We find happiness in many different things. We can find it in the larger aspects of life ranging from time with family or loved ones, to even work and leisure activities. We may find happiness in the smaller things of day-to-day life, such as a good cup of coffee, or our favorite meal. But the problem with happiness is that it always seems to fade. Sometimes things that once brought us happiness no longer seem to even interest us. We can become bored or even indifferent to something that once made us happy. Happiness is very fluid. And this is one of the main differences between happiness and joy in life. Where as happiness can be manipulated be mood and feelings, joy is much more deeply rooted. Joy comes from an eternal place as a gift from God. We are able to experience joy in the most dire of circumstances. Joy, unlike happiness, cannot be taken away from us because it rests on the truth that we belong to the loving God of all creation.
When the topic of happiness is discussed at our house, it seems to always be tied to the feelings or emotions of the moment. I am enjoying seeing my daughter grow from a preschooler to a kindergartener but there are so many challenges. At times she can be very emotional and sensitive which is something I have had to adapt to. I grew up with a brother and even in my adult working life I have primarily been surrounded by other males, so this is all new to me. Often her happiness depends on what activity she is doing at the moment. But when we speak of joy it is always much more concrete, much more fact. She can find joy in knowing that her mom and dad will always love her. She can find joy in knowing that she is known and loved by God. These are truths that don’t change throughout the day no matter what her mood or actions. When I remind her of this I am usually also reminding myself.
We are blessed with a very clear picture of the joy we receive from God in the story of Jesus sending out the seventy-two disciples in Luke chapter 10. The disciples were sent to the towns ahead of Christ to preach the good news. What intrigues me about the beginning of the story is Christ’s orders to the seventy-two. They were to simply go without taking supplies or worrying about their own needs for the journey, God would supply their needs. I imagine it would have been very easy to complain. This would be very hard for those of us who like to plan out the smallest details of even a short trip. But they trusted God and he provided.
Later, when they returned from their journey we are told in Luke 10:17, “The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!”. We begin to see what joy is to followers of Christ. But this is only a part of the joy provided by God. Jesus rebukes them in verse 20.
“Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this,
that the spirits are subject to you, but
rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:20
Our true joy is found in being known by God and living in union on mission with him. This is the joy that cannot be taken away from us. This is joy that is not affected by mood or circumstances. This is joy eternal.
The story also does not mention that the seventy-two complained. Complaining is one thing that halts the joy we receive from being known by God. When we complain we always take the focus off God and put it on ourselves. Complaining is consistently focused on current circumstances. It is taking the “here and now” approach rather than the long view. When we focus on God and the eternal we have a much harder time complaining. It is a very hard thing to do, but when we commit to not complaining our joy will increase.
One more view of the eternal joy that we are provided by God lies in the joy Christ has. In Hebrews 12:2 it states:
“looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith,
who for the joy set before him endured the cross,
despising the shame,
and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2
I pray that as we continue in the study of the “fruits of the spirit” that we would experience this joy. That we would seek it knowing its true value. That we would focus on the eternal rather than current circumstances. Rejoice in knowing that you are known and loved by God.