The Lord wants us to be beyond happy. By that I mean God intends for us to experience a joy that is undisturbed by bad news or negative circumstances, a joy deep down in our hearts—so deep down that it is beyond the reach of enemies, events, and emergencies. We cannot always be happy, but we can always be joyful. Paul talks in 2 Corinthians 6:10 of being sorrowful yet always rejoicing. In detailing nine paradoxes regarding his service to Christ, Paul lets the Corinthians know that although he has faced sorrow in many forms, he has been able to remain joyful throughout because of his trust in God (Acts 16:23–25; Phil. 4:4). Living close to death, being beaten within an inch of his life, working to the bone, enduring poverty, facing belittlement and slander—none of these things cheated Paul of a deep-down joy found in Christ (2 Cor. 6:3–10). Here is a joy locked away in the believing heart that death cannot steal and life’s hardships cannot rob.
It is important that we make a distinction between common happiness and deep-down Christian joy. We cannot be happy without being joyful, but we can be joyful without being happy. Happiness is tied to the external; joy is internal. Happiness is built on outward circumstances; joy is founded on inward character. Happiness comes from what happens to us; joy comes from who lives in us. Happiness is based on chance; joy is based on choice. In fact, as Pastor James Merritt points out, “The word happiness comes from the old English word happ, which literally means ‘chance.’ It corresponds to the Latin fortuna, which means ‘luck.’ These words suggest that if things happen the way we want them to happen, then we are happy. But if they don’t happen the way we want, we are unhappy. Happiness is temporary and fickle; joy is permanent and settled.”
Christian joy, which is permanent and settled, comes from our abiding relationship with God through Christ (John 15:1–11). “God” and “joy” are three-letter words that belong together. We cannot rejoice in our health always, our wealth always, our friends always, our family always, or our government always—but we can rejoice in the Lord always (Phil. 4:4). In the Lord we have boundless grace (John 1:16). In the Lord we have never-ending love (Rom. 8:31–39). In the Lord we have unfailing mercy (Lam. 3:22–25). In the Lord we have constant companionship (Heb. 13:5–6). In the Lord we have perpetual intercession being made on our behalf (Heb. 7:25). The Christian is always rejoicing despite surrounding sorrows because these truths are always true.
In 1749, Jonathan Edwards was voted out of his church by disgruntled members who did not appreciate him limiting participation in the Lord’s Supper to believers only. When the church itself voted, many of Edwards friends and supporters stayed away. In the final tally, 230 members voted for his dismissal while only 29 voted for him to remain. Yet, Edwards retained an unearthly peace and poise. A close friend who observed him wrote, “. . . he appeared like a man of God, whose happiness was out of the reach of his enemies . . .”
Let’s reach for that deep-down joy!