Joy was a lifesaver. I was a young pastor, striving to serve up the goods of the Gospel to my congregant’s week by week. I would delve deep in my study, spend time in the original languages, bring the burdens of my people before the Father in prayer, and seek to stew this all together into that weekly concoction we call the sermon. It was hard work. Still is, though now I have a better handle on how to prep for it.
Anyhow, for all my labors, I found I was not getting much (or any) feedback on my preaching, and I do not mean emailed responses or even receiving line conversations, which were also absent. I am simply talking about normal, nonverbal cues like smiles, head nods, even quizzical looks... nada. Perhaps it was not quite Luther’s “dumb cows,” but for a fledgling preacher it was rather discouraging.
That is where Joy came in. Middle-aged with radiant red hair tastefully done up in a bun, Joy lived up to her name. She radiated good vibes. As I preached, she would nod along when she understood, tilt her head if I had lost her, and always greet the good news with the happy satisfaction of a kid with an ice cream cone. Afterwards, I could count on her not only to give feedback, but to make specific comments about what hit home (or occasionally what did not, which was maybe even more helpful).
You could say Joy had a mature palate when it came to God’s Word. She was herself a diligent student of the Scriptures, and she let me know, through her words and through her body language, that she recognized and appreciated the work I had put into the proclamation. For preachers of every age, but especially those just starting out, it is absolutely vital for you to find your Joy.
For preachers of every age, but especially those just starting out, it is absolutely vital for you to find your Joy.
The Cry from the Artist’s Heart
Recalling Joy makes me think of General Lorens Loewenhielm, a character from one of my all-time favorite stories, “Babette’s Feast,” by Isak Dinesen. Babette is a world-class Parisian chef who, due to political unrest in her native France, has been relegated to duty as a “maid-of-all-work” for a pair of pious sisters in 19th century Norway. Though Babette is capable of cooking the finest delicacies, they are content to have her prepare split cod and ale-and-bread soup... mmm.
But one day, through a series of fortunate events, Babette has the opportunity to prepare a true French feast for the sisters and a dozen of their friends. Like the sisters, though, these are simple country people who would not know a rich bouillabaisse from Chef Boyardee, save for one of the guests. He is General Loewenhielm, a visiting dignitary who (unbeknownst to him) had even been served by Babette in her days at the Cafe Anglais.As the meal unfolds, the ho-hum response of most of the dinner guests is hilariously paired with the dumbstruck reaction of the General. They are just trying to choke it down, but he recognizes this meal is spectacular. He appreciates the subtle intricacies of each course. You might say he has lived not by bread alone.
I will not spoil the surprise ending to the story, which makes for one of the loveliest gospel turns in modern literature, but suffice it to say for our present purposes that when Babette sees the grateful reception of the meal by General Loewenhielm, she is content. As she explains to the sisters, “Through all the world there goes one long cry from the heart of the artist: Give me leave to do my utmost!” Though she would love for all the diners to relish the meal, it is enough for her to know that at least the General truly savors it.
Our Utmost for His Highest
As preachers, you and I might not quite be baking like Babette, but I believe we all aspire to do so. Our “cri de cœur” is to offer our utmost for His highest. Those fifteen minutes in the pulpit are a labor of love on behalf of God’s people. You are trying to cook up something that will satisfy, if not delight, and not just homiletic milkshakes but solid, Scriptural steaks. It takes work, work you are glad to do more often than not, but work, nevertheless.
Which is why you need to find your Joy. I am not talking Marie Kondo here. I mean finding the person in your parish who, like General Loewenhielm, recognizes a feast from God’s Word and appreciates the modest sous chef who the Lord has enlisted to help bring it to the table. In my experience and in talking with preachers over the years, God has liberally sprinkled such saints throughout His church, like garlic in a marinara. Bless Him for it!
Beware, if you do not identify your own General Loewenhielm, you may discover your satisfaction in the craft of preaching is soon diminished. But when you identify those folks who hunger for good news and gladly gobble up what you are serving from the pulpit, you will find a delightful dessert which follows from a job well done: You will find joy.
 French for “cry of the heart,” or better translated as a passionate appeal.
 Marie Kondo developed a way of organizing known as the KonMari method. It consists of gathering together all of one’s belongings, one category at a time, and then keeping only those things which “spark joy.” She advises to start the process of tidying up by “quickly and completely” discarding whatever it is in the house that does not spark joy. Do not try this in your church, no matter how tempting it may be.