There are moments of joy that stick out in life.
I remember being eight years old, the winter I got my first dog, the first time I deeply remember experiencing what I would call joy. After years and years of tearful pleading, my parents finally adopted Harley Davidson, my Christmas present that year, about three weeks before the actual holiday. I spent every waking moment with him, but one in particular sticks out.
It was nighttime—late, it felt like, but probably just because it was winter. Harley and I ran ourselves ragged playing steal-the-mitten in the backyard, and I finally flopped down flat on my back on the frigid ground. Harley climbed onto my chest—all twenty pounds of supposed-to-be-a-beagle-but-was-actually-a-foxhound—and lay there quietly. I can still see how the snowfall looked through the industrial lights of the Walgreens building next door. I can still feel his weight on my chest. And I can still remember feeling, in that moment, utter joy.
Not just because I finally had my puppy I’d been begging for. It was everything: the Christmas season, the quiet of the snow, the fact that my parents showed their love by opening their home to a dog I wanted so badly. The love of the dog on my chest. The love of God I felt in that moment, like He was smiling down at me, and the way I reflected that love back to Harley. At eight years old, watching the snow fall from the dark sky, for the first time I truly conceptualized two things: the peace of God and the joy it brought.
Even as I type it—almost two decades later—the memory brings tears to my eyes. Because in that moment, I felt joy in the security of God’s love and the love of my family in a truly tangible way. And it is a feeling I will never forget, because it was then I can first remember experiencing the difference between happiness and joy.
Happiness was having my puppy. Joy was in that moment, fathoming the love of God.
What is Joy?
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines joy as “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.”
Many people equate joy with happiness, but biblically these are separate concepts. Happiness is circumstantial—we are usually happy when things go well for us. Joy, on the other hand, scripturally speaking, is a sense of well-being reliant on trust in God, regardless of our present circumstances. Happiness is fleeting; joy is eternal.
What Does the Bible Say About Joy?
Hebrews 10:34 – For you had compassion on those in prison, and joyfully accepted the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession, and a lasting one.
James 1:2-3 – My brothers and sisters, count it all joy when you fall into various temptations, knowing that the testing of your trust produces endurance.
1 Peter 1:8 – Though you have not seen [Jesus Christ], you love him, and though you do not see him now, but believe in him, you rejoice greatly with inexpressible and glorious joy,
How Can I Become More Joyful?
The key to joyfulness is to be firmly grounded in the promises and hope from our God, recognizing that the commission He has given us and the rewards He promises far exceed the temporal happiness that can be found by pursuing the pleasures of this life. Indeed, the second fruit of the spirit – the list of attributes that manifest from walking by the gift of God’s holy spirit in us – is joy!
Thus, when we are focused on the things of the spirit rather than of the flesh, we become more joyful.
For some, it takes coming face-to-face with the fragility of this life and its fleeting offerings to truly grasp and embrace joy eternal. Nevertheless, our goal should always be to increase in joy by deepening our understanding and thankfulness for all God has done and will do for us, and also to nurture a deeper and deeper appreciation and excitement for what is yet to come.
The better we understand God’s promises and the hope of our guaranteed future, the easier it is to be joyful in any circumstances, like the writer of Hebrews 10 spoke of. Despite having their possessions seized, the followers of Jesus joyfully accepted the circumstance, knowing there was something far greater in store for them. They may not have been happy about what happened, but they remained joyful because they knew their well-being was in the hands of God and that loss of possession in this life did not touch the promise of possessing what they truly desired in the age to come.
Similarly, in the book of Philippians Paul set a wonderful example for living joyfully regardless of circumstances—penning a letter with pure joy as a theme while he was in prison! Many great men and women of the faith lived lives that were great proof of the grounding, stabilizing aspect of joy: that it is not based on how great things are going for us, but instead in how great is the God who we serve!
In your life, do you tend to pursue happiness, or joy? In what way could you shift your behavior or perspective to live more fully in the joy of the Lord?