“Joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30).
When I say that joy is central to abundant living, I do not mean to imply that la-de-da happiness or frivolity is essential to the good life. Joy refers not so much to a feeling, or even an attitude, as to a deep conviction that life has value and meaning. Joy is often accompanied by energy and overt delight, but I know far too many people (including myself) for whom joy has been a hard-won property to gloss over the challenges that may block its evidence.
As a conviction, joy exists as a possibility for us despite our circumstances. I don’t want to imply that it is something we can achieve with ease, or to shame anyone for whom it remains elusive. I’ve been hurt and offended by far too many Facebook pull-yourself-up and change-your-attitude quotes for that. But my experience at this point is that we can open ourselves to an orientation toward joy and that, gradually and sometimes only in fragments, it will direct itself our way after that Psalm 30 long night of weeping.
Insofar as the church goes, joy is foundational to vital congregational life. Once again, it is only tangentially related to happiness, and largely a function of conviction. “Behold, I bring you great joy” ~ if we as a church believe that good news, then membership, attendance, budget, building condition, programming ~ all those things we like to measure ~ are essentially irrelevant. A small congregation whose building has just burned to the ground can evince far more authentic joy than a 3,000 member church with the latest in décor and technology. Not that I recommend disaster or a lapsed insurance policy as signposts on the road to joyful living. But when it comes to joy, faith in God’s love for the world trumps a balanced budget.