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How to Deal With a Joy Thief

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Joyless people are miserable people. They haven’t tasted and seen that the Lord is good. They haven’t yet learned that it’s through our times of suffering that the Lord often does his best work. I have been in a joyless place, and chances are you have, too.

Jesus is all about His people’s joy. He told His disciples in John 15:11, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” A disciple experiences the joy of the Lord as he or she abides in Christ and allows his word to abide in them. C.S. Lewis once powerfully penned, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.” Yet, unfortunately, joy isn’t always the serious business of professing Christians. There are some Christians whose joy tank seems to be perpetually low if not empty. Unfortunately, they don’t heed the words of the scripture which tells us to, “Do all things without grumbling or questioning.” Some Christians believe that their spiritual gift is fault-finding and “keeping the pastor humble.”

Perpetual joy thieves are joyless because they’re not walking in obedience. Perhaps one preacher said it best, “If you have no joy, there’s a leak in your Christianity somewhere.” So what is a joy thief? A joy thief is a person who is perpetually pessimistic, and unhelpfully and unabashedly critical. They’re the types of people that you have to get “pumped up” to spend time with because you know that you will be reminded of everything that’s wrong with you, the church, and the world. Here are three practical things that you can do to deal with a joy thief in your church:

Get to know them

Perhaps the person who steals your joy is a genuine disciple of Jesus that struggles with hope. It could be that they’re processing the world through a negative lens because they’ve experienced great suffering, and rather than learn to count it all joy they’ve heaped up reasons to be joyless. Spending time with a person and getting a better understanding of what makes him or her tick may allow you to be more compassionate toward them. It may also help you identify the best angle to use in approaching them. I know it’s difficult to get close to a person who is constantly swinging a verbal sword at you, but put up your shield of faith, and give knowing them your best shot.

Pray for them

Joyless people are miserable people. They haven’t tasted and seen that the Lord is good. They haven’t yet learned that it’s through our times of suffering that the Lord often does his best work. I have been in a joyless place, and chances are you have, too. Nehemiah 8:5 says that the joy of the Lord is our strength. Without Him, a person doesn’t have true strength. They may think they do and put on a strong facade, but they are weak.

  • Pray that the Lord would rescue them from nihilism and give them hope.
  • Pray that the Lord (if he hasn’t yet) would bring them into the saving knowledge of Jesus.
  • Pray that the Holy Spirit would give you the patience and wisdom to interact with them graciously.
  • Pray that the Lord would cultivate in them deep gratitude for the things that He has and is doing in their life

Confront them Biblically

Third, confront the person biblically. Confronting people biblically means that we confront them in the way that Matthew 18:15-18 and Galatians 6:1-5 command. That is, we confront the professing Christian alone, then with 2 or 3 witnesses, and if all else fails, then we take it to the church. This, of course, must be done in gentleness as one flawed Christian approaching another flawed Christian. Why is this important? Because the church is the one place in the world where people should be able to come together and experience the joy of the Lord. Joy thieves hinder God’s people from rejoicing in the Lord always. Augustine once said, “When large numbers of people share their joy in common, the happiness of each is greater because each adds fuel to the other’s flame.” It’s our responsibility to see that our members share a common joy.

Pastors, God has called us to be joyful. In fact, I would argue that our goal should be to be the most joyful person in our congregation. Sometimes we’re our own joy thief because we’re too hard on ourselves and set unrealistic expectations. There’s an old gospel song that says, “This joy I have, the world didn’t give it to me, and the world can’t take it away.” Let’s not let anyone steal our joy, especially ourselves. Remember, “joy is the serious business of heaven.”

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