One doesn’t have to be on this earth very long to discover that most people live a life based almost entirely on their emotions. The supreme goal in life is happiness and each decision, small and large, is based primarily on the idea that personal happiness is the optimal objective, the greatest pursuit, and the ultimate accomplishment in life. Our rights as citizens in this nation include the tenet of “the pursuit of happiness,” but for the true born again believer in Jesus Christ and citizen of the Kingdom of God, is this still an inferior and earthly goal? The answer, from the biblical, perspective is yes. The revelation of the Word of God teaches us that happiness is no substitute for the joy of the Lord.
Unlike happiness, joy is not an emotion but a force of the born again spirit. The joy of the Lord, said to be the source of our strength as believers (Nehemiah 8:10), is actually a deeply seated sense of calm delight that springs forth from the realization that we have peace with God through Jesus Christ and that we are in right standing with God by faith and that through grace. In other words, joy, unlike happiness is tied to an eternal spiritual truth and a spiritual reality that can only be understood by those that have experienced it. Happiness, on the other hand, is directly tied to our circumstances in life at any given moment or snapshot in time. If things are going well with our marriage, family, kids, work, finances, and health, then we will be happy (in theory). The problem, however, is that when things go south, so does our sense of well-being and happiness. Additionally, there are countless people who seemingly have it all together – great wife or husband, kids, meaningful career or other pursuit, a sound financial situation, and yet they are miserable. Why? Because the only thing that can give us true joy and peace – things that transcend mere happiness and that last despite changing circumstances – is a deep, abiding relationship with Jesus Christ.
I’ve often defined joy as a non-stop party in your heart with Jesus as the life of the party. In other words, there is nothing external to our heats and lives that we need to experience a fulfilling, significant, and joy-filled life. The devil, who comes to steal, kill, and destroy, is working overtime in the minds of people (including God’s people) to convince them that there is something outside of Jesus in our hearts that will bring us fulfillment and joy in life. This lie has led to countless believers veering off the path of God for their lives. This horrible deception has been responsible for the destruction of countless marriages because one or both individuals in the marriage bought the lie that the key to genuine happiness would be found outside of the spiritual soundness of their own hearts. Unfortunately, too many do not realize they’ve been duped until they have left God’s best path for their lives and settled for mediocrity or until that marriage is destroyed and the new relationship has left them feeling hollow.
There are basically two big reasons people in the body of Christ lose their joy. First, a loss of joy for the Christian is directly tied to a diminishing of their personal relationship with God. Rather than seeing a loss of joy as a sign we should withdraw from the Lord, His Church, and His plan for our lives, we should see this for what it truly is – we are lukewarm or cold with the Lord and when the fire returns the joy will come with it. See your joy level as an indication of the health of your relationship with Jesus Christ. Second, no matter who we are or what we do in the body of Christ, from preacher to greeter at the church, if we begin to turn our eyes from the Word of God and focus on the problems and circumstances, we will be defeated and lose our joy. When the adversity or setback strikes, we must discipline ourselves to keep the Word going into our eyes, going into our ears, and coming out of mouths in consistent confession. When the circumstances in our lives turn sour, we must choose to think on the Word of God rather than the problems we are facing because our lives will go in the direction of our most dominant thoughts.
When I think about the shepherds in the Christmas narrative who received the glad tidings of joy from the angels, I find in their reaction an example of how to maintain our joy as believers. First, joy comes in hearing the good news. They received the good news and it brought joy to them as it does to all who truly hear and lay hold of it. The principle could not be any clearer. We cannot maintain joy unless we continue to hear the Word of God. We need to continue to listen to the Word, read the Word, and speak the Word. Second, joy comes in experiencing the good news. It’s not enough just to hear and hear and hear the Word of God. The Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. The gospel, including all of its redemptive benefit, is something to be experienced. The Word we hear is to be made manifest in our lives. We are not just to hear about salvation – we are to experience it. We are not just to hear about the power of God – we are to experience it. Third, joy comes in spreading the good news. Many Christians today that are hearing the Word and experiencing the Word still seem to walk in less joy than they should. Why? It’s because we are failing to keep the third and perhaps the greatest aspect of the example of the shepherds – they heard, experienced, and then SPREAD the good news to others. Believers who are constantly receiving but never sharing what they have received from the Lord will typically lose their joy. Many are surprised to discover that if they will hear the good news, experienced the good news, AND spread the good news, their joy level will remain constant.
So, how is the party in your heart these days? If you feel like the party has died out don’t look to some radical life change that will cause you to veer off your path, a new relationship, or a material purchase to fill the void. Realize that your joy level is tied to the health of your walk with Jesus and your focus in life. Before you make a catastrophic decision in the pointless pursuit of happiness, stop and first consider where you stand with the Lord and also turn your eyes away from your circumstances and back onto the Word of God. You will find your joy level rising and discover that the pursuit of happiness is no substitute for the authentic joy of the Lord.