Think of the most beautiful party you’ve ever attended. Lights strung across tree branches,streamers and ribbon laced along fences; a candle lit dinner and the richest chocolate cake. Everyone’s wearing their prettiest dresses and dancing to the rhythm of the most melodic songs. It’s one of those parties where all of your favorite people are gathered in one place and you wish the night would never end.
Now think of the worst, most depressing kind of situation. You learn that your dearest friend is suffering a fatal cancer. You visit her daily. You laugh and talk as if you don’t notice her growing thinner and weaker. You bring her all of her favorite snacks when she’s in the hospital and ignore her lack of appetite. And then one day, you find yourself standing over her coffin, shaking your fist at God and wondering where the good in this world is.
Joy is a little, three letter word. In the party description, one might agree that the party is joyous. Looking at the cancer description one might say the situation is depressing. However, is it possible to attain joy in both situations, or is it only possible in the first?
Joy is the serious business of heaven.
I believe many people confuse the word “joy” with “happiness”. However, “joy” and “happy”are two completely different things.
“Happiness” is related to the word “happenstance”, which can best defined as a coincidental circumstance. Therefore, “happiness” is a circumstantial emotion. It would be strange to be happy at the death of a close friend or relative, while it would make sense to be happy when your baby cousin is born.
Joy, on the other hand, is not circumstantial. Joy is more than a simple emotion. Joy is freedom and celebration in the midst of suffering.
December of 2016, my family and I faced a difficult, personal situation. Our Christmas preparation and excitement was crushed under the weight of horrible news. And yet somehow, when I received this news, I found myself singing praises to God! I can’t explain it, but I was joyful and at peace with the situation. I wasn’t joyful about the situation, but somehow, I found joy in Christ in the midst of the situation. As the storm whirled around me, I couldn’t help but praise God. I experienced the peace that passes all understanding, which Paul talks about in Philippians 4:7. I experienced this unexplainable, inexpressible joy that Peter writes about in 1Peter 1:8. That’s not to say the entire circumstance I was at peace, but in the moment, I was.
Happiness is circumstantial, but true joy comes from God and is eternal.
Ann Voskamp best describes joy when she wrote in her book, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, “The secret to joy is to keep seeking Him where we doubt He is.”
In the worst storms, it can be difficult to see what God is doing. However, these are the moments where we must actively pursue Christ and praise Him for His goodness. We are given the promise of God’s joy. In Psalm 16:11, David tells us, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Happiness is smiling when the sun’s out. Joy is dancing in the downpour.
When we, as Christ-followers, pursue God and stand in his presence, we find joy. Real, down to earth joy.
Dr. John Piper, founder of Desiring God Ministries, defines joy as “a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as He causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and in the world.”
Dr. Piper continues by adding, “So, what is the secret [to joy in suffering]? The secret is faith in God’s sovereignty and in the sweetness of Christ.”
Dr. Piper based his definition on Philippians 4:11-13, where Paul writes, “For I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
In these verses, Paul altogether implies that joy is not circumstantial. Joy is, as Piper said, “a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit.” We find joy in Christ when we choose to seek, or pursue, God when our circumstance demands otherwise.
Unlike happiness, joy is more than a circumstantial feeling. It is a feeling erected by the Holy Spirit. Joy is something we experience, as believers, when we actively pursue and praise God.
Joy is not a dull, serious kind of feeling. Rather, joy is a constant celebration of who God is and His goodness towards His children.