I wish for you joy and happiness. Joy, happiness, is it not the same thing? Joy is a difficult concept to explain because happiness and joy are often equated as the same thing in our society, but as we will see below they are very different. Or are they? Paul was clear that he wanted us to experience joy, he says,
“Rejoice in the Lord, and again I say rejoice.” Phil 4:4
When we look at the root word for happiness, it is similar to happening, suggesting that how happy we feel has a lot to do with our circumstances, what is happening to us and how we feel about them. In fact, in the history of most European countries “happy” often referred to an event where you were “lucky.” This would explain why there are seasons of happiness in our lives, and when those seasons are gone, we long for them again. It also explains why happiness is not our constant experience. Life and circumstances change, but more importantly, our feelings about happiness are changeable.
The root word for joy, however, is “gaudia” in Latin, meaning “to rejoice” clearly not dependent on a situation. The Greek translated as joy in our New Testament is “chara” referring to a feeling of happiness that is based on spiritual realities (and independent of what “happens”). Joy is an inner gladness; a deep-seated pleasure. It is a depth of assurance and confidence that ignites a cheerful heart. It is a cheerful heart that leads to cheerful behaviour. Joy is not an experience that comes from favourable circumstances but is God’s gift to believers.
Psychology will tell us that joy is more consistent and cultivated internally, whereas happiness tends to be externally triggered and is based on other people, things, places, thoughts and events.
It seems impossible to fully separate happiness from joy. I have to ask though, why try and separate the two concepts? True joy appears to result in a measure of happiness. One cannot be joyful and glum?
That said, I don’t think we are always happy to experience and demonstrate joy. Throughout the Bible, we see genuine expressions of sadness and honest explanations of deep and painful hardships. Pretending hard things don’t exist leads neither to outer happiness nor inner joy. It is just simple denial of the truth. Even though believers have the joy of the Lord, we can still feel and express sadness. The difference is that we do so with hope, knowing that the hard things of this earth are not eternal and that God is with us in the midst.
Our joy is dependent upon the truth of Jesus Christ and His presence in our lives.
What do we know about joy?
- Joy is not based on circumstances, but on the person of Jesus Christ. Circumstances change, but Jesus is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. (Heb 13:8) The best description I have ever heard is that happiness is a thermometer that tells you the conditions of the room, whereas joy is a thermostat, it regulates the condition of the room.
- Joy may NOT prevent us from experiencing negative emotions. We may be described as unhappy, but it does not mean that we do not possess joy.
- Joy does NOT deny the reality of a situation, the difficulties of life or the lack that is in the world. This is shown in David’s psalms, which although they start discouraged and down, he is always encouraged in the end (Psalm 3; 6; 7;13; 16; 18.)
- Joy is expressed in a grateful heart, that counts its blessings. A grateful heart leads to contentment and joy.
- Joy is dependent on where we put our focus; we can focus on difficult circumstances and the pains of life, then we will experience discontent. If we focus on God and what He has done for us or will do for us, our response is thanksgiving and joy. The object of our joy is Jesus.
- We tap into joy when we give our burdens and experiences to the Lord (2 Cor 11:23-27). When our anxieties and cares are handed over, joy has expression in us. (Phil 4:4-7)
- We experience joy in our Christian lives by giving our lives completely over to Jesus. Jesus describes what it means to abide in Him in John 15:1-11, and we find that joy is linked to remembering His words, living in His love, depending on Him, and obeying His commands. He then says in v11: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
- As the Holy Spirit works in our lives, joy is a product of our spiritual walk, called a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23)
- We can choose to be joyful in our hearts by our reliance. We have an enemy which specializes in stealing from us, including our joy (John 10:10) but when Jesus is our strength in difficult circumstances, we choose joy. (Nehemiah 8:10)
- We experience joy in our salvation (Psalm 9:4). Jesus as prepared a way for us to receive pardon for sin. Also, to experience a deep and meaningful relationship with God. This relationship brings us great joy in the experience of freedom from sin and death, as well as an everlasting inheritance and a daily walk with God.
- Joy intensifies during times of suffering (James 1:2), our emotions do not enjoy suffering, but our experience of joy in the Lord intensifies during our experience of suffering.
- We will have everlasting joy.
“Those the LORD has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (Isaiah 35:10).
Thank you, Father, for the joy we experience in relationship with You. You have given us this joy, and we continue to experience it as we do life with You. It is this joy that gives me the strength to face life, and it is this joy that helps me to be thankful in all circumstances. Help me Holy Spirit to experience the joy of the Lord, teach me what the bible says about joy and how to live above my circumstances by keeping my eyes fixed on Jesus. Help me to discipline my mind and thinking, not to focus on my surroundings, but to focus on You Lord, the One, whose right hand, holds me fast.