Joy is a word that is tossed around a lot, without a whole lot of meaning assigned to it. Many times it is actually just used as a more spiritual sounding word for happy. People think of it maybe as a deeper version of happiness, saying that sunsets or walks on the beach bring them joy as opposed to just, say, bacon, but when those moments fade, those people find themselves to be joyless. Why? Because they haven’t bought into real joy.
But what about Christians? No Christian is happy all the time, and the Bible doesn’t ask us to be, but we are supposed to be joyful all the time. So what’s the difference?
The most important difference between happiness and joy is that joy doesn’t depend on your situation. Look at James 1. He says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds”. I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel all that happy about trials. I don’t ask for them, I am not excited to see them, but the Bible says I can still be joyful in them. So how do we stay joyful even when our situation doesn’t promote much happiness?
Well, we have to keep an eternal and God-centered perspective. Look at the next verse in James 1. He says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” In other words, we should be joyful that the Lord is allowing us to go through trials, because we know that God can use them to teach us and to help us to grow. That isn’t an attitude of immediate happiness, but it is the perspective of someone who wants to grow to be more like Christ. James was telling us to value Christian growth and the work God is doing above being comfortable. That’s joy.
Look also at Jesus Himself. Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus went to the cross and suffered with JOY. He looked ahead to what His suffering would mean for us, and so was able to find joy even in suffering.
We can also remember that we have a great and mighty God who has done such good for us. If you read through the Psalms, it is full of passionate praise for a God who has helped and strengthened a very grateful, joyful man. Psalm 71:23, for example, exclaims, “My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed.” The Lord’s love for us is more than enough reason for abounding joy. His love and care for us never change, no matter what else maybe is.
That same Savior who loves and cares for us also says, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The joy packed into that statement is overwhelming!
Joy is all about perspective. If we are letting our gaze fall on the world around us, it is going to be hard to hold on to much joy, but if we fill ourselves with God’s Word, if we meditate on His goodness, if we remember that we are under His sovereignty, then we will be overflowing with joy, whether or not we are momentarily happy.