January 26, 2005

No more problems with joy

I've never had problems with happiness but I've always had problems with joy. Not to say that I've never been joyful, I have; but that inner state of peace, contentment, fulfilment, tranquility and blessedness has always been difficult for me to attain.

The reason for this is probably because, all my life, I have always waited for the other shoe to drop. Even in times of happiness, I look for the fly in the ointment and never see the silver lining in the dark cloud. There's always a catch. Life's always a series of trick questions. Until I became a Christian, I've never believed in "happy ever afters"--of course, now I know better.

I have always equated happiness with order. I am quite OC about a lot of things. I also have a knack (I don't call it a gift because sometimes its not) for dissecting systems and predicting where things can and will go wrong. So, happiness--and joy-- for me is a well-oiled, smooth running machinery, structure or framework.

This year, the realization that I've always had but never wanted to remember was driven home to me: happiness isn't joy. Happiness is fleeting, joy is eternal. Happiness is situational, joy is part of character. Regardless of unhappy situations, I should be able to find joy. Its this part of the equation that's difficult for me--regardless of unhappy situations, I should be able to find joy.

Reflecting on this, I realized something about myself: I've been happy a lot of times but I cannot say I've been joyful that many times.

Very recently, I wrote to my pastoral leader to ask for permission to be relieved from a service. The reason I gave was that I was not happy and that I did not feel empowered, I did not feel inspired. In short, I said to him, I cannot be joyful in my service. My pastoral leader simply did not acknowledge my request, even if he had read it and just told me he would pray for me and that we should talk soon. We eventually did talk and I reiterated my request to be relieved; he said he'd pray about it but he told me that if the service caused me so much unhappiness, then maybe I should be relieved.

After we talked, I came before the Lord during one of my prayer times and again begged Him for grace to be able to continue with my service. I lifted up to Him the reasons Iwasn't happy with my service and why I wasn't empowered, enlightened, inspired.

The Lord then reminded me what should give me true joy:

"See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes, and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven. (Luke 10:19-20)"

"His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Thus, He has given us, through these things, His precious and very great promises . . . For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledged with self-control and self-control with endurance and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful . . . Therefore, . . . be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. (2 Peter 1:3-4, 5-8, 10)"

And I was humbled by these words, these truths.

I've been very blessed with all that I have. I have some modicum of financial blessing but I've also been blessed with a relative degree of authority and influence in my work life. And I would be lying if I said that the order that such authority and influence has brought has not brought happiness; but it had never brought joy.

That I am able to put order in things had always brought me great happiness but, until recently, I had never realized that it had never brought me joy.

The power to put order in things breeds the desire to put greater order in more things. It fuels a baser instinct to be in control and to be in power and to derive happiness from such control and such power. The happiness this brings is fleeting but the lack of joy may be permanent.

The Lord's words reminded me that "you may be powerful and you may have authority but that is not and will never bring you joy. True joy is found in your salvation; true joy is found in your name being written in heaven. And indeed, while you may have been blessed and continue to blessed, true joy comes not from the blessings but from the reason for those blessings: My Call for you. Embrace that call eagerly and with joy for I have given you every promise and every blessing. Yet, before you may embrace that call eagerly, support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledged with self-control and self-control with endurance and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection and mutual affection with love. It is only then that you may be truly fruitful and effective; it is only then that you may truly find joy."

In my personal testimony of how I found the Lord, I have always pointed out that until the Lord came into my life, I thought of myself as "the greatest lawyer in the world"; and until I found the Lord, that had always brought me what I knew to be joy. But the Lord, the greatest lawyer in the universe, reminded me what brings true joy--being saved and being able to save others.

The Lord's words reminded me that I found no joy in my service because I had always been obsessed with the fly in the ointment and not with the love that my brothers and sisters had put into their service; I had always looked for the well-oiled machine that functions perfectly and forgotten that Christ Himself proclaimed that He would bring division into a world that had become set in its ways away from God. (Luke 12:51) I found no joy because service was a duty imposed by circumstances and not rendered by the love that binds me to my brothers and sisters. I found no joy because I exalted the works of my hands and not the work of His hands.

I recently asked my pastoral leader to consider my request rescinded and that I be allowed to continue in my service; this time, he acknowledged my request.

So I continue to serve, and though there are many circumstances in service that have not brought me happiness, I remain assured that I will find joy in my service. For I hold on to the Lord's promise that He is leading me with joy in the light of His glory, with the mercy and the righteousness that come from Him (Baruch 5:9); and if the Lord finds joy in leading me, who am I that I should find no joy in serving Him?