By Dick Koehneke
Not very long ago I was talking with a man who had retired from the Air Force after a long and distinguished career. His service had caused him and his family to move multiple times over the years. He had been a member of eight or ten different Lutheran congregations, as I recall, and I’m sure he was a faithful member of each one.
I asked him, “What’s the most important quality you look for in a pastor?” He thought for just a moment and then responded, “Obvious joy in his work.”
Frankly, that’s not what I was expecting. I thought his answer would be something along the lines of sound theology, good preaching, positive leadership, relational skills, and so on. I know that he honored all those skills and qualities. But the thing that mattered most to him was “obvious joy.”
Do we always feel joyful? No, not when our joy is dependent on our situation or our performance. If I’m joyful only when things are going well or when I think I’m doing well, that’s a problem, and that’s not the kind of joy that God wants us to have. Besides, I might be fooling myself when I’m thinking things are going well or that I’m doing well. Then my joy is based on illusion, not reality, and that’s not good at all.
Think of the real reasons why we can be joyful. Our sins are forgiven. We’re on our way to heaven. The Lord is with us always. We’re serving Him as we live our daily lives, and that fact gives meaning and purpose to the grandest strategies and the smallest details.
Sure, there are people who (to use H. B. London’s term) are “joy-suckers.” They are experts at turning smiles into frowns. They don’t always realize they’re doing it. That makes me wonder whether I am sometimes a “joy-sucker” in my relationships with other people. When you’re unhappy with yourself, you can become critical of others over the least little things, thus sucking the joy out of their lives. When you see room for improvement everywhere you look (except possibly in the mirror), you just might be a “joy-sucker.”
I can’t control how other people act, but I can work at exercising self-control. Joy is contagious. I want to be a person who turns frowns into smiles. I want to be a “joy-filler.” A “joy-filler” helps people to be “joy-full.” That’s the kind of pastor that retired Air Force veteran appreciates. That’s the sort of person other people want to be around. As someone said, “If you’re feeling joy in your heart, tell your face about it!”
Joyful self-control keeps us focused on the eternal victory we have in Christ, even when things aren’t going well in this world. Jesus taught in His parable that the weeds will keep growing alongside the wheat until the day when He returns in glory. As He says, “In this world you will have trouble; but take heart, for I have overcome the world.” The victory is already ours through faith in Christ. We’re on the winning side. That’s reason for joy in our hearts – and more than enough reason for obvious joy in our work.