I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. — John 15:11
Remember Eeyore and Tigger in the Winnie-the Pooh-books? For Eeyore, no matter what amazing circumstance came his way, doom and gloom remained the focus. For Tigger, bouncing through life without a care in the world, he never perceived anything to go wrong. In our daily lives, it is easy to have the attitude of Eeyore while wishing we could have the outlook of Tigger — two quite extreme viewpoints of life.
The biblical brand of joy is not simply overcoming our inner Eeyore, nor is it strolling through life in ignorant bliss; rather, it is to be found in facing each day’s ups and downs through the contentment Christ offers.
KEY QUESTION: What gives us true happiness and contentment in life?
The first order of business is to identify the difference between joy and happiness. For many folks today, being happy is fully dependent on whether life is “all good.” If someone asks, “Rate your life right now on a scale of 1 to 10,” often the number given is based on the number of problems present. Happiness slides up and down the scale, based on the perception of negative issues going on at the time. Problems rise; happiness goes south. Troubles begin to go away; the happy scale starts to climb. Joy, however, is not dependent on circumstances, and, in fact, ironically, can become strongest when trouble comes. The psalmist reminds us of the reality of joy that comes when we rest in God’s presence:
You make known to me the path of life; You will fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. — Psalm 16:11
KEY IDEA: Despite my circumstances, I feel inner contentment and understand my purpose in life.
Joy has more to do with remaining in the presence of Jesus than with avoiding problems and struggles in our lives. Harkening back to John 15, we know that joy is always available to us when we remain in Christ, through whatever life brings. Let these statements guide you to see how true joy differs from mere happiness.
- Happiness is a state of mind, while joy is a mind-set.
- Happiness comes and goes, while joy can be constant.
- Happiness is dependent, while joy is independent.
- Happiness is conditional, while joy is unconditional.
The apostle Paul had learned the secret to the joy found in Jesus:
I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength. — Philippians 4:11-13
James drives home the definition of joy in the kingdom of God as having nothing to do with eliminating negative outward circumstances, but rather with embracing them as opportunities to strengthen faith and gain resolve:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. — James 1:2-4
Note the end result of choosing eternal joy — being mature and complete in Christ. Joy becomes the fuel for the believer on this road to maturity. Only Jesus can make our lives flourish in the midst of trouble. In him, joy is strengthened when life is challenging.
And finally, there is a source of deep joy available from an intimate place of serving Jesus.
Take a look at his teaching in Luke 15:3-7:
Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
Joy comes when the lost are found! When we join Jesus in His work by sharing and seeing people come to Him, we can be a part of the heavenly celebration right here and right now.
KEY APPLICATION: What difference does this make in the way I live?
The joy of Christ will replace or reduce stress.
Joy becomes a filter through which we view life. We’re not talking about rose-colored glasses, but about actually having brand new eyes! Joy can change our perspective and our perception of negative circumstances. We aren’t simply in denial, sticking our head in the sand, but rather we choose to rise above the circumstances and adopt an eternal mind-set. Stress can come from many different factors today. We can worry and fret because we feel we’re not in control. Joy is an ongoing reminder that God is in control — that He is in charge of the outcome.
The joy of Christ will become contagious through us.
As stated earlier, who doesn’t want to hang out with a joyful person? Joy lifts others up, just as despair brings them down. If you choose joy on a regular basis, you will not only be a far more approachable and relatable person, but your attitude will rub off on others and make a big impact on all the environments you are in.
The joy of Christ will draw others to Christ.
An old saying goes, “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” Another adage, often heard in sports settings, is, “Attitude is everything.” A person exuding a joy and vigor about life is going to raise the question, “What makes him [her] so different?” When those around us can look at us and see that we choose to express joy, no matter whether life is good or bad at the moment — therein lies the strongest testimony we can offer, even without words.
Notice the path we have taken here — from an inward focus of ending personal stress to an internal transformation to an outward attraction of people to Christ. As joy grows in the heart and mind of the believer, it infiltrates the soul and then moves outward to impact others. Loving God and loving neighbor.
You’ve probably heard the word countenance before. It describes not only the look on your face but also the look of your face. The last entry in George Orwell’s notebooks reads, “At 50, everyone has the face he deserves.” Eventually your face forms to your attitude and the perspective you have on life from the inside.
When you see people who look angry, but then you realize they’re not frowning — there’s a bad countenance. But have you seen a bride on her wedding day? Or a mother seeing her newborn child for the first time? Usually a radiant countenance! How can you tell that something good, or bad, has happened to someone you’re close to, even before they say a word? The countenance. As a Christian matures in the virtue of joy, the countenance becomes a gauge of growth.
In one of the Methodist Episcopal Church Missionary Society’s yearly journals, this story appeared: A Hindu trader in India asked Pema, a native Christian, “What do you put on your face to make it shine so?” Pema answered, “I don’t put anything on it.” “Yes, you do,” said the trader. “All you Christians do. I have seen it in Agra, and in Ahmedabad, and in Surat, and in Bombay.” Pema laughed, and his happy face shone as he said, “I’ll tell you what it is that makes my face shine. It is happiness in the heart. Jesus gives me joy.”
We all will have good and bad days. We will all experience life’s ups and downs. But has life robbed you of your joy, or are you growing in this virtue? What does your face reflect to others? What does your attitude communicate about your faith?
Happiness will be all too fleeting, but the joy of Jesus is available to your soul right now.