Monday, July 16, 2018

77-7 Happiness or Joy?

Inspired by the song "No One Can Steal Our Joy" by Tenth Avenue North from their album Followers. Available at YouTube, iTunes & Amazon.

"God wants me to be happy."

A lot of Christians say this or believe this, and it sounds really good. But is it a true statement?

I would argue, yes, it is true, but a little misleading. And there is something certainly more valuable.

Happiness is, simply put, the state of being happy. We all know how it feels to be happy, but we also know how quickly we change from being happy to being any other emotion other than happy. If there's anything we as humans can possibly agree on, it's that everybody would rather be happy than any other emotion. Where we differ is in the things that make us happy. That's where people get in trouble.

You see, there are a lot of things that make me happy. Planes, buses, bunnies, corgis and coffee all make me happy. I like reading books. I like writing a story and seeing it come out exactly as I hoped it would. Pad See Ewe (a Thai dish), Olive Garden's Braised Beef & Tortelloni, and, lately, the basic crispy chicken sandwich at Wendy's all make me really happy.

What makes me more happy is playing on the worship team at church and watching people dive into experiencing God's presence. Or hearing one of my kids that I have mentored for years tell of the great things God is doing in his or her life. These things make me the happiest of all.

But the sad fact is that there are negative things that make me happy. If they didn't, I wouldn't be tempted to engage in them. Usually, this happiness is very short-lived, as I feel regret and sorrow and a loss of self-worth after making these mistakes. Yet, somehow, they entice me because they tell me that I will be happy if I do them. And every time they let me down.

I come to the realization that happiness is more of a primal emotion than a part of being godly. Everybody wants to be happy, but we obviously are not all the time. When we aren't happy, we get very selfish and wish to be happy. We complain because we are not happy. And we strive to do whatever it takes to get back to that state of happiness, even if it's not God's way of getting there.

So given all of this information, does God want me to be happy?

We were made by God to live in His glory and perfection. We failed, and therefore sin and pain are in the world. So, in my opinion, given the facts of how we were created, we were intended to experience nothing but happiness. But happiness is circumstantial; once sin entered the world, the ebbs and flows of life take away the certainty of my happiness.

Happiness does not equal holiness, and unhappiness does not equal sin. Jesus demonstrated this when He wept over Lazarus's death. Isaiah 53:3 (NASB) calls Jesus "a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." Obviously, when Jesus died on the cross, He wasn't happy. When Peter denied Him, He wasn't happy. When he turned the tables in the temple, He wasn't happy. But that doesn't mean happiness is undesirable; it just means that happiness is not all we should be willing to feel.

If you look as happiness as an absence of any negative emotion, then you could say that heaven will be a place where we experience eternal happiness. And I know God's heart breaks for those whose hearts are breaking. Therefore, I can state that I believe, yes, God wants me to be happy. This is the same kind of thing as that verse that says that God wants all people to be saved. He desires this for us, but as we live on this earth, there is no guarantee of happiness. God might want us to feel another emotion if it brings Him glory and benefits us or others. He also lets a lot of things be, since He is sovereign and wiser than anyone else, and he has given us all free will to make our own choices.

So if happiness is not what we are supposed to focus on, what is the thing we should seek?

That is something called joy. No, joy and happiness are not the same thing, not even close. Joy isn't being bubbly, giggly, or giddy. It is a state of being satisfied with who God is and what He has promised. It is something that is extremely difficult to define because it often goes against logic.

I know what joy is because I have watched people who are in the darkest place have it and demonstrate it. I have watched people lose loved ones and still be filled with joy. I have watched people without direction and unsure where God is leading them still be filled with joy, I have watched people who have lost everything still be filled with joy. Millions of Christians around the world are literally on the verge of death and their joy is the only thing that gets them by. Joy is powerful and hard to believe sometimes, but when you see people experience it who you think logically shouldn't, you know that true joy is real.

The world thinks it knows what joy is. They are thrilled when they win the lottery, marry an attractive spouse, buy a beautiful house or close a super business deal. What they are feeling is not joy; it is extreme happiness. Taxes come, spouses get sick, houses burn and businesses collapse, and their happiness goes with it.

But those who put their confidence in the Lord will find something that this world can never have. When we rely on God for all our needs, we find that He is powerful enough to protect and provide, to show us love we couldn't imagine, and to do the impossible. He also gives us the hope of eternal life, that there is something greater after this life that will make the struggles of this life quickly forgotten.

Then, when the Holy Spirit fills the Christian, they will feel that buzz of joy that radiates through all situations. It doesn't matter if you are sick or healthy, rich or poor, scared or strong, sad or happy, you can take the joy of the Lord as your strength. It comes from God and can't be stolen by anything.

Maybe you feel like you have lost your joy. Maybe sorrow, loss, depression, addiction, or any other negative aspect of life has put a damper on your joy. I'm not saying those things are going to go away, but when you cry out to God and remember all He has done for you and all He has given, you will be reminded of who He is and how much reason you have to rejoice. Sometimes it might take a conscious decision to resurrect the joy you seem to have lost, but as long as your reliance on God is present the joy of the Lord should be too. Rejoice in the Lord! He is enough to give joy enough to live forever.

So should you seek happiness? Sure, if it is in God's will. Wanting to be happy is not wrong, and those good happy moments of life are worth remembering forever. But you should instead consciously seek joy, which is so much greater and doesn't care about your circumstances. Joy will stay with you forever and will give you peace even in the midst of the unhappiest of experiences.

Lord, thank You for loving us. Thank You for giving us so many reasons to experience happiness in Your will. But thank You that You have given such a greater gift. Help us to always feel the joy You give even in the most painful of times. Help others to be able to see the truth of who You are through the joy we have. And let us always put our trust in You in everything, so that we can rest in the confidence that no one can steal our joy.

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