Happiness or Joy?

I have been contemplating the difference between happiness and joy. I have often used these words interchangeably—but are they really interchangeable?

Happiness or Joy?

Rick Warren’s words echo in my brain:

God is more interested in making you life holy than he is in making your life happy. (See my post: A Drink Offering.) 

Many Christians simply do not understand this concept. They plaster fake smiles on their faces, believing Christians are supposed to be happy. Aren’t we commanded to be joyful? Is there a difference between joy and happiness?

A terrible tragedy has occurred in Japan.

Sadness fills me as I view the images of the devastation.

Sadness fills me as family members suffer.

Sadness fills me as people face an uncertain future.

And this was also true in the life of our Savior.

Sadness filled Jesus as he reflected on the fate of Jerusalem.

Sadness filled him when he visited Lazarus’ tomb.

Sadness filled him when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Yet Paul tells us: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)

Does this mean to be happy? To always grin from ear to ear? To never show unhappiness or pain?

No, because happiness depends on external factors. Winning the lottery brings happiness. Buying a new pair of shoes brings happiness. The giggles of grandchildren bring happiness.

Joy, however, depends on internal factors. The knowledge that God exists brings joy. Knowing God is good brings joy. Knowing we can cast our cares upon him brings joy.

And that knowledge allows us to rejoice “always.”

Did Jesus rejoice when he thought about the destruction soon to be visited on Jerusalem? Did Jesus rejoice as he cried over his friend’s death? Did Jesus rejoice as he contemplated his death upon the cross?

Yes, he did, even amidst great sadness. As can we.

Immediately after Paul tells us to rejoice, he pens these words:

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:5-7)

Sadness and joy are not opposites. Joy and anxiety are! Joy means knowing God exists and he will be with us and will guide us through even the most difficult of times. We can “rejoice,” that is, know, really know, really believe, there is a God, a loving God we can cast our cares upon. 

We rejoice as tears stream down our faces, as sadness fills our hearts. We rejoice, even when devastation comes upon us. We can say with Job:

Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him. (13:15)

And, if we have hope, we can rejoice. Watch this inspiring video to see one man’s rejoicing through great adversity:

Dragon Flames by Sheila Hollinghead

The coldness of the night is
Embraced by swaying trees,
Bent by the relentless surge of the wind.
I peer into the darkness,
Longing, yearning, needing.
My body shivers and warmth seeps.
Lonely trees lean to
Touch a fading shadow.
A freezing wind rustles the leaves
Who speak knowingly of my loneliness.

A dragon breathes upon the night,
Warming the marrow of my bones.
I tremble before the shimmering blaze.
Slay my soul with your flames, Oh God,
Quench my thirst.
Let your searing fire seal my heart,
Destroy the coldness, as you ease
The loneliness of your child.

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