Let’s set the record straight again because we know that we know that we know that happiness is not joy. Happiness is external and based on immediate circumstances and people. Happiness depends on both. Joy is different. C.S. Lewis says in Surprised by Joy, that, “All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be’.”Joy is mentioned more than 500 times in Scripture. For example, when the fire first came out of the tabernacle, the people, “shouted for joy and fell facedown” (Lev. 9:24). The Psalmist says, “The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy” (Ps. 65:8). And in Galatians 5, Paul mentions joy as a fruit of the spirit.
When it comes to your church, is there joy? It’s a difficult question because it doesn’t come with some Barna assessment tools. We’ve listed several ways that might help you see joy flourish. Some of them are obvious, but perhaps a renewed use or a more careful reading will invite additional stabs into the joy Scripture talks about.
Seven Ways to Make Joy Flourish in Your Congregation
Edify your people
Notice people. Go beyond the shaking of hands after the service and extend yourself. Remember names and birthdays and the pains people have. We need to be pastors, not just preachers. That takes work. I recall the principal of my high school knowing everyone’s name and birthday. He’d make a point to wish you blessings on your day. I’m sure he studied each week to make sure he extended that small act of joy. It creates community and relationship far beyond a feeling.
Worship as a congregation
We already do this, right? Maybe. I’ve been in many churches where the band and singers on stage so outweigh the congregation’s worship, that there’s little point to contribute. Turn down the volume, not for the elderly folk, but for everyone. Worship is not about a singer (or a few singers) in the chorus to be heard. It’s about the congregation – the whole host of people glorifying their Father in heaven, a pleasing aroma to the King of Kings. An overpowering music show will discourage this and it will not have the desired result which is (you guessed it), joy – “Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation” (Ps. 95:1).
Nothing brings more joy than when we can find opportunities to involve our congregations in service. It brings alive Jesus’ words of being hungry, thirsty, naked, in prison… and seeing to the needs. With good organization and making sure everyone can participate in the activity, it can soften hearts, rip through stereotypes and usher in the joy of our salvation. Consider these opportunities: (1) Operation Christmas Child; (2) Stop Hunger Now; (3) Society of St. Andrew (Feeding America’s Hungry); (4) Angel Tree (Prison Fellowship).
Pray without ceasing
To pray without ceasing is the charge of Paul at the end of I Thessalonians. I remember growing up in church when the pastor decided to put this into practice. The deacons built a very small, shed-like prayer chapel on the property. The goal was to have at least one member of the congregation there, on site, praying all the time. It enlivened everyone and provided an inexplicable joy. We were doing what Paul said to do. We are communicating with God every minute, of every hour, of every day. Let’s never discount prayer as a transitional moment in a service or some rote expression that leaves us empty. We need to work out ways to involve everyone in prayer, and God has promised that he brings us to his holy mountain and gives us joy in his house of prayer (Is. 56:7).
Grieve with those who grieve
Let us never neglect the sick and destitute in our congregations. In fact, let’s double up our hospital visits and put together an accountable way to invite others to do the work of loving on those who God has honored with suffering, for, as James would say, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3). That joy will be passed on to those who serve others in the lowest of moments since, “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy” (Ps. 126:5)
Remember the Lord’s goodness
How often do we reflect on the ways God provides for us? The Psalmist says, “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy” (126:3). Find opportunities to count the ways God has been faithful and how he is working because he is most certainly doing both. Let us all pray continually, that we may have eyes to see and ears to hear what the Lord is doing. That’s the key. Romans 8:28 is true, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
One of the sure signs of killing joy is being artificial. Make sure we are exemplifying sincerity and truthfulness and employing, discipling, and urging others to do the same. Don’t gossip. Don’t find fault. Don’t push agendas. Preach the word and allow God to do his work. It is our duty to be faithful and to pray for God to work in our midst to bring about his will on earth as it is in heaven. James 3 says, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water” (9-11).
Joy is second to love in Paul’s list of spiritual fruits. It’s important to our walk with Christ and sharing the unbridled salvation that he offers. If we have lost joy, it can be found again. Listen to David: Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me” (Ps. 51:10-12).
Zach Kincaid is a part of the Sharefaith Editorial Team. He manages workoutyourfaith.com and has written on C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and general Christian thought for more than 15 years. He is a husband, father, and collaborator on a variety of Christian outreach projects including films and educational resources.