On the surface, happiness and joy are similar; they are both uplifting and blissful experiences. Yet there are more differences than similarities. Happiness is a self-focused emotion tied directly to getting what we want. Joy is a spiritual result of our focus on God. It is tied to our salvation and our walk with Christ. Happiness is temporary at best; it is subjective to our circumstances and moods. Joy is eternally-based and can be ours even in our deepest valleys. Happiness quickly leaves us when we fail to attain our goals or we become bored with our prizes. Joy is from God and therefore can never be stolen from us.
Joy is given through the Holy Spirit the moment we accept Christ as our Savior. As Christians, our joy can never be completely destroyed, although there are many pitfalls which can significantly diminish it. Joy is a permanent gift from God, but it also a gift for which we must take responsibility for nurturing and protecting on a daily basis.
We can always find joy in our salvation, because our salvation is assured. Paul told the Philippians, "In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:4-6). The God who gave us salvation never begins anything that He will not complete. When He saved us, He saved us completely, eternally and forever. Jesus said, "I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand" (John 10:28).
You may have heard the acronym for J-O-Y representing how to gain joy through our priorities: Jesus, Others, then Yourself. But consider this twist: J stands for Jesus, Y stands for You, but O stands for Zero. When absolutely nothing comes between Jesus and You, you will find joy. At the center of our joy is our relationship with God; anything that stands between us and our Savior will corrode our joy.
One of the greatest threats to our joy is disobedience to God's Word. When we live in disobedience, we become a fruitless and joyless Christian. Jesus warned against fruitlessness: "No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:4,5).
We also face pitfalls to joy through people and circumstances in our lives. We may encounter malicious people who resent our beliefs. We may lose our jobs, our best friends, or our homes. Happiness may be out of reach — but joy is readily available if we know how to nurture it.
Paul was no stranger to experiencing hardships. He endured harsh criticism, prison, and near-death situations. He was not always happy, but he had found the secret to maintaining his joy. He remained focused on Christ instead of his circumstances. Rather than resenting his obstacles, Paul was able to say, "But what does it matter? The important thing is that...Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that...what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance" (Philippians 1:18,19).
Joy does not mean that we will not experience pain or sadness or frustration when everything seems to go wrong. But unlike happiness, we can find joy in the midst of our suffering. When Christ is at the center of our lives, when His glory is our goal, when we refuse to be intimidated by life's obstacles, and when we live totally for Christ in obedience, we will find a joy that will carry us through the darkest of valleys.
Have you covered up your joy with the anxieties and distractions of this world? Have you taken you eyes off of Christ and your relationship with Him? Are you ignoring the convictions of the Holy Spirit to repent of certain sins in your life? If so, seek God's forgiveness today. Pray for the Holy Spirit's help to overcome the obstacles to living a joyful life.
"For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit."
Excerpted from My Journal, a monthly devotional magazine from Leading The Way with Dr. Michael Youssef.
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