I wasn’t always a pastor. I remember the first job I had in college, working for my uncle at his car lot in a questionable part of town. I drove my old ’86 Dodge convertible to work each day and always parked it with the top down on the side of the car lot because if I parked it on the lot, someone would make me an offer way below what it was worth to me. One day I went to get something out of the back seat and noticed my stereo had been stolen! I looked on the floorboard and console and noticed Skittles scattered everywhere (those small bite-sized addicting candy samples of the rainbow).
Looking outside of the car, I found more Skittles scattered on the ground. So, being the Sherlock Holmes that I am, I got in my car and began to follow the trail of Skittles. Sure enough, when I came around the corner, following the crime trail, I found the perpetrators: a group of neighborhood street teens who were walking down the road with backpacks (probably filled with the spoils of their other victims), and unbelievably, some of them were indeed eating Skittles! Busted! Red-handed! I gassed the ignition and pulled up to a screeching halt and almost leapt from my convertible. For a split second I almost blurted out “citizens arrest!!” but decided not to, against my better judgment. In the end, they feigned ignorance and then quickly cut down a side street before I could give them a pat down and at least get the rest of the bag of Skittles for my trouble. Needless to say, I never saw my stereo again.
In a word, I was robbed. I never saw it coming. I was happily enjoying my tunes one day, and the next I was buying 28 D-batteries to power up a boombox to put in the passenger seat, so I at least had some 90s DC Talk to jam to on the way to work.
Has this ever happened to you? No—not ripped off by some candy-toting teens…but robbed? As pastors, leaders or servants in the church, we serve in a space where something very important can easily be robbed from us: our joy. It is so critical that we take time to evaluate, recenter our perspective and ensure that we are ministering from a place of overflowing joy.
If we were to go on a quick journey through the Scriptures, it wouldn’t take long to be reminded again of the joy it is to know the Lord and minister the gospel to the ends of the earth.
THE PARABLE OF THE TALENTS
Let's start at a familiar passage and reminder of our stewardship:
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey" (Matthew 25:14-15).
This may be a very familiar parable, but don’t miss the context: Jesus is speaking about the kingdom of heaven. This is Matthew 25, and in the thick of what is called the Olivet Discourse, that powerful prophetic discussion that Jesus has with His disciples on the Mount of Olives after leaving the temple where Jesus had been teaching. One of His disciples was overwhelmed by the beauty of the temple and made a remark about the stones and the architecture. And Jesus’ immediate response was unnerving. He basically said, “Yeah these are great…for a few more years…before each stone will be torn down.” And that response prompted the disciples to ask when the Lord Jesus would return and what the evident signs accompanying His return would be for them to pay attention to.
This is a parable told right after the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, and right after Jesus said, “No man knows the day or the hour.” He’s speaking about the end, about His second coming, about the kingdom, about eternity. And when He uses the word “talents,” we’ve kind of mistaken the idea behind that word. In fact, the English use of “talent” for a natural or supernatural aptitude is believed to have come from this very parable! But the Greek word is talanton and simply means a sum of money or a weight. Most scholars regard a talent as equal to about 6,000 denarii. That means one talent is about 20 years salary. Your life savings, in effect, is in just one talent.
So Jesus’ parable describes a master traveling to a far country, calling His servants and delivering a life’s worth of stewardship to him. One receives five-lifetimes worth, if you would. Another receives enough to stretch two-lifetimes. And one was given enough to do a life’s worth of work. We all know where the story goes from here:
"Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money. After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them" (Matthew 25:16-19).
We know of course that the master commends the first two men who invested the incredible amounts that were stewarded to them, and the master then condemns the third man who buried the one talent given to him. I always thought the third guy got a bad wrap—at least he didn’t lose the one talent! It may have been buried, but it wasn’t lost! The two other servants could have made a bad investment…what did he do so wrong?
