For the past couple of weeks, the topic of joy has been at the forefront of my heart and mind. How do we experience joy; what is it? Joy is a combination of things, such as contentment, peace, delight, gratitude--it is a deep culmination of these conditions of the heart. Joy in it's purest and most wholesome form is embodied by Jesus Christ. When Christ lives within our hearts, joy is a natural fruit that is produced within us through Him, since all fruit of the Spirit are of God.
1) Joy is greater and more profound than happiness
To begin, joy is not the same as happiness. While being happy is a momentary great place to be, it is centered on our own perception and environment, and thus impossible to maintain indefinitely. This is because happiness stems from our own expectations and interpretations of what is going on around us and how it benefits our individual worlds.
For example, I can feel and be happy when I help someone, like helping an old lady carry her groceries. I might feel happy from this because I believe I have just done something good. This is implying the expectation that I already anticipated before helping the lady--that helping someone is good and therefore can make me feel a positive emotion--along with my own interpretation that what I did is in fact a good thing. This emotion is like a gust of wind, however, and the next day I will probably not feel as happy about what I did compared to when I first committed the act.
At the same time, I can feel happy when I win the lottery. The increase in mood that occurs from things like this is fleeting, and my interpretation that this is a good thing that has happened to me can be misleading. The money I received from the lottery can easily turn into a bad influence, and then prove to be something that makes me feel anything but “happy”.
While I may be happy thinking of myself as wealthy with all this lottery money--along with living as lavish as I can be (or anything else someone might do with it)--this foundation for my happiness is something that cannot stand forever. No matter how many boats you buy, or how much money you spend, or even how many people you help with it, the happiness acquired from that wealth or action will begin to dwindle. This is the realization that there is a deeper need in our heart for something more than the fleeting gust of happiness.
Unlike happiness, joy has nothing to do with our surroundings, expectations, or interpretations. Where happiness might envelop us strongly when we experience something we think to be good, it can easily fall away during any moment we perceive to be bad. There can be any number of examples for this--especially since we as humans are constantly traversing a world fraught with disappointment, pain, and suffering. That same lottery money that made me so happy when I won it, is now tearing my family apart because the greed that is festering around it. Now, what I had thought brought me happiness, is instead bringing stress and division.
And while you may say that happiness is not the root cause of the suffering in this instance, it can become a false idol that leads us into being emotion-driven people. If we are constantly chasing after what makes us happy, or “feel” positive emotions, we will find no rest. If winning the lottery made me happy, should I not strive for other instances in my life that bring me that same type of happiness? There are a countless number of paths we can take to seek and find happiness, along with an unending supply of worldly material to lay the foundations of our heart with. The dangerous part of happiness is this exact notion: that we should always strive to be happy and do whatever makes us happy.
This notion is dangerous because it influences us to depend on what we receive and what we want in order to be in a positive mental state. What do we do when nothing seems to make us happy? When happiness seems like a foreign word and emotion for us? When happiness seems like something unattainable, or something too powerless to change our mindset of negativity due to the world we see ourselves in?
2) Joy can be found no matter what season we are experiencing
Don’t get me wrong, there are times to be happy: “When you eat the fruit of the labor of your hands, You will be happy and it will go well for you,” note the act of “eating”--that it took time to grow the fruit, but there is a time to enjoy it (Psalm 128:2). And “How delightful on the mountains are the feet of one who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Isaiah 52:7)--embrace the happiness that comes from something good happening in your life, just understand the feeling is not something to build the foundation of your life on. Happiness comes from the happening, and sometimes the happening isn't always happy.
There are moments in life that make us happy, and while it may not be something that will sustain you for your whole life, it can be good to just enjoy these moments. What I am addressing and attempting to illustrate is the deeper, core longing of our hearts for something better and more dependable. There is a greater happiness to be found that does not change, and it is based in our hearts and not our own expectations and interpretations of this world. This is joy.
Joy is like the feeling of walking through a park during the Fall or Spring when all the trees demonstrate their beauty, just enjoying the present moment and the great weather; marveling at the sun shining through the different color leaves; breathing in the fresh air; possibly enjoying the company of family walking with you, or just the birds singing in the trees; the ease that comes with knowing you have nothing else you need to be doing; and the peace and delight in knowing that you are loved. And the most amazing part about joy is that it is fully available and always accessible in Jesus Christ.
Because joy flows forth from God when we believe in His power and rejuvenation in our lives, we receive something greater than happiness that is derived from Him and nothing else. This, then, means we can find joy in any scenario of life, in any difficulty, in any place, in any mindset, in any challenge, in any moments of suffering. Where happiness is usually experienced briefly and relies on our relationship with ourselves and with the world, joy is the constant knowing that Jesus Christ died for us and our sin, anxiety, worry, doubt… and rose again in victory, and will return to proclaim His victory over anything and everything--and that I have accepted Him into my life, and His same victory lives on in me.
This truth does not change, and having Jesus as the foundation in our lives is the only true way for us to find something greater than happiness alone, and a hope that is not shaken. We will still experience the deserts and valleys, and we will still experience things that make us cry out to God in suffering. But in the suffering and in the lamenting to God, we find solace that the war has already been won; that Christ is closer to us than the tears leaving our eyes, and that the sacrifice He made at the Cross has paid for our lives in full. As Paul says, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12).
3) Joy is an inevitable gift from God when we trust in Him
Acknowledging this reality, and declaring Christ’s joy into our lives, allows us to live in any situation with peace and rejoicing. Living in Christ means your life is in the palm of His hand, and there is nothing that can take you from Him. There is no power in Hell that can take us away from the love of God; God is faithful and keeps His promises. Apostle Paul puts it beautifully:
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39).
And it is in the love and hope that God gives us, and the promises He has made to us, that embolden us to persevere in faith in Him, and therefore walk in the reward of joy. For God says, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). “The LORD Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31:8). “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you” (Psalm 32:8). And as Jesus says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Our happiness can fail, and the light our eyes see can be dimmed, but the joy within our hearts that emanates from the golden, impervious, and unfailing thread of the love and goodness of God--cannot be overcome. Jesus provides us with the river of living water that quenches every need of our heart; the breath of life that brings our dry bones to life. Follow Jesus Christ and you will lose your life; but in doing so you will find God’s. You will struggle in ways you never thought you could or would, but you will also find fulfillment in Christ that cannot be found in anything else in the entire world. It is this fulfillment that brings joy. It is the power of Jesus and having a relationship with Him that, no matter what your reality may be, you can still live with joy.