By Juleun A. Johnson, 04/24/2017
You have perhaps heard the phrase (sometimes overused, I think) that Seventh-day Adventists are the “people of the book.” The book assumed is the Bible, though some might also think of the writings of Ellen White. In more recent times, the book could also refer to policy or church manuals.
I wonder what these books should do for us.
Of late there has been a stark contrast between the reality of what happens in the field versus what happens in the committee rooms. There seems to be an alarming sense of hope that something big is happening. However, with church pews becoming like a circus carousel on Sabbath, and funds waning on all levels, is there something that could bind the hearts of leaders and members alike?
I would submit there is. I call it joy.
Recently I learned about a disorder called anhedonia. By definition, anhedonia is a depressive disorder defined by the loss of interest in previously rewarding or enjoyable activities, including loss of appetite, desire to spend time with friends, to work, or even sex.
Is that’s what has happened to the church? Has the church lost is sense of joy? Have we no desire to spend time with people? Have we lost our sense of sharing our stories of transformation as a result of an encounter with Jesus?
Recently, I had an encounter with a couple who would seem have every reason to be without joy. The husband, Tim, had gone through a series of traumatic cardiac arrests in front of his wife Tina and children. He was on ventilation when I went to visit them in their hospital room. They said they were doing fine. I asked them what gave them joy. They instantly lit up. Tim, the one on ventilation, said “My children”. It was as if he’d gotten to tell me he’d won the lottery. It was an instant source of life and spiritual encouragement. He and Tina had found joy. They went on to speak about how they missed their children who were several states away. With life literally weighing in the balance, Tim and Tina had found their reason to live. They found their joy. It was in their children. A man who would have died, found his hope source and found life. He was released from the hospital and is doing well.
Through that experience I learned several things. Joy is what gives us life. Joy and spiritual wellness is important for healing. I became a better parent after that encounter, by cherishing my wife and kids more. I found that being with family causes me to feel better about all that life can offer.
Guess what? God wants you to be happy on earth. I wonder, what is a source of hope for you? Could your life stand more joy? I would offer that joy will be like an antidote to the challenges of life. I believe our churches need a joy infusion. Joy does not deny the reality of suffering, but gives reasons to thrive through suffering, pain, and loss.
I can testify of losing my joy. I am a 5th generation Seventh-day Adventist, who has supported and followed policies of our rich religious heritage. I even entered into full-time ministry, infused with theological education, fervor, and policy training. My training and ministerial background caused me to keep the law of the church to the point I lost the law of joyful liberty in my personal life. I realized that God created me with a personality and a character that was in hibernation by living to earthly religious standards. What changed in my life is when I realized God wanted my joy to be full. I began to wake up and realize that all around me in nature, in my home, in my children, and tasks God was working through me and for me. Something was awakened and now I feel alive! Experiences like this made me realize that I now had a responsibility to carry a torch, a torch of joy to authentically encourage all in my sphere of influence.
A core issue is that being a person of any book comes with responsibility. I went to a community meeting recently where a person said that their job is to uphold the policy. I am open to leadership that uses its authority to assist in the fulfillment of the communal goal. But is it possible that we are politicizing our way out of reaching the people Jesus wants us to reach? Is it possible that the reflection of committee actions reflects an isolated group, not community needs? Is it possible that we are sacrificing spiritual joy for earthly authority?
These and many other challenges must be wrestled and dealt with. I recognize that the readers of this issue may be calling for policy changes that affect people you know and may never meet until heaven. Generations of young adults and millennials are not against leadership, but they are wondering: where is the joy of the book? If we want this church to have a hopeful future, I implore you to use your influence to create policies, preach sermons, and find meaningful ways to infuse joy into all you do. I would suggest we lead by precept and example. Future generations of the church depend on the current generation’s display of joyful witness in church, work, home, and life.
Juleun A. Johnson is a chaplain at Florida Hospital in Orlando. He is a graduate of Oakwood University and Andrews University, and earned a D.Min. from Claremont School of Theology in Spiritual Care and Counseling. He blogs at www.juleunjohnson.com.