Would You Rather Be Happy or Have Joy? ~ blog
When was the last time you felt real joy? In some ways, the feelings of happiness and joy are very similar. People in Kansas City … the one in Missouri not Kansas … felt a lot of happiness and perhaps even joy when the Chiefs won the Super Bowl. My grandchildren show great happiness on Christmas morning when they receive a gift for which they had been hoping.
However, I do believe there is a difference between the two and since joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit and is something that we can have as part of a growing Christian experience it is something I believe we all long for in our hearts and is wonderful when we begin to experience not based on outward happenings but more of an internal state of being.
Happiness is an emotion often based on what is happening in our lives. However, it is like a mist that can quickly evaporate depending on the circumstances of the day. For example, students are happy when they graduate but that disappears when they have to begin to pay back their student loans.
Newlyweds are happy when they finally have the wedding ceremony behind them and head off on their honeymoon. This can last a short or long time depending on what happens during the honeymoon and how life unfolds in the coming years when they learn what the other person does that is less than one was anticipating. The shining knight becomes a couch potato and the blushing bride has postpartum depression.
Often it is the realities of life not meeting our unfulfilled expectations that steal our happiness because life is hard. Happiness is an emotion we feel when we experience feelings ranging from contentment and satisfaction to bliss and intense pleasure. It is often wrapped up in me getting what I want when I want it and then, for a while, I might feel happy as long as there are no other negative things impacting the way I am feeling.
Charles Spurgeon, a famous English preacher said happiness is a very dainty word, but it is somewhat insecure because it begins with a “hap” and seems to depend on a chance of what might happen. People say “happy-go-lucky” and much of the world’s happiness depends on chance. Or we create “happy-hour” as an excuse to deaden the way we feel with alcohol which in and of itself is a depressant. It can be fun drinking with friends and enjoying comradery but that can disappear the second you see flashing red and blue lights in your mirror on the way home.
Joy is different from happiness. It is more than having happy emotions. It is a state of being that is created not on the experiences of each day but more on who I am and having a good understanding of what Christ has done for me, who I am in Christ, and what awaits in my guaranteed future.
Jesus said to his disciples on their last meal together in the upper room;
“These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you,
and that your joy may be made full.”
This type of joy is not something we can manufacture. It is understanding what God has done and declares He will do in our lives. It is knowing that I am eternally saved by His grace and my salvation is not conditional upon my abilities to obey His commands. Joy comes from experiencing the fruit of love and knowing that our Father’s love for us is unconditional. It had no beginning because He loved us before the creation of the world even before time began.
And He will love us forever. Believing that and knowing that creates a joy that the circumstances of my life cannot take away. When I was in the depths of my depression after confessing to my wife and my children my sins, after losing my job as a pastor and my career, having 2 kids in college and another wanting to go, in great fear of losing our home and going bankrupt I was laying on the sofa in the basement filled with great shame and fear.
It was the middle of the night and sleep was nonexistent. I was lying on the dark green sofa under a blanket because the basement was cold. It was dark outside, it was dark inside because there were no lights on, and it was dark in my soul. I could not even imagine that I would ever be happy again. I had been foolish for years. I hated myself because of the sins I had committed.
And as I lay down there to stop the insanity of the thoughts I was having and the accusations satan was throwing me I began to pray. For a long time, I told the Lord how sorry I was for my foolish choices, destroying His calling on my life to be a pastor and damaging my wife so deeply. But gradually my prayers began to change. Instead of continuing to beat myself up I started to thank God for His love for me. Instead of wanting to harm myself for my sins I visualized Jesus hanging on the cross being harmed…no slaughtered for my sins.
And even though my feelings were still those of depression there was a place in my soul where there was joy that my Father still loved me, that my Lord died for my sins, and that His Spirit was still in me. And despite all the darkness and pain that would have to be walked through in the future, I knew that my Father still had me. I was the lost sheep that He had rescued, once again, and was bringing me back to the fold.
That my friends is the fruit of the Spirit of joy. It is not contingent on my circumstances, no matter how painful they are. The Lord is my Shepherd and He holds me in His hands…forever. And He holds you there as well.
The longer you practice being filled with the Spirit and walking in the Spirit the fruit of His joy will begin to be established in your heart and nothing can steal that joy away.