is an attitude. It is a choice that leaders make in the face of adversity. It doesn't seem very easy to hold on to, but we see the truth when we look to Jesus. The truth is that joy is permanent because the Holy Spirit produces it.
Here are three things for church leaders to remember when struggling to experience joy:
The joy of the Lord is our strength
As previously mentioned, the Lord is our source of joy. When we allow him to work in our lives, we see that we can endure while suffering. He supplies a supernatural strength by gifting us with his joy. He helps us to shift our focus off of the problem and onto him. Once our focus shifts, we can lay the burden of suffering at his feet and rest in his power. His strength is what allows us to face hardship without giving up.
Count it all joy
In moments of tribulation, it is essential to look to the truth of scripture. As believers, and especially church leaders, we are never promised a problem-free life. Instead, we count it a joy to encounter suffering. Joy turns suffering upside down. When we count it a privilege to share in the suffering of Christ, we can extract joy from our situation and have a profoundly comforting experience. We can find joy in knowing that even grief works out for his glory and our good.
Joy comes in the morning
Another profound promise found in God's Word is that suffering is only temporary, and when it subsides, we are stronger and more resilient. Mourning and lamenting the trials and tribulations of this life can feel as dark as midnight, but true joy comes like a breaking dawn. Its light reveals a more profound truth that, yes, a loss is painful, suffering is uncomfortable, but nothing heals like the hope of joy. As leaders, it's imperative to remember that you can allow this hope to take root and fill your hearts with gladness amid grief.
How will you let joy take root in your life today?