The Leader and Emotion: Joy

David experienced much pain and difficulty in his life, but he also experienced deep and sustaining joy, some of which he expressed in Psalm 33. Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him. Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy. 20 We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. 21 In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. 22 May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you (Psalm 33:1-3; 20-22).

All servant leaders can learn to lead with joy from David’s instruction.

Joy should be recognized. David recognized his joy and invited others to join him with singing! The emotion of joy is easier to recognize since it is not usually considered a ‘negative’ or bad emotion. Most people do not struggle to know that they are feeling good!

But David helps servant leaders understand that joy is more than having a good day. He recognizes that joy does not come because of outward circumstances but from a conscious decision to focus on God’s goodness. He says, “In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.” This helps servant leaders recognize that joy can be experienced in any stage of the journey, even in the midst of other conflicting emotions.

Servant leaders learn to experience joy by focusing on God’s goodness in their lives and leadership.

Joy should be revealed. David’s instruction is for everyone to sing and “shout for joy.” Joy is to be expressed, not hidden! Some personalities have no trouble revealing their joy, it is part of their expressive nature. But other personalities are so restrained that even when they are joyful, no one else knows about it!

David invites all leaders to reveal their joy in singing! Songs of praise reveal joy and servant leaders express their joy with singing. But singing also produces joy. So when servant leaders need more joy they also sing!

Servant leaders learn to stop and celebrate, expressing joy and inviting others to join them. Like David, they lead by calling people to sing with joy.

Joy should be restrained. In the midst of David’s expressions of joy he acknowledged that he was waiting on the Lord and requested God to bless them with His “unfailing love.” His expression of joy did not mean denial of the needs which were also present. He did not allow his emotion to overlook reality. Some leaders focus so much on being positive that they do not admit realities.

David showed restraint. Servant leaders recognize the need for self-control in how they allow emotions to impact their leadership. They learn to be vulnerable and express emotions like joy. This allows them to be fully human as they lead, and emotion influences their leadership. But they don’t allow their emotion to control their leadership. They learn to balance feeling and thinking. Before making a decision, they seek to acknowledge their emotions, but they also separate facts from feelings.

Servant leaders are also able to restrain their own joy in order to connect with the emotion of those who are hurting. Servant leaders are aware of and sensitive to the needs of others around them, especially those who may be going through pain or struggle. This may call for some restraint in how they express their joy. But they also serve those who hurt by appropriately expressing their joy and inviting others to sing even in their pain. Gently, by their example of expression and restraint, they invite others to experience joy that is greater than the challenges of life.

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

For further reflection and discussion:

  • Read David’s entire chapter, Psalm 33. What additional insights does this give me on the emotion of joy?
  • If I am not experiencing joy, is it because I am focused on my circumstances instead of God’s goodness? How can I learn from this Psalm to change my focus?
  • Do I easily express my joy or do I find it difficult to reveal this emotion?
  • Am I aware of and sensitive to the needs of those I lead who are experiencing pain? Am I most likely to ignore their pain and keep rejoicing, or to silence my own joy?
  • If I lead in an environment where singing is not an appropriate or accepted expression of joy, how can I invite the people to express joy?