The Grinch was a loner. His cat-like face matched his propensity to slink off by himself the way cats like to do. The Grinch’s only friend was a pet dog, but the dog-like disposition of his little buddy actually served to illustrate just how miserable the Grinch was. The dog gave the Grinch an outlet for his anger. He was the whipping boy. But except for the moments when the pot-bellied green guy was lashing out at him, the dog was a happy little fella, and thus provided a stark contrast to the bitter Grinch. They were quite a pair, a small cuddly canine with a big heart and a big disfigured feline with a heart two sizes too small. 

Misanthropes are as unhappy as the Grinch. By contrast, Christians ought to be happy, and, dog-like, find our joy in being with people. This is Paul’s first lesson in happiness. There are eight sources of joy described in the book of Philippians, one for each of the book’s eight sections. Let’s consider this first one from Philippians 1:1-11: 

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons. 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

When Christians invest themselves in partnership with other Christians, joy is the eventual return. Verse 4 describes Paul’s joy that always comes when he prays for the Christians with whom he used to run side by side.

When the Kliewer family served as missionaries in inner-city Philadelphia, the Beswetherick family would travel up from Florida with a group of young adults. I met Rob when we were both youth pastors in the St. Petersburg area, where we did some ministry together. We fell out of touch when I moved to Dallas for Seminary, but we reconnected a number of years later. When he became a pastor to young adults at Indian Rocks Baptist Church, we resumed our partnership in the gospel.

Rob and his family would help us throw block parties. We would secure permits, then open the fire hydrants in the streets, inflate some giant water slides, blare some Christian music (usually hip hop), shoot hoops with the teens, play games with the kids, paint some faces, give away some t shirts, and, most importantly, preach the gospel. As a result, we would get to see professions of faith, baptisms, and growth in church attendance. It was awesome. 

The memories of some of the wild things that happened on those missions trips make me smile, even now, as I reminisce in my mind while writing this. Moreover, when our family travels to Florida, we love to see the Beswethericks and talk about the good old times. And when our family prays for their family and for the people of Kensington (which we need to do more often), we ask the Lord to bring to completion the work He began. 

Remember this: The goal is ministry; the fruit is joy. 

Happiness is not so much the target as the inevitable byproduct. It’s the opposite of collateral damage. A loner thinks he’ll be happy by isolating himself, but he hurts the people in his life by pulling away from them, and his own Grinch-like misery is part of this collateral damage too. It’s a lose-lose proposition. But involvement in Christian ministry in partnership with other Christians is the goal we are to pursue, and the byproduct is our own joy. It’s a win-win. Partnership in the gospel is a major part of God’s design for our joy.

When I finished up as a youth pastor in St. Petersburg, the new youth pastor had arrived and I didn’t want to cramp his style or step on his toes. So, I thought I couldn’t do ministry with those guys at that time. However, I still had one week before my moving truck departed for Dallas. So, I decided I would go by myself out to the streets of Clearwater for several days and try to lead Scientologists to Christ. But it turned out to be a bummer. None of them responded to the gospel. Finally, on the last day before I moved to Dallas, I invited one of the young adults from that old church to go out with me. Wouldn’t you know, three people prayed with us to receive the Lord! The Lord taught me a great lesson that week. When He sends out workers into the harvest field, He sends them out in partnership. The early missions of the apostles were always two by two. Paul always moved in a traveling party. The lesson for us today is not only that ministry is more effective this way, which it is, but also that the partnerships that are forged in the fires of ministry have divine design for the completion of our joy throughout the years of our ministry.

The longer we run for Christ, the greater the return on investment we receive. That return doesn’t come in money, but in people! 

I’ve only run three marathons in my life (all when I was much younger), but I’ll never forget the people I ran them with. One of my running mates, both in sport and in ministry, was Clint Harp. As providence guided his life, he ended up as the woodworker on the HGTV show Fixer Upper. He was part of that group of youth ministers along with me and Rob Beswetherick, way back in 2002. The older you get and the longer you run, the more joy you derive from the portions of the race you ran well. The best memories are of those who ran side-by-side with you. 

Not everyone wants to be happy. It’s a lot easier to settle for something less, like anger. Since anger does deliver at least a small dose of satisfaction, a lot of people choose that broad road. Sadly, even many Christians prove themselves unwilling to do the hard work of becoming happy. The Grinch was content to whip his dog, until providence changed his course.

But God has better things for us. Is God providentially working in your life right now, calling you to work on becoming a more joyful Christian? Do you want to become a happier man or woman of God? Then think about ways to get involved in ministry. It’s a long-term investment, but the partnerships you forge in the gospel this year will bear the fruit of joy in the years to come.