Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God. Each exclamation is a trigger to prayer. I find myself praying for you with a glad heart. I am so pleased that you have continued on in this with us, believing and proclaiming God’s Message, from the day you heard it right up to the present. —Philippians 1:3–5 MSG
In 1978, my husband and I moved to Anderson, Indiana, to attend the School of Theology. For the next four years I had the privilege of taking classes from Dr. Gilbert Stafford, whose teaching influences my preaching even today. The first thing I noticed about Dr. Stafford was his sheer joy in his personal life and in his professional life. I still smile when I remember having to give an impromptu eulogy and having difficulty getting started. Dr. Stafford pulled up two chairs in front of the class and stretched out on them and folded his hands as if he were the deceased. I cannot remember what I said, but I remember his sense of humor and his infectious joy. In the Introduction to Philippians in The Message, Eugene Peterson said that Paul’s letter did not tell us we can be happy, nor did he tell us how to be happy. Paul was simply and unmistakably happy. That quality is what students and colleagues saw in Dr. Stafford.
Years later, Dr. Stafford was speaking at a ministers’ retreat. Our family had been through attack after attack on our family and our ministry. One pastor left us a message on our answering machine that he was praying for us while we were “under this siege.” That was a true description of our experience. I attended the retreat so I could hear Dr. Stafford. After his morning conference, he greeted me and we walked outside to sit and talk on the benches out under the trees. He got right to the point and said, “I’ve heard about your situation. What’s going on?” I related the circumstances of being under siege, and he listened intently. At the end, I shrugged my shoulders as if that is just how it is and there is nothing I can do about it. Dr. Stafford said, “Do you still have your joy?” Up until that moment, I had not thought about joy. I was hanging on by my fingernails. Suddenly, the heaviness lifted from my heart, a smile came to my face, and light filled my eyes. I responded, “Yes, I still have my joy.”
That was a turning point in my life. By August of that year, God allowed me to start on a dream I had set aside to fully participate in my husband’s pastoral ministry and to raise a family—I was one out of 150 people accepted at Mississippi College School of Law. I began to practice “being happy” and found that the witness of joy is one of the most powerful tools a Christian can use. People are drawn to happy people. People want to know what makes you happy, what makes you able to weather the storm. Another significant period of time passed and we were at the International Convention of the Church of God. Dr. Stafford was in charge of a healing service. People moved to the aisle all over the auditorium to stand ready to pray for whoever needed prayer. My husband and I gravitated to where Dr. Stafford was standing. He laid his hands on both of our heads and prayed a prayer of blessing on our lives and our ministry. “Yes, I still have my joy!” Transforming Hearts…Transforming Lives!
Lord, I choose to be happy. Just like Paul wherein none of his circumstances contributed to his joy—he was in jail, attacked by people with bad intentions, tired, sick, and weak. Let me experience joy from the inside out. Amen.
Rev. Mary Bruce Fuller, Minister and Attorney, Florence, Mississippi
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All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked MSG are taken from The Message by Eugene H. Peterson, copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked NRSV are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked Phillips are taken from The New Testament in Modern English by J. B. Phillips, 1962 edition, published by Harper Collins.