There are a lot of reasons today to not be happy. It’s more than just having a bad day. Things like sickness, pain, death, heartache, crime, sin, and disappointment are almost inevitable in this world and can all leave you distraught. “Pastor, that’s not very positive. Can you be more positive?” Sure – I’m positive you will have trouble in this world. But Jesus said take heart, he has overcome the world (John 16:33). Now I love to laugh. It gets me in a great mood and keeps my mind off problems for a bit. Maybe the answer to happiness is found in laughing? Laughter is a good medicine the Bible says (Proverbs 15:22). Research even suggests laughter is like a mild workout, good for the heart rate, blood pressure, blood flow, relaxation, sleep, etc. But sometimes life is hard and the laughs just don’t come. Did you know you could be happy despite your circumstances?
The answer is found in joy, not happiness. Jesus said he wanted His joy in us so our joy could be complete (John 15:11). Nehemiah 8:10 even says the joy of the Lord is our strength. The words “joy” and “rejoice” are used over 300 times in scripture with over 25% of them found in the Psalms. That’s one of the reasons I like to read the Psalms every day. There is a vast difference between happiness and joy. Happiness screams if we an just get that bigger bank account, larger house, better car, more successful career, better body, youthful good looks then our lives would be perfect. If we could just get rid of sickness, pain, suffering, annoyances, problems then we would be happy. So we set out on our dreams, work hard, live large and perhaps acquire some of those things. Still people aren’t happy. Even the Constitution says happiness is not guaranteed – it’s a pursuit. But you can find real, lasting joy. Happiness is a cheap imitation of joy found only in Christ. Happiness is fleeting, shallow and based on current circumstances. Joy is real, deep, lasting, and based on Christ who never changes. Let me describe the differences between happiness and joy. Happiness is external. Joy is internal. Did you know the Apostle Paul was whipped five times (39 hits each time), snake bit, beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked three times spending a day and a half in the sea, imprisoned multiple times? Despite his circumstances he repeatedly said “Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). Happiness is also based on circumstances. Joy is based on Christ. Paul was in prison while writing Philippians but used the word joy sixteen times in the letter. “Circumstance” means “in the circle that I stand”. Ever hear someone say, “I’m doing well under the circumstances.” I want to say to them, “what are you doing under there?” You don’t have to let your circumstances dictate your attitude and outlook. Christ is bigger than your circumstances. Happiness is also based on chance. Joy is based on choice. “Happenstance” comes from the Latin word “Hap” meaning “luck”. Some people believe if you’re lucky enough you’ll be happy. You can have joy that never fades. Gas prices, sickness, bad days, and the circumstances of this world may shake you but they can never steal your joy because Jesus will never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).
God wants you to experience his great joy and it’s only found in Jesus. Watch out for joy stealers like negative, self-righteous, legalistic people. Don’t buy into joy substitutes – even good things that promise to fulfill like social status, money, careers, possessions, etc. Watch out saying, “I’d be happy if…” If you are a Christian, Jesus lives inside you changing who you are giving you hope. There is something in life bigger than what you are going through. The Bible teaches that happiness is fleeting because it often depends on things outside of us and our control. True joy is eternal because it is based on our relationship with Jesus Christ, which is itself an everlasting source of joy.
Stephen and his wife Haley have called Arkansas home all of their lives. Stephen has served in several ministry roles over the last 25 years and as a lead pastor for the last 8 years. Stephen attended Williams Baptist College and earned a BA in Biblical Studies from Ouachita Baptist University, an MA, MDiv, and DMin in Christian Leadership and Pastoral Ministries from Liberty University. When not pastoring, Stephen enjoys running, cycling, reading, writing, camping, fishing, and spending time with his family.
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