There was once two ladies who had worked very hard for the sake of Christ. They were part of a small church-plant by a rather famous preacher who had since moved on to other towns to plant churches there too. They had helped him much in their own town, and had kept in touch, supporting him where they could since he had left. These two ladies had remained faithful in their own church too. They had been among those who excelled in ordinary church ministry, fulfilling their own roles as individual women with exemplary godliness. They were known for hard, diligent work.
But at times there seemed to flare up among them some personal issues. Perhaps “issues” is the best word simply because it wasn’t always easy to spot until it went too far, producing uneasiness among others. Also, it was difficult to define the actual cause of their conflict, for the issue was clouded in misunderstandings. It was therefore difficult for the congregation, and especially the new pastor, to help these ladies define and resolve their occasional conflict. Then, at times, it would all disappear again as their hard work resumed. Their joy would once again be found in a common desire to see the Lord glorified through their daily example of good hard work in the ministry that God had given them.
The church-planting pastor had heard about this rather strange awkwardness in the church, and wrote down some general principles for the new pastor on how to help the two ladies overcome their occasional conflict. (The brief summary of their hard-work-but-occasional-conflict story can be read here: Philippians 4:2-3)
When you really are working hard, trying to do you best, but still frequently get clouded in your mind and put strain on the relationships around you, here is some pastoral counsel for your own heart as well as for those around you in your own family and church who long to experience the untainted hard work and joy that was originally so exemplary.
First, realise that your source of joy has probably shifted. Instead of the joy of the Lord overcoming the worst of difficulties in your work, the work itself has in some way become the place from which joy was expected. While great joy can be had from good work, the work isn’t always joyful. Some days are difficult and not very rewarding. Other times the fellow-worker in the work might be grumpy and sour for the day. Whatever the specific disappointments are that rob your joy in your work, if that joylessness pours over onto those around you, then the warning bells are ringing, calling you back to a better source of joy. Stop expecting ultimate joy from your hard work; instead, after the worst of days, exclaim like Nehemiah did “the joy of the Lord is our strength”. So, rejoice in the Lord (Philippians 4:4).
Second, realise that your perspective is probably no longer very clear. The first fall-out of feeling joyless, overwhelmed, irritated, and generally discontent is normally a fall-out of reason. One unmet expectations obscures the other ten fully-met expectations, feelings cloud out objectivity, or a small offence destroys a great friendship. In the context of hard work, the unreasonableness is often seen in working too much in a lesser important matter to the neglect of a more important matter. Or perhaps the unreasonable fall-out of joylessness is a complete escape from it all, laying the burden on the fellow-workers with little to no warning. In such a moment, restore objectivity by being reasonable. Keep things in perspective, listen to the inputs of others, realise that your inability to explain it all is because of your tainted perspective. So, let your reasonableness be know to everyone (Philippians 4:5).
Third, realise that your helper has probably been replaced. Ordinarily, you might have received great comfort from God’s Word, and, through heart-felt, worship-filled prayer been greatly motivated to excel again tomorrow, but now God seems like a distant or unreliable source of help. Joylessness kills intimate worship and prayer, and in its place you might well have raised anxiety and worry as your most loyal assistants. They are also hard workers, but they aim their efforts at further discontentment and blur your perspective even more so that you start spiralling through the first two paragraphs all over again. So, always remember, that the Lord is near, do not be anxious, but pray to God (Philippians 4:5-6).
Then, let God answer you. Let Him be your helper, let His peace guard your heart and mind from the worry, unreasonableness, and earthliness of joylessness (Philippians 4:7). Fill your mind with the Truth of God’s Word and the truth of your circumstances, fill your mind with honourable thoughts of your fellow-workers, fill you mind with reasonable fairness about the sins and offences of yourself and others, fill your mind with morally pure thoughts, fill your mind with what can be consider “lovely and commendable” (Philippians 4:8). Excel in learning from and imitating the godly (Philippians 4:9).
And the peace of God will be with you. The conflict and tension cannot survive in such a transformed heart. Joy comes from the Lord, and so does peace; seek them both in Him.