If we understand the context, Jesus isn’t talking about money, and it is a stretch to say He’s speaking about earthly talents bestowed from above like being able to play the ukulele or juggle bowling pins. Jesus is speaking about a life’s investment. What will we do with what was given to us as our life’s trust? Will we bury it—do nothing but stow away what has been entrusted to us with the short time we have on this planet? Or will we invest it and grow it so that it yields a harvest? However, something jumped out at me recently when reading this parable. There’s a phrase I hadn’t noticed before. Look at what happens with the one who received the five talents and earned five more…notice what the master says to him:
THE JOY OF YOUR LORD
“So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’ His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord'" (Matthew 25:20-21).
"Enter into the joy of your Lord.” Obviously a picture of heaven—because later to the one who squandered his life’s trust, he was cast out into darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. So this joy is something descriptive of heaven—it is the joy OF YOUR LORD. It is something that we enter into, and Jesus started the parable saying this is what the kingdom is like. When we are taking what is entrusted to us, and using it for His glory and others’ good, there is in a sense an entering into the joy of our Lord.
Perhaps that describes you as you are reading this. You've been ministering in your own strength, out of duty and not delight. The work you are doing for the Lord is not a "get to," but a "got to." The Lord wants to refresh you in His presence with a renewed mind and desires for you to minister from the overflow of a deep abiding relationship with His Son, in whose presence there is fullness of joy.
George Bernard Shaw points out:
"This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one: the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap, and being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy."
JOY THROUGHOUT SCRIPTURE
Throughout the Scripture there is a wealth of verses that describe to us the joy that is ours, and for a moment we have an opportunity to enter into the joy of our Lord. I have found these generally fall into two categories: His part (meaning promised joy from above), and our part (meaning what our response is due to His nature and work in our lives). Take a few moments to read these verses and be encouraged at the joy that is ours in Christ:
• "In Your presence is fullness of joy”– (Psalm 16:11).
• "Weeping may remain for the night, but joy comes in the morning"– (Psalm 30:5).
• “Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation”– (Isaiah 12:3).
• “The LORD your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing”– (Zephaniah 3:17).
• Jesus said, "I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance"– (Luke 15:7).
• We are promised that Messiah will give us, "Beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified”– (Isaiah 61:3).
• “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full”– (John 15:11).
• "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord"– (Psalm 100:1).
• “Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous! For praise from the upright is beautiful”– (Psalms 33:1).
• “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep”– (Romans 12:15).
• “But let the righteous be glad; Let them rejoice before God; yes, let them rejoice exceedingly”– (Psalm 68:3).
• “Rejoice in the Lord always. (in case you have a short attention span, he says) Again I will say, rejoice!”– (Philippians 4:4).
• “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice"– (Philippians 1:18).
• “Glory in His holy name; let the hearts of those rejoice who seek the LORD!”–( I Chronicles 16:10).
• “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy”– (I Peter 4:12-13).
• “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience”– (James 1:2-3).
• “But Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end”– (Hebrews 3:6, NKJV).
• “Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You”– (Psalm 51:8-13).
• “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, My soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels"– (Isaiah 61:10).
• “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God”– (Hebrews 12:2).
• And perhaps the most timely verse of all for we who labor in a field sowing the seed of the Word and praying for it to land on fertile ground to reap a 100-fold harvest: Psalm 126:5-6 reminds us that, “Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy. He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.”
Spurgeon said, “There is a marvelous medicinal power in joy. Most medicines are distasteful; but this, which is the best of all medicines, is sweet to the taste, and comforting to the heart. This blessed joy is very contagious. One dolorous spirit brings a kind of plague into the house; one person who is wretched seems to stop all the birds from singing wherever he goes . . . [But] the grace of joy is contagious. Holy joy will oil the wheels of your life’s machinery. Holy joy will strengthen you for your daily labor. Holy joy will beautify you and give you an influence over the lives of others.”
May the joy of the Lord be our strength once again. May His presence guide us, for in His presence is fullness of joy. My prayer is that we will enter into the joy of our Lord…not necessarily through an untimely death—but by joining in His kingdom’s advancing work wherever we are, to the ends of the earth.