For as long as I’ve been in Christian spheres of life I’ve heard people discussing the Joy that comes from a relationship with Jesus. It seems to me that the idea of seeking joy over happiness is somewhat commonplace, or at least has been talked about enough for the majority of people to grasp the concept. Here’s a brief summary of this idea, just so we’re all on the same page:
Joy is eternally present in our hearts, and is oriented toward the reality that our hope is in Christ, not in our present circumstances. Happiness, on the other hand, is almost always determined by our present circumstances, and is less consistent and therefore less desirable than joy. Joy is a core posture that does not change, while happiness is a temporary state of emotion.
Again, I think the majority of modern Christians understand this concept, at least at the most basic level. I’m writing today not to explore this core idea, but to clarify our understanding of how joy and happiness can manifest in our lives.
One of the most subtle temptations in the Christian walk is comparison. It is incredibly easy to look at others lives with envy or contempt, especially within the context of happiness. Discouragement can rise quickly when those around us seem to have more happiness than we do.
These elements of comparison and joy have been heavy on my heart this past week, and I believe that they are fundamental in our relationship with God:
- Comparison breeds jealousy, selfishness, and hatred. It has no place in the Kingdom of God, and must be stamped out when it begins to take hold of our hearts. The spiritual health of others, at least as it compares to our own, should never be a matter of concern. To be dissatisfied by the elation of others is to miss the true power of joy.
- The true power of joy in our lives is not manifested in our highest moments, but in our lowest. Joy sustains in the darkest of times, and this is what separates it from happiness most of all.
Happiness can never be an effective measurement for determining the state of our spiritual life. Happiness is not exclusive to the Christian; lost people experience sincere happiness every day. To say that the happiest people on earth are Christians would be to ignore this reality and presume that happiness and joy are one in the same. They are not.
Above all else, seek to live a life rooted in joy. The testimony of true joy rooted in Christ is one of the most powerful that exists in our world. It is through this testimony that God most fully sustains and transforms our hearts. Do not be discouraged by the happiness of others, but be content in the hope that we are created for something far greater than the temporary pleasures of this life.
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. James 3:13-17