What (who) Sustains Your Joy?
After preaching in all 3 services, people would come and tell me how they were touched by the Holy Spirit and the Word and so on. When God uses us it is easy to think we had something to do with it. No. He uses us despite us!
God, in His sheer mercy and grace, has been kind enough to use my five loaves and two fish sermons to awaken and inspire some people. But hardly does anyone offer me a constructive critique, except one brother from Tokyo who would come to worship with us every now and then. I’m concerned with this; and it is not good for my pride.
It would be thrilling to talk about my past week’s ministry “successes” on Tuesday mornings missionary prayer breakfast. I’m aware of the subtle dangers of self-promotion in my soul, even when my intentions are seemingly right. What a thrill it is to share those momentary joys with others. Each missionary has treasured experiences from the past week that would thrill us all to the core— but none of these experiences were meant to sustain our joy.
In Luke 10 Jesus’ chose 72 of his followers and sent them out in his name. And they had incredible success in healing the sick and in casting out demons. The experiences must have been intoxicatingly thrilling and “fun.” Verse 17 tells us “The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord,even the demons are subject to us in your name!”” They were saying: “This is fun! Look Jesus, your name worked like a magic wand!” But ministry success wasn’t most stunning for Jesus. He was not impressed. So in verse 18 “he said to them,“I saw Satanfall like lightning from heaven.” In other words, Jesus was saying: “Yes. You succeeded with the little demons because (in essence) I defeated their boss already.” All their temporary ministry “success” could not be compared to what Christ would achieve on the cross!
So He tells them in verse 19.
“Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. 20. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
Why would Jesus say to his disciples as they returned from a successful ministry: “do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you” ? (Luke 10:20). It would be a Christian-thing to “rejoice with those who rejoice.” But instead of saying, “Great job! That’s awesome! Praise God!” He says, “do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you…” He would have sounded downright negative if He were part of a pastoral team in a modern evangelical Church setting! So uncaring! So cold! So insensitive! Perhaps, some would have assumed He was just being jealous of the unconventional ways of doing ministry that distinguished the disciples from the religious pharisees! Some would condemn his response as un-Pastor-like. For the Christians, He might have sounded so un-Christ-like to have said such a thing! Modern day ministry leaders, whose philosophy of ministry is driven by positive thinking, might find it quite hard to stomach such negative remarks. But notice how He finished the rest of his sentence: “rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” In telling them not to rejoice in the miracles, He helped them look beyond the fruits of their temporary ministry to His work on the cross.
Jesus speaks truth without compromise because He is full of grace and truth. Just when one is tempted to think He is being negative, Jesus goes on to say: “rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” The negative and positive feedbacks are paired together.
1. He puts the negative first, to show that the foundation of our deepest and lasting joys are not found in ministry successes.
2. He puts the positive second, to show us that our highest joy is found in the fact that our names are registered in heaven’s book.
Our names are written in heaven. That’s what He wanted them and us to see. Our highest joy is to know that our names are written in heaven. By unplugging the disciples’ joy from their ministry effectiveness, Jesus likewise protects them (and us) from depression during seasons of seeming fruitlessness. Seasons of what appears to be effectiveness and ineffectiveness come and go. Seasons of revival are replaced by seasons of stagnation. Seasons of tremendous growth are also replaced by seasons of failure, compromise and mistakes.
Our joy is not rooted in any of our successes, even in marriage, parenting, work, school — all areas of life where we are called by God to bear fruit. And our joy is not extinguished by our failures in those areas either. In fact, our joy is rooted in the unalterable fact that in Christ our names are written in heaven. This is joy eternal. Joy in Christ alone is joy that will outlast all our temporary failures or successes in ministry.