Searching for Happiness, or Joy That Comes From God
Do you want to be happy? Of course! We all search for happiness. In our search for happiness, sometimes we can spend our lives looking for the next thing – we want something bigger, brighter, higher. The Bible makes a distinction between happiness and joy – happiness is a flighty feeling, whereas joy is eternal.
Happiness is not a bad thing, but it can be misleading. We can see how seeking happiness, rather than joy, got the first humans, Adam and Eve, in trouble. They were created by God in his image, were placed in a perfect environment with everything they would need, in the very presence of God, in relationship with him, and there was only one condition. God said, “You cannot eat from that tree.”
Sure enough (Don’t we all do this?), the minute we’re told, “You can’t have that,” we want it all the more.
“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” Genesis 3:6
We might read this and think, “They’re happy now. They finally got the one thing they wanted.”
But the rest of the story tells us that the search for happiness, that search for more, for better, for bigger, left them in shame.
Because of their sin, God had to separate them from himself. The Bible starts in Genesis, and all the way through the rest of the Bible is God doing the work of restoring humanity to himself, restoring that relationship which was broken by Adam and Eve.
The Bible is the story of God bringing joy into the world.
What is joy and where does it come from? Joy is not something that starts and ends like happiness, but it’s something that grows, multiplies and increases as we grow closer to God.
The Christmas story is familiar to most people, and in it we see a reference to joy from God.
Luke 2:8-11 says: ”And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.'”
1. Joy comes from God. In the beginning, God made a promise that he would restore the relationship between humanity and himself. He made a promise that he would send a Savior. We see and hear in Christmas and we celebrate that the Savior indeed came. It uses the word here Messiah, which means Savior in Hebrew.
2. Joy comes because God keeps his promises. The promise to redeem us is the greatest promise ever, and God kept it. It took thousands of years. Believe me, people probably wondered, “Is God ever going to show up?” But he did. His promise was kept.
3. Joy comes because God sent a Savior. His timing was perfect. It would be joy enough just to know God is God and that he keeps his promises, but it gets better.
4. Joy comes because we are God’s children. Joy comes from God, and what happens is he makes us into his children. He changes our very relationship with him. This is one of the things other religions struggle with: this idea that we can have an intimate relationship with the Creator of the universe, and not only an intimate relationship, but he calls us his children.
5. Joy comes because we have been assured eternal life. We’re not just saved. We’re not just his children. We have eternal life. John 3:16 says. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
6. Joy transforms us. God chooses to change us from the inside out. He doesn’t just keep his promises. He doesn’t just send us a Savior. He doesn’t just make our existence eternal. He begins to transform us right here, right now. Read Romans 8, about the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.
John 15:10-11 says: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 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. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
Jesus’s desire is to share with us the divine joy, the eternal joy, the never-ending joy, the joy that will never let us down. Think about how different this joy is from the happiness that Adam and Eve chased in the garden; that we so often chase in our lives.
I appreciate C.S. Lewis, because the way he describes joy is quite remarkable: ”Real joy…jumps under one’s ribs and tickles down one’s back and makes one forget meals and keeps one (delightedly) sleepless at night. Real joy seems to me almost as unlike security or prosperity as it is unlike agony. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again… I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world.”
Joy has power. It comes from God, and God is powerful, so that joy we have within us is a powerful, eternal thing, and we don’t recognize it. We too easily look for it in happiness.
We have eternal souls. We are made in the image of God, who is eternal, who is outside of time. Why would we try to feed an eternal soul with a temporary thing? We do all the time, and it leaves us hungry, and we have to get more, because it does not work. The beauty of joy is that it feeds our souls, and does two very powerful things.
First, joy gives us the ability to be compassionate toward others. When we experience the joy of God in our lives, when we experience his power within us, we can show compassion to others. We can care for the poor and the needy and the widow and the lost.
Isaiah 58:6-8 says (my paraphrase), “The kind of fasting I want, the kind of worship I want is for you to demonstrate my love for you by loving others.” Joy gives us the power to be compassionate toward others.
Secondly, joy gives us the power to endure. It’s not a question of whether or not we’re going to suffer, whether or not we’re going to experience pain. None of us can escape suffering no matter how hard we try. We’re going to grow old, we’re going to get sick, we’re going to lose things, we’re going to lose people, we’re going to experience turmoil, but will we endure it? Joy helps us do that.
Joy is available to us all the time. It’s given to us by God. Our challenge is that we don’t reach for it. Joy comes from the Lord, but we need to ask for it, seek it and treasure it. Joy is powerful, eternal and life-giving.
How can you live joyfully today? How can you share that God-given joy with others?