I couldn’t help but notice her sitting on the couch, continually shifting from side to side with a look on her face that simply said, “I really can’t stand my life…”
It’s ironic because she actually has a pretty good life. She makes a more than decent living, drives a gorgeous European sports car and seems to have a very solid relationship with God; the quintessential recipe that most of us are looking for in life. And the vast majority of people that look at her would say, “She’s got it made.” But why does she see it so differently?
I’ve been on a journey over the past ten years and have come to realize that there is a distinct difference between happiness and joy. The girl I’m referring to above is a real person. She’s also a really wonderful person that certainly has her moments of joy. But she lives most of her life chasing happiness; like a dog chasing its tail, never able to find the satisfaction of a catch.
So you might be asking, what is happiness? What is joy? And what makes them so unique? Great questions…
Happiness can be best defined when put into the context of your environment.
I’m happy because…
~ I’m finally getting to go to Disneyland.
~ I just got the new car of my dreams.
~ I received that promotion I’ve always wanted.
~ My kid has finally gotten his act together.
~ My husband is treating me like he should.
Every one of those statements of happiness are defined by an environmental impact. “A” happened, therefore I’m happy! The problem with this type of happiness is that it’s fleeting and it can never be sustained.
~ You’ll show up to Disneyland and your two favorite rides will be closed.
~ That new car smell will fade and you’ll find a lovely new dent in the side of the door.
~ That new job will get old and the next promotion will be in your sights.
~ Your kid will fail again…and again…and again…
~ Your husband will prove to be human and slip back into his old, uncaring ways.
Happiness is elusive! It can never be satisfied and it’s always contingent on our circumstances. But what if there was a better way? What if you and I could live life outside of our circumstances and live in a state of joy that isn’t dependent on what happens around us?
Friends this can actually happen…
Have you ever met someone that is almost always filled with joy? Search your memory banks for just a moment. Who do you know that always seems to be happy, no matter what’s going on in their life? I can think of several people. Yes, they still have their concerns and their circumstances can still rattle them at times. After all, they are human. But they seem to have this happiness (or joy) that never seems to leave their side. AND YOU WANT IT!!! I do too! I want that happiness (or what I would define as the joy that never seems to empty from the tank). But how do I get it?
Joy isn’t a pursuit, it’s a way of life. Joy doesn’t look around and see what’s going on and then responds. Joy simply IS. But that’s where the mystery comes in. And this is where some of you might part company with my beliefs, my theology.
I have been a follower of Jesus for most of my life. When I wasn’t following Jesus, my life was driven by the winds of this world. If there was a tornado of circumstances blowing in my life, I was a mess. I was scattered. I was tossed around emotionally. If there was a calm, cool breeze in my life (in other words life was pretty good), then I found myself to be in a fairly good state of happiness. Point being, my life was driven by my circumstances.
CS Lewis is probably the most profound post-modern writer on living a life for God. He made a great observation about elusive happiness in his book Mere Christianity.
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”
I love this! He points directly to the fact that we aren’t in a place where we will be completely satisfied. The earth is a bus stop along the way to our final destination. We get off the bus, grab a Starbucks, meet a few people on the street corner, and hopefully get back on the bus and finalize our journey home. And home is heaven.
But along that journey we face the fact that happiness can never be quenched. Our life must be dependent on something entirely different than fleeting happiness and that’s where joy comes in.
Joy IS. And it’s dependent on one thing and one thing only, our relationship with God. And that’s really the first step to true joy. But you might be asking, Jon, I’m a follower of Jesus and I’m STILL not filled with joy, why?
The answer may be difficult to understand. Earlier I had mentioned that we all know people that seem to always be content. In almost every case for me, those people are followers of Jesus. Yes, I know some non-Christians that seem to be happy, but the happiness I see in them seems much shallower and dependent on their circumstances than it does with those I know that follow Jesus. But Jesus isn’t a magic pill, He’s a way of life.
The bible talks quite a bit about joy. First and foremost, the bible says that joy is a “fruit of the Spirit.” What that means is that ONLY a follower of Jesus can produce true joy. If real joy only comes by way of the Spirit, then the Spirit must be within me in order for that joy to take hold of my life. But being a follower of Jesus doesn’t mean we always live in the Spirit.
The apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 5:16a, “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives…”
If Paul is instructing us to “let the Spirit guide our lives,” that means we actually have a choice in NOT allowing the Spirit to guide our lives. We can be a follower of Jesus, but not live in the Spirit of God. And what happens when we don’t live in the Spirit? We live in the flesh.
Living in the flesh simply means living our lives selfishly and in a worldly manner. We are driven by what feels good and what makes us “happy.” Living in the Spirit is much different. We are living for God and for what makes Him pleased.
When we are living in the Spirit, our lives are consumed with loving God and putting others first in our life. We are living to ultimately love others in a manner that Jesus has called us to. And friends, when we live this way, WE FIND JOY!
Do you remember the girl I referred to in the beginning of this blog? She would be the first to admit that she wants something more. And the amazing thing is that she’s beginning to find it. Sure, it’s still a struggle. She finds life to be very difficult sometimes, but she’s beginning to loosen her grip on happiness and allow joy to fill her spirit. And as she serves her friends and her family, and allows God to crowd her heart, you can see a real change. Her smile comes from a deeper well that’s filled with living water. A water that can never be emptied.
So, do you want to live with Joy? Do you want to experience life where you get a “glimpse” of heaven and experience a resident sense of fulfillment and “Joy” that can only come from God? Then live for Him! Sacrifice yourself for Him! Make God first in your life and in EVERYTHING you do! Does this mean being perfect? Of course not. But continually pursue loving God with all your heart, soul and mind and love others as you love yourself. If you do these two very simple things, you will find a Joy that you never thought was possible. But yes, it takes work, it takes sacrifice, but you have a God that loves you tremendously and wants you to experience a Joy that only He can give.