Happiness and joy. Two words that are often misunderstood and used synonymously, interchanging one for the other.
I was talking to someone a while back and I asked them how they were. They replied, “Oh I’m so happy in my new job”. I cringed inside when they said this. Not because they were happy, but that the flavor of the words spoke loud and clear that the happiness was mistakenly placed wrong. They had placed happiness where joy ought to reside with the expectation of those circumstances lasting.
I saw and heard this so much being a wedding photographer — couples so in love and nothing could ever separate them! They had found their soul mate — their true love. Now for the hopeless romantics, don’t shoot me. I’m not peeing in your Cheerios! I happen to be a hopeless romantic. But I hear much more than I’d like, couples or their parents stating that they finally found their happiness. They found the one person that can make them happy.
Yes, my wife makes me happy. But she is not my happiness nor am I hers! More often I’m the one that causes her unhappiness! Spouses will let each other down. We cannot be the source of happiness to anybody because at some point in our lives, we will let others down no matter how hard we try.
Nor can a job bring happiness that lasts. Eventually, the honeymoon phase of the new job will wear off. For that matter, the honeymoon phase of anything new eventually wears off. Cars break, houses can burn down, technology gets old, food spoils or makes us unhealthy by eating too much of the wrong kind of food. The list goes on and on.
These things may bring us happiness, but it doesn’t last. Happiness is completely dependent on the circumstances of those things and the circumstances surrounding our lives. Some of the most miserable people you meet have the circumstances that are enviable to us. So, why are they still miserable?
Their circumstances will not remain the same. Markets change, jobs change, people change. In fact, one of the constants in life is indeed the concept of change.
Joy, however does not change because it is not dependent on circumstances. True joy is found in living in God’s presence — a continual awareness of God’s omnipotence all around you. True joy remains despite the unhappy, difficult circumstances of life. It’s not an emotion, it’s an attitude of the heart that is promised to the Christian through Jesus Christ. It’s that blessed assurance that nothing happens outside of God knowing about it. Nothing catches Him off guard.
Joy then, is completely dependent on God alone. Seasons of life change as our circumstances do. But even with seasonal changes, the one thing that remains the same is that we believe in and rely on is Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
“Is the same.” Present tense.
We have a promise of joy in our lives to sustain us in the difficult days. If Jesus can take His spit, mix it with a bit of dirt and make a mud eye pack and use that mud pack to bring sight to the blind, then His joy can most certainly sustain us.
John 15:10-11 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.
Obedience and responding to Him makes our joy full. And not just our joy — His joy! This is the joy of Christ! And His joy was from obedience to whom? His Heavenly Father and his will.
You know the feeling of a full belly. It just feels nice. Jesus explains His joy from obedience in terms of nourishment or food.
John 4:32-34 But He assured them, I have food (nourishment) to eat of which you know nothing and have no idea. So the disciples said one to another, Has someone brought Him something to eat? Jesus said to them, My food (nourishment) is to do the will (pleasure) of Him Who sent Me and to accomplish and completely finish His work.
This doesn’t invalidate our need or enjoyment from food. It shows Jesus’ perspective on the matter.
Paul writes in Romans…(Amplified Bible)
Rom. 15:13 May the God of your hope so fill you with all joy and peace in believing (through the experience of your faith) that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound and be overflowing (bubbling over) with hope.
We are so filled with joy in what? Believing? Believing in what — in the power of the Holy Spirit! Once again it is the Spirit that enables believers to experience this kind of Joy! It’s not something we can muster up on our own! And look at how the verse is amplified. “through the experience of your faith”. Through experiences when we’ve had to use faith, our joy so fills us. That’s why James can write.
James 1:2-3 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
This joy is one of purposeful choice in heart attitude. The modifier ‘all’ in front of joy does not invalidate any other emotions we feel as humans. It doesn’t mean we don’t feel anything else. Read the gospels. They show Jesus running the gamut of emotions from highs to lows and everything in between. This also supports our understanding of joy as less of an emotion and more of an attitude and choice of heart.
Count it all opportunities to respond in obedience to God!
In Habakkuk, we see a great example of this type of response to God. Habakkuk was one of the Minor Prophets in the OT and not much is known about him. It’s suspected that his name meant “one who embraces” which is quite fitting for what was written in his book.
In the first two chapters of Habakkuk, he grapples with two mysteries that he doesn’t understand. Why is God allowing evil to go unpunished in Judah? And how could a righteous God allow an un-righteous people, the Chaldeans (Babylon), to come and judge sin in Judah. They were far more wicked than Judah! And much like Job, Habakkuk reaches an awareness of God’s awesome presence and sovereignty. And in chapter 3 Habakkuk responds in psalm and praise at this awareness.
We have to look at this from Habakkuk’s side of history. God has informed him that the Chaldeans are going to invade Judah and that the invasion is imminent. Habakkuk cries out to God expectingly. He feels as though his voice is not heard and ignored. He questions God much the same way Job did. The book doesn’t seem like Habakkuk prophesying to Judah. It’s more of Habakkuk dialoging with God, and God with him.
I think this is crucial for us to consider! Habakkuk’s circumstances have a grim outlook. So what does he do? He talks to God about them! Now I don’t know how that looked for Habakkuk. Maybe it was an audible conversation that he and God had through a dream. The Bible doesn’t say. But we need to be very aware of what that looks like for us — talking to God and His responses and our responses to Him. It’s recognizing His presence and His speaking to us. Sometimes we find our awareness of it less than ideal — particularly in times when we have to “Consider it joy when we encounter trials!”
We have to wonder ourselves, just as Habakkuk did, why? Why some things have to happen. Current circumstances stand on shifty ground and let loose beneath us if we stand solely on them alone.
I once went to the calling hours for a family that lost a couple of its members in a house fire — the father and a baby and I wasn’t prepared for what I would see. I’ve seen plenty of adults in a casket, but that was the first time I’ve seen a child. They were both in the same casket, his arm around her little two-year-old body, her little hands resting on his chest.
And I asked — Why?
Circumstances change. Life ends. People move. Jobs change or are lost. Money is here one day and not the next. But those are circumstances. They shift underneath us if we try to stand on them. Let’s look at Habakkuk’s final statements in chapter 3.
Habakkuk 3:17-19 Though the fig tree should not blossom And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold And there be no cattle in the stalls, Yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord GOD is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, And makes me walk on my high places.
So…what’s your move?
You’ve read through all of this (at least I hope you have). Are you going to keep doing the same thing over and over, basing your joy on things that change? Or are you going to do something different?
There’s a great episode of Seinfeld called The Opposite. In it, George declares that everything he’s done in life is wrong. All the decisions, all his instincts. All wrong. So he makes the decision to do the opposite. The logic? If every decision, every instinct he’s had up to this point has been wrong, then doing the opposite must be right. So he does.
And has the best day ever.
Now…God gives us instinct for a reason. Don’t go all crazy on me. But what if you did something different in the context of joy and circumstances? What if you did the opposite of what you normally do when circumstances shift underneath your feet?
How would your world be different? What would you do different? What would be that thing you’d do opposite?
Got it? Great! Now go do it!