For unbelievers, there may be a certain interchangeableness of joy and happiness. Indeed, there are even some passages in the Bible that use the words for joy and happiness somewhat interchangeably. The overarching point here is that the pure joy that continuously comes from the Lord is vastly different than the occasional happiness that comes from man.
For believers, joy in the Lord is the persistent, upbeat, sense of peace and delight that arises, because the Lord first loves us and we in turn love Him as best we can. Joy arises from the continuous operation of God’s love, grace, forgiveness, mercy, and longsuffering in our lives. The joy of the Lord is permanent, dependable, reliable, and therefore an anchor of the believer’s life.
Some—especially prosperity TV preachers—claim that God wants everyone to be happy all the time. Really? Then why does God say that suffering is the most powerful tool for building strong godly character? Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…” [James 1:2 ESV]
Clearly, God wants us to experience the inner joy that comes only from Him. That joy persists despite suffering and attracts others to a saving faith in Jesus. Suffering itself is not fun; it is often painful physically, emotionally, spiritually or all three. Suffering and happiness cannot coexist; for believers, suffering and the joy of the Lord MUST exist simultaneously. It is the most powerful route to building strong character and becoming an effective witness for God.
Happiness is a temporary response to the words and actions of others who will always let us down. In short, all-embracing joy comes from God, but fleeting happiness depends upon others. Consider the comparison of joy and happiness in the table.
Happiness cycles frequently according to the ebb and flow, of outward circumstances. Happiness depends on others who are fickle and will always let us down.
The joy of the Lord should be rock solid. “…the joy of the LORD is your strength.” [Nehemiah 8:10 NIV] Nevertheless, since all people are flawed and sinful, there may be an occasional lapse of joy, but in a believer, it should be very rare.
Most believers are familiar with at least one stage 4 cancer victim who seemed to radiate the love of the Lord in the days just before death. Stage 4 cancer is no fun and can at times be very painful. Happiness becomes very scarce. When pain arrives, happiness often leaves. But true inner joy—the kind that only comes from God—can shine through despite the pain. It is the joy that shines through the pain that often draws people to Jesus.
The pervasive, immediate and eternal benefits of seeking God’s incomparable joy so far surpass man’s fickle, short-term happiness, that the choice of which to pursue is inescapably clear. Yet, we seem to devote most of our waking hours chasing man’s flawed and undependable happiness, often missing God’s sustained, perfect joy simply due to lack of time.
The joy of the Lord should and must be a permanent characteristic of every believer. It is simply a matter of getting pride out of the way and allowing God’s light and love to shine through. God’s light and love will attract others to Jesus, even, or perhaps especially, when outward happiness is at a record low.
What does it take to wake up the body of believers?
What does it take to wake up the clergy?