Imagine a world without joy.
I realize that’s both a difficult and dismal concept, and life right now might feel that way already. For the record, this world is not without joy. If you’re not experiencing it today, rest easy however you can in something I’ll point out later.
For now, consider – what would you stop doing that you’re currently doing if joy ceased to exist? If there was no emotional payoff hardwired into the conclusion of whatever you did:
- Would you endure through tough things?
- Would you still do good things?
Arguably, a lack of joy would affect everything. You would update your social media status differently and take less “selfie” photos boasting about whatever you were in front of.
(Maybe that isn’t a bad idea in itself, but I digress.)
Behavioral science and some new research fueling how businesses market themselves assume that we don’t really have “free will” as much as we have “free won’t.” In other words, we can either give in to the drive to experience bliss or apply a more rational approach that overtakes our emotions.
The real challenge is that our culture has wired us to pursue our feelings at all costs. If you have an urge, you’re supposed to just “go for it” without any regard to its objective morality. Even Christianity has become more about the payoff, as if we marry God for His money and ditch Him at the altar. A friend asked me recently, “If God doesn’t eventually give me some sense of happiness at some point, then what’s the point of everything I’m struggling through?”
You might be nodding your head at someone you know who would say that. Before you get too far down the road, consider if you’ve ever felt that way.
It’s okay within the right context, because joy isn’t a bad thing. Hebrews 12:2 says Jesus “for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
So what is the right context?
Let’s begin with a case study. Think of the most selfless thing you’ve ever done:
- Why did you do it? Was there an emotional feeling connected to it, even if it was merely the joy of knowing you did the right thing?
- Would you have done this thing without it? If so, does the joy of knowing you would have done it anyway carry any irony into your conclusion?
This is an uncomfortable topic for many reasons. On one hand, joy is a gift from God that we’re allowed to take pleasure in. On the other hand, we can easily turn God into an emotional vending machine to serve our whims.
Wrestle with this question, including how you might exploit joy in how you promote ministry opportunities:
- “You need to sign up for this service project! It’s going to be incredible! Words haven’t been invented yet to describe how awesome it will be!”
- “We’re getting ready to go back to _______ for our annual mission trip. I challenge you to sponsor a kid to go. You’ll get to experience the joy of knowing you made a difference through that student.”
- “Some of you who joined us for camp last year remember our last night. It was so moving, wasn’t it? No one wanted to leave. We just got caught up in the joy of that moment. It’s why we’re going back there again this year. If you missed out last time, you don’t want to miss out this time.”
Imagine what would happen to your faith and ministry if you weren’t allowed to experience, speak of, or promise joy ever again. Would you still love God and do what was right if He never did another good thing for you? How many of your “favorite things” would become your “least favorite things?”
I realize that you’re not obligated to consider that since joy does exist. It’s a component or “fruit” of the Spirit of God in your life.
Still, give my question a shot.
- Are you selling students on joy, or are you offering them Jesus-with-or-without-joy?
- What might it mean to not promote your next event or serving experience by promising bliss, but instead promising sacrifice?
- How can you help kids engage in mission trips for the validity of the “mission” and not the excitement of a “trip?”
What I’m proposing flies in the face of people in the spotlight who promise that following God guarantees the prosperity of your best life ever on earth. I don’t want to call them out by name, because I don’t sense them to be bad people. Rather, they’re just wrong.
Stare at the sacrificial cross of Jesus Christ, noting the blood and pain that He experienced. Receive the reality of the Resurrection and that He’s no longer being tortured or rolled up into burial clothing. Surrender to the Holy Spirit, allowing Him to have at you from the inside out. Bend your ego before your Heavenly Father on a daily basis.
Do this, and joy may come. But even if it doesn’t, do this. Even if it does come but the feeling doesn’t last, do this…and do this yet again.
Along the way, show some teenagers the difference. You just might enjoy it.
Thank you for loving students!