We all want joy in our lives. However, many times we settle for what the world offers and pursue happiness. There is a big difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is based on circumstances, while joy is based on Christ. God longs for all of us to live life with joy. There is spiritual depth and maturity when our hearts are built on Christ who never changes. As you focus on Jesus, you experience this Fruit of Joy. Jesus said, I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10). Let’s choose to embrace Jesus and experience the joy of the Lord in our hearts, homes, work, church, and lives every day.
Joy vs. Happiness
The second fruit of the Spirit is joy. So, what is joy? Many dictionaries list it as a synonym for happiness, but they’re definitely not the same thing. Happiness is fully an emotion. It’s a product of our circumstances, and it changes with the wind. But joy is something that we can choose for our lives, even when we might feel like we have no reason to be happy. Pure joy is the result of who God is, not where we are, what we have, or what we do.
From prison, the apostle Paul wrote Philippians 4:11-13:
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Does that sound like an amazing promise, or what? If you heard someone saying this today, you’d probably be waiting for them to tell you the price tag for this breakthrough. Is it some form of special supplement? A new technology? Some sort of 90-day course? No, and it’s available at no cost — it’s inviting Jesus into your life. Even from prison, Paul found contentment because he knew what really brings joy and what never can.
They say money can’t buy happiness, yet it can, for a moment. But someday there’d be nothing more to own. Possessions would become dull and boring and start to rust. Joy can stand up to eternity, but happiness is fleeting. Take this poem, taken from Ecclesiastes 2:10-11:
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.
Even if you were king, you’d find that all earthly pleasures are fun and gratifying for a time, but none of them will fill a God-shaped hole in your heart. We long for eternity and ultimate purpose, and this world cannot offer either. Only God can, and He invites you into both, right now.
So, why is it so important to know the difference between happiness and joy? Well, we need to know that joy is what we’re really searching for, and we need to know how to go about finding it. Ultimately, joy comes from God. Not only does God want us to have joy, but this is also a command in His Word:
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. — 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
If you’re already a Christian but you feel like you’re at a loss for joy, consider what is stealing the joy that God wants to bring you. For many, it’s comparison. We pridefully put ourselves above or below the people around us, rather than humbly comparing ourselves to our God. For some, it’s worry. We lack faith that the circumstances around us are truly within the control of our loving Father. For others, it’s jealousy. We think, if we only had what someone else had, we’d be content; and we can’t help but feel we deserve it more than they do.
There’s plenty more struggles which can steal our joy, too. All of us struggle with at least one, and probably all at one point or another. Constant prayer and thanksgiving help us to guard our joy and keep our eyes set on what is true and good.
A Fresh Look on Joy
Remember, joy is not the absence of problems, but learning to rejoice in spite of them.
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior. — Habakkuk 3:17-18
God determines which gifts we will receive on this earth. If we love Him, we have reason for joy always. But if we are really only in it for the gifts He graciously gives us, are we really loving God? This is a hard question for us to reflect upon, but it’s important!
The good news is that joy, just like love, is a choice. Choose to spend more time reflecting on Jesus’ sacrifice and love of us, and choose to give thanks to God for His promises. Don’t indulge the flesh’s desire to curse God for withholding what you want. Follow the Spirit’s prompting to praise Him for giving us what we need.