I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart. Where? Down in my heart. Where? Down in my heart…..- I grew up singing this song at school and somedays I still sing it as a reminder to my kids and frankly myself. You see, in this day and age joy often seems to be fleeting and it just doesn’t seem to be there in our heart. We have a bad day, we feel stress, we get tired and so often our emotions drag us down and joy is the last thing from our minds. But is this joy or happiness? Is there a difference? What does the Bible have to say?
The Difference Between Joy and Happiness
Joy is different from happiness. Happiness can be defined as a state of feeling pleasure or pleasant emotions based on experiences or circumstances. Joy in the Bible seems different. In James 1:2-3 we read, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” Now I don’t know about you, but trials don’t usually make me feel happy, pleasant emotions. So what is joy?
Joy, as the Bible refers to it, is a deep satisfaction, assurance and relationship with God- the Author of Joy. It is knowing that God, in His sovereignty, is in control of all things. It goes above and beyond circumstance, instead it comes from trust and finding contentment and strength in the day-to-day through a practical and genuine faith in God and His gracious gift of Jesus (Nehemiah 8:10, 1 Peter 1:8-9, Romans 15:13). It is having a firm foundation of a clear and growing knowledge of who God is as revealed through His Holy Spirit-inspired Word. In this relationship with God, we find that we can be joyful despite circumstances.
As Melissa Kruger writes:
“All too often we seek happiness in earthly pleasures, successes, and relationships, leading our family on a turbulent, emotional journey. If circumstances go well, then mom is happy. If problems arise, then mom is sad, angry or impatient. If we as mothers seek joy in our circumstances of possessions, then we will raise children who do the same.
The solution to this turmoil is to realize that the greatest source of joy in our lives is the Lord- who He is, His presence in our lives, His works, His Word, His strength, and His love. Abiding in God as the author of joy leads to everlasting and abundant joy.” (in Walking With God in the Season of Motherhood, Waterbrook Press, 2015, p.106).
Joy in the Bible
There are countless characters in the Bible that showed joy was more than circumstantial happiness. Paul epitomises joy in the midst of trials and actually urges us to hold on to the joy we have in Jesus. Paul writes the book of Philippians while is in Rome on house arrest. Paul models to us that joy is a decision– we recognise that God is at work, that this is not our home and as we turn our eyes upward, we can rejoice. Paul shows the importance of developing relationships with the wider church- he receives joy through the encouragement of fellow Christians. Finally, in this passage, Paul shows that he has joy through keeping his eyes on the task of sharing the gospel.
In Philippians 1:19-26, we read:
Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.
Paul’s eyes are looking to eternity. He is confident in Jesus and finds joy in this.
Growing in Joy
Yesterday, I struggled a little. By the time Dave walked through the doors in the evening, my spirits were low. While I hadn’t intentionally let it happen, I had lost some of my joy as the day progressed. I became overwhelmed with weariness and got myself into a self-induced negative spiral that ended up with my eyes firmly fixed on all that I didn’t have. Instead of stopping and praying that God would lift my eyes to Him, renewing a grateful heart in me and helping me recognise afresh the mercy, grace and love He shows me through the gift of salvation; I wallowed in my negativity. In the evening I sat down to write this post that I had planned to be on joy and felt hypocritical- who was I to write about joy?
So you see, I am writing this for me as well as anyone who may need to hear it. Joy is a decision, it is not a circumstance. It is a gift from God seen as a fruit of His Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Joy is rooted in our knowledge of who God is and what He has done and it greatly impacts our day. It is my prayer today that God would lead me into more joy through fixing my eyes not on what is seen but what is unseen and in this, may I look upward more often than inward and also see those around me who need to know the saving love of Jesus. As I choose thankfulness, may my heart and spirits be lifted into praise and rejoicing, knowing firmly that God is in control and that He is my hope and future.