...but today I'll freely admit that I have a long way to go.
This is going to be one of those uncomfortable, self-disclosure sort of posts. Those who know me well have no doubt noticed that, to put it bluntly, joy has not been evident in any sort of abundance in my life for some time now. So what to do?
It just turns out that the pastor in the church we're attending has been preaching through a series on joy. They have been good sermons for the most part, but something has seemed to be missing. At any rate, try as I might, I just couldn't work up any joy in my life, no matter how I went over my notes and tried to apply them.
I'm not talking about happiness. It's not like I've spent the last few years walking around in some sort of permanent funk, without laughing or smiling. I'm talking about joy --- real joy --- the "restore unto me the joy of my salvation" sort of joy. It has just somehow left me.
Last Sunday I had the awesome privilege of visiting Eldest Son's church. I even got to hear him preach/teach. Wow. What a great group of people.
Another self-disclosure: I'm not the warm and fuzzy sort. I don't make instant friends. In fact, in new situations, I tend towards the stand-offish. I'm kind of lacking in the social skills department, and I tend to be awkward and shy around people I don't know.
When the little church service started, I felt immediately at home. It's not because this church was "familiar", or from my particular church background, or anything like that. It was something else, something far more subtle and yet profoundly powerful. It became so obvious to me that we were very much connected, very much a part of each other just as we were a part of the greater Body of Christ.
I was home --- as we all should be whenever we gather with our brothers and sisters in Christ. But it has been a very, very long time since I had felt that sense of home.
And then they prayed for me.
Forgive me if I don't describe the whole wonderful prayer time. (I will say this: while we were praying for someone else, I became thankful for the Asian tradition of removing one's shoes. I truly felt as if we were on holy ground and was glad I was already unshod.) But the part that fits in with this post is that at least one person felt led to pray that God would give me joy.
After more prayer and a time of fellowship with food, I left feeling loved, not just by my precious Savior and my loving Father, but by people that I felt as if I'd known forever. And then...well, hours went on. I had a great afternoon ended with a delicious dinner with some of my favorite people. My daughter and I drove home. And all this time, it became increasingly obvious to me that something was different.
It was joy.
And here's the thing I've been trying to figure out: why, as the modern American church, do we content ourselves with sermons that are little more than self-help lectures based on Scripture, and largely ignore the sort of simple prayer ministry that resulted in God so powerfully touching my life? Why do we expect mental solutions to spiritual problems? Why are we so unwilling to invite the Holy Spirit into our lives? Why do we point people in so many different directions, but forget to point them to Jesus?
Today, admitting that I don't have all the answers --- that I probably have only the smallest fraction of the answers --- I'd encourage my readers to consider what I'm beginning to think about finding the perfect church. Maybe, just maybe, what I really need is not a particular theology, not a particular church culture and practice, and certainly not another set of new and faddish programs (whether it's the latest Rick Warren fad or the less trendy but still faddish "Family Integrated Church" program). Maybe what I really need is a bunch of people who, while being committed to God's Word, are deeply committed to praying for one another. Maybe I need the sort of people who will unashamedly invite newcomers in their midsts to be prayed over and blessed. Maybe I need to find people who realize that a big part of prayer is listening. Maybe that's what is really important --- and the other stuff is just distraction and window dressing.
Maybe it is really is all about Jesus, and about being His Body and His Bride.