For some time now I have been meditating upon the fruit of the spirit – joy in particular. I have read the Word, done online searches and found that there are that many ideas and opinions on the topic. The contention seems to be whether joy and happiness are equal. There is a school of thought that says “absolutely not”, but I have also found authors who argue that any Christian contending that joy is not the same as happiness; that you can be full of joy, yet be utterly miserable, is just offering an excuse to justify their own miserable, depressed dispositions and sour personalities. The topic fascinates me as I am in a hard season, with moments of sheer happiness as the world defines it, few and far between. I miss my children, my home, my friends and at times I feel desperately lonely, like many of you also, I’m sure. Now that I have made a public confession that right now I am not a happy camper, let me make a little detour and take you back to a conversation in my dining room around Christmas…
My favorite almost-8-year old girlfriend came with her parents to share our table. She had some food left on her plate and we all know the rule…dessert was in peril. She offered the left-overs to mum, who declined. Dad? No takers there either. She even eyed me hopefully for a brief moment… Then the two of us had a little girlfriend-to-girlfriend chat. The dialogue went something like this:
Me: Do you know why you still have that food on your plate?
Miss: No. (Her little eyebrows scrunched up in a quizzical frown)
Me: You did a very bad marketing job (laughing on the inside)
Miss: What’s “marketing”?
I realized the conversation had dried up – everyone was listening now.
Me: Marketing is when you convince someone what you have to offer is something they really want. See, what you offered us were left-overs. If you had told us that what’s on your plate was utterly delicious and very special and you loved us so much that you just had to share it with us, someone would have been more than happy to help you out. That’s good marketing.
Now I do hear some say “Shame on you for teaching the kid to lie” (and you are right – shame on me, feet of clay exposed) but in my own defense I did sample the cooking wine and I wasn’t really thinking about the moral implications and we did have a really good time for the rest of the evening marketing everything from after-dinner coffee to the cleaning duties. Back to where I started at the beginning – joy.
The online Webster’s define joy as “feeling of great happiness; the source or cause of great happiness: someone (a person) or something that gives joy to someone and success in doing, finding or getting something”.
Happiness is defined as: “a state of being happy; an experience that makes you happy; a state of well-being and contentment and a pleasure or satisfying experience”.
Let me put it like this…happiness is eating that piece of chocolate cake, knowing that you will have to deal with the regret later and joy is like sitting down to a healthy, yet somewhat bland meal, knowing that you are investing in your future well-being. I find very little happiness on the treadmill at 5 o’clock in the morning but great joy in knowing I am healthier and fitter in my 40’s than I have been in my 30’s.
We have been conned with (and bought into) a great marketing job and I’m not even talking about the advertising world selling us happiness in yet another new and improved package. We have been sold a gospel that promises us happiness on the temporal level, we have been marketed a disciple’s life without sacrifice, struggle and pain. So when it comes – those hard, hard seasons – we feel a sense of entitlement and we’re angry at the unfairness of it all. We bought a Bible without scriptures like James 1: 2 and 3 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” We read these and mutter “whatever” under our breath. We think we are entitled to eat, drink and be merry, that Jesus died to make us happy.
In the book of John, chapter 15, verses 9 – 11 Jesus speaks these words: 9 “As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Now remain in My love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commands and remain in His love. 11 I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
The word joy in this scripture is the Greek word chara and mean: joy, gladness – received from you, the cause or occasion of joy AND the person who is one’s joy.
Let me give you verse 11 again, this time taking the liberty to add the Greek meaning.
“I have told you this so that My joy (the cause or occasion, the Person who is My joy) may be in you and that your joy (the gladness received from the Person who is our joy) may be complete.
It is when His joy, the Person of Holy Spirit, is in us that we can experience complete joy, knowing that He enables our obedience, our daily acts of obedience is what helps us to remain in His love and when we remain in Jesus’ love we also dwell in the Father’s love. That’s my happy place…Daddy’s arms.
Paul asks of the Thessalonians this question: For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when He comes? (1 Thes 2:19) Then he goes ahead and answers the question by saying “Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy. (V 20)
Jesus, “for the joy set before Him, endured the cross”. The joy set before Him – us. Me and you and every other human ever to draw breath. Should our joy not be in Him, the Person that gives occasion for joy and the hope of an eternity with Him and in pouring out our lives for the joy of others, so that we, like Paul, can look at people and say “Is it not you? Indeed, you are our joy”. Even when times are hard and we don’t feel particularly happy, we have Joy living in us, we have the hope of an eternity living in the presence of Joy, breathing, living, being joy. Surely, that is something to sing about!