Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.
2 Corinthians 1:24
I’ll be honest with you. Doing ministry cross-culturally is not without its challenges. In fact, we’ve gone through a rather rough year here in Ethiopia. Our good friends, neighbors, and partners in ministry moved back to the U.S. Our kids lost a lot of their good friends this year, and their behavior has definitely taken a turn for the worse. We’ve been working tirelessly, and Christina and I both are exhausted.
Recently, I realized that I was losing my joy. “But does that really matter?” I wondered. I know we’re called to be here, so can’t I just dutifully serve out my calling? Do I really need to be joyful?
I’ve always been a big fan of John Piper’s teaching, and his messages on Christian Hedonism and missions that I heard when I was 21 are a big reason that we are in the mission field. The central thesis of Christian Hedonism is that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” Happily, joyfully satisfied. Christian Hedonism builds on the theology of Jonathan Edwards who resolved this at the tender age of 20:
Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the power; might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.
Wait, did he say "violence?” This kind of diligence and fighting for joy has not been characteristic of me this year. I have reluctantly resigned to duty. But I need to fight for joy with all my “power, might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence.” Paul told the Corinthians that he was working with them for their joy (2 Cor 1:24). How am I working for my joy? All of us, and certainly those of us in ministry, must make happiness in God our primary aim. Without it, we will surely burn out. We cannot focus on ministry results, fellow staff who seek to undermine us, persecution, or even a lack of appreciation from those to whom we minister. Paul experienced all this and much more.
The joy comes from fellowship with God. It comes from intentional time in His Word. And it comes from taking heaven by storm, as in the title of the great Puritan classic by Thomas Watson, Heaven Taken by Storm, Or, the Holy Violence a Christian Is to Put Forth in His Pursuit after Glory. Like Edwards, Watson described a holy violence—a literal fighting, grasping, and clawing for joy in God; a constant, delightful pursuit of the glory of God, because, as Jesus said, heaven is taken “by force” (Matt 11:12).
I am rediscovering this kind of fighting. As a missionary and a minister of the Gospel, I long to lead others into that happiness that is found in God. But I can’t give what I don’t have. I pray that I will delight in God again. As I read his Word, I am praying for God to return this joy to my soul. I am so thankful that we hold the very words of God to live by, and I pray that His voice will ignite happiness in my life again. I recently read this from Spurgeon and think it’s quite appropriate:
In His written Word thou hast this assurance in part fulfilled, for holy Scripture is His counsel to thee. Happy are we to have God's Word always to guide us! What were the mariner without his compass? And what were the Christian without the Bible? This is the unerring chart, the map in which every shoal is described, and all the channels from the quicksands of destruction to the haven of salvation mapped and marked by One who knows all the way. Blessed be Thou, O God, that we may trust Thee to guide us now, and guide us even to the end!