Happiness vs. Joy

            I once read an interesting and amusing book, written in the mid 1990’s, describing the author’s travels throughout England.  He opened one chapter by stating there are at least three good reasons for being happy.  The first is that we were born.  He noted that the odds are remarkable that the sperm cell, which helped form each of us, united with an egg from our respective mothers, considering there were so many millions of other sperm cells in competition that didn’t make it.  Second, you and I are alive, doing whatever it is we’re doing now and thinking whatever it is we’re thinking at this very moment.  Third, we’re in a time of peace.  (He wrote his book before the so-called War on Terror in which our country is presumably engaged.)  He also insightfully noted that the 1973 song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree” will never be number one again.  To which I say, if that doesn’t make you happy, what does it take?

            Many times when I was young my dad told me to cheer up, because things could be worse.  You know the story.  I cheered up, and sure enough, things got worse.  Seriously, it is true that things could be worse, even on a terrible day.  Think on God’s mercy in whatever situation you’re in.  That leads me to my main point.  You may not be happy, but you can still have the joy of the Lord inside.  You may not have thought of happiness and joy as things that can be separated, but in reality they often are.  This doesn’t mean they are mutually exclusive.  They can and often do go together.  Sound confusing?  I would describe happiness as more of a fleeting emotion, often dependent on our outward circumstances.  When things are good, we’re happy.  When things are bad, we’re not happy, but we can still have joy.  .  Joy goes deeper.  I’m not talking about a conjured up glib or giddy feeling.  It’s more substantive than that.  Joy in the Lord is based on what He has done for us, and is doing now, and what He will do in the future.

            I don’t know about you, but I have misgivings and don’t trust someone who smiles and bubbles over all the time.  Saying “Praise the Lord” with every other utterance comes across as phony.  Is that person happy or sincerely joyful?  Are they on something?  Granted, we each have different temperaments, so maybe some can genuinely be that way; but I have my doubts.

            When David was ready to repent, he prayed words we can read in Psalm 51.  He was unhappy and had lost his joy.  In verse 12 he prays for God to restore the joy of his salvation.  David didn’t ask God to make him happy, though that would likely be the result.  There is indeed joy in salvation, and he wanted it restored.

            Jesus Himself was sorrowful, yet knew joy.  When the prophet Isaiah spoke of Him in Isa. 53:3-4, he said: “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief:…Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.”  Paul wrote, “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:” (Phil. 2:8-9).  In Heb. 12:2 we’re exhorted to keep “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  Though it seems impossible to live by, consider Phil. 4:4:  “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.”  We can truly rejoice in the Lord when we meditate on Him.

Explore posts in the same categories: Christian Life, Thoughts from John

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