DO YOU long for a congregation assignment that is currently out of reach for you? Perhaps it is a responsibility that is enjoyed by someone else. Or maybe it is a service assignment, or privilege, that you once took care of. However, age, poor health, economic hardship, or family responsibilities now limit what you can do. Or it could be that you have had to give up a long-held responsibility because of organizational changes. Regardless of the reason, you may feel that you are not doing all that you would like to do in God’s service. In such situations, it is understandable that you may at times feel disappointed. Even so, how can you keep negative emotions—such as discouragement, bitterness, or resentment—from taking root? How can you maintain your joy?
We can learn a lesson in maintaining joy by considering the example of John the Baptist. John enjoyed outstanding privileges, yet he likely expected his life in Jehovah’s service to work out differently from what it did. He may not have imagined that he would spend more time in jail than he did in his ministry. Still, John continued to be joyful, and he maintained that attitude for the rest of his life. What helped him? And how can we retain our joy even when we face disappointments?
A JOYFUL ASSIGNMENT
In the spring of 29 C.E., John began his assignment as forerunner of the Messiah, saying: “Repent, for the Kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.” (Matt. 3:2; Luke 1:12-17) Many responded. In fact, crowds came from far and wide to hear his message, and many were moved to repent and get baptized. John also boldly warned the self-righteous religious leaders of the judgment that awaited them unless they changed. (Matt. 3:5-12) He saw his ministry reach its climax in the fall of 29 C.E. when he baptized Jesus. From then on, John directed others to follow Jesus, the promised Messiah.—John 1:32-37.
In view of John’s unique role, Jesus could say: “Among those born of women, there has not been raised up anyone greater than John the Baptist.” (Matt. 11:11) John no doubt rejoiced over the blessings he received. Like John, many today have experienced rich blessings. Take a brother named Terry as an example. He and his wife, Sandra, have spent over 50 years in full-time service. Terry states: “I have had many wonderful privileges. I have served as a pioneer, a Bethelite, a special pioneer, a circuit overseer, a district overseer, and now again as a special pioneer.” It is a joy to receive theocratic privileges, but as we will learn from John’s example, remaining joyful requires effort when our circumstances change.
A key to John the Baptist’s enduring joy was that he never lost his appreciation for the privileges he had. Consider an example. After Jesus’ baptism, John’s ministry began to decrease while Jesus’ ministry began to increase. Concerned, John’s disciples approached him and said: “See, this one is baptizing, and all are going to him.” (John 3:26) John replied: “Whoever has the bride is the bridegroom. But the friend of the bridegroom, when he stands and hears him, has a great deal of joy on account of the voice of the bridegroom. So my joy has been made complete.” (John 3:29) John did not compete with Jesus; nor did John think that the privilege he had received had been diminished by Jesus’ greater role. Instead, John remained joyful because he cherished his role as “friend of the bridegroom.”
John’s disposition helped him to remain content despite all that his assignment required of him. For instance, John was a Nazirite from birth, and therefore he was forbidden to drink wine. (Luke 1:15) “John came neither eating nor drinking,” said Jesus, referring to John’s austere lifestyle. On the other hand, Jesus and his disciples were under no such restrictions and lived a more normal life. (Matt. 11:18, 19) Also, while John did not perform any miracles, he knew that Jesus’ disciples, including some who initially followed John, were granted that power. (Matt. 10:1; John 10:41) Rather than let such differences distract him, John zealously stuck to his own assignment from Jehovah.
If we too treasure our current assignment in Jehovah’s service, we can safeguard our joy. Terry, mentioned earlier, says, “I concentrated on each of the assignments I was given.” As he looks back on his life of full-time service, he says, “I have no regrets but only wonderful memories.”
We can deepen our joy in God’s service by meditating on what gives real value to any theocratic assignment, or responsibility. It is the privilege of being “God’s fellow workers.” (1 Cor. 3:9) Just as polishing a treasured heirloom can preserve its luster, meditating on the profound honor of serving God can prevent wrong views from tarnishing our joy. We will resist comparing our sacrifices with the sacrifices of other people. We will not esteem our privileges less because of the privileges granted to others.—Gal. 6:4.
FOCUS ON SPIRITUAL MATTERS
John may have known that his ministry would be limited, but he may not have realized how abruptly it would end. (John 3:30) In 30 C.E., some six months after baptizing Jesus, John was imprisoned by King Herod. Still, John did what he could to continue giving a witness. (Mark 6:17-20) What would help him remain joyful through these changes? He kept focused on spiritual matters.
While John was in prison, he received reports about Jesus’ expanding ministry. (Matt. 11:2; Luke 7:18) John was convinced that Jesus was the Messiah but may have wondered how Jesus would fulfill all that the Scriptures said the Messiah would accomplish. Since the Messiah was to receive kingship, might Jesus’ rulership start soon? Would it lead to John’s being freed from prison? Eager for a clearer understanding of Jesus’ role, John dispatched two of his disciples to ask Jesus a question: “Are you the Coming One, or are we to expect a different one?” (Luke 7:19) When they returned, John must have listened intently as they described that Jesus had performed miraculous cures and then sent them back to tell John: “The blind are now seeing, the lame are walking, the lepers are being cleansed, the deaf are hearing, the dead are being raised up, and the poor are being told the good news.”—Luke 7:20-22.
John was no doubt strengthened by their report. It verified that Jesus was fulfilling the Messianic prophecies. Although Jesus’ appearance would not lead to John’s release from prison, John knew that his service had not been in vain. Despite his circumstances, he had reason to be happy.
Like John, if we focus on spiritual matters, we will be able to endure with joy and patience. (Col. 1:9-11) We can do this by reading the Bible and meditating on it, reminding us that our work in God’s service is never in vain. (1 Cor. 15:58) Sandra says: “Reading a chapter of the Bible each day has helped me draw closer to Jehovah. It helps me focus on him and not on me.” We can also focus on reports of Kingdom activity, which can help us to look beyond our own circumstances and concentrate on what Jehovah is accomplishing. “The monthly programs on JW Broadcasting® help us feel closer to the organization,” says Sandra, “and they help us to maintain joy in our assignment.”
John the Baptist carried out his brief career with “Elijah’s spirit and power,” and like Elijah, he “was a man with feelings like ours.” (Luke 1:17; Jas. 5:17) If we imitate his example of appreciation and spiritual focus, we too can remain joyful in our Kingdom service, come what may.