When my sister was dying from breast cancer, she sat in her Lazy boy staring off into space. Daily, my father walked into the room, rested his forehead against hers, cupped her face in the palm of his hand, and prayed. He never relented, he prayed over her more than once, most days. He prayed for a miracle.
After she died, having kept the faith and his emotions in check throughout the entire season, my father laid his body on top of her pale, still one, and wailed. He wailed so loud the hospice nurse worried he’d have a heart attack. But, between sobs, he yelled out, “Praise you Jesus. Thank you, Lord!” over and over.
He praised God in the darkest hour of his life.
That’s called joy.
I debated using this private, raw moment to paint the picture of what joy is, but it’s the best example of it I’ve been given. Joy is difficult to define, but you know it when you see it, and you know it when you feel it. The Bible often aligns joy with hardship.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” James 1:2 (NIV)
I suppose it’s because that’s when joy is more easily recognized. When someone is supposed to be downtrodden by life and their circumstances, but they seem filled with hope and uplifted. Joy directly opposes human nature.
Joy Versus Happiness:
Often the world defines joy and happiness as interchangeable, but they are in total opposition of one another. Joy is an outward expression of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is a fruit of the Spirit, and to have true joy you must have the Holy Spirit dwelling in you. The Holy Spirit is the one who produces joy within us, and it can be felt no matter what we are experiencing in our circumstances.
Happiness is in direct relationship to our circumstances, a feeling based on our happenings. Happiness is a temporal emotion—and fleeting. It is not a result of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling. At some point, everyone experiences happiness in their lives, because it’s an emotional response to things we see as “good,” or positive. We can often turn to happiness as our ultimate gain, focusing our lives on satisfying our cravings and wants. The pursuit of happiness can lead a believer down a sinful path, whereas the pursuit of joy leads a believer to a better understanding of the character of God and a closer relationship to Him.
I believe this pursuit of comfort, happiness, and convenience, is not only an American problem today, but also has found its way into our doctrine.
I was in a Bible study where the teacher stated Christ will return and remove His church before the tribulation occurs. I raised my hand and questioned her on why there were so many warnings of what was to come if we were just going to whisked away before all the bad stuff happened. She became flustered and stated, “God loves us and would never allow us to experience persecution like that.”
I’m sure if anyone experiencing persecution today heard that statement, they’d wonder, “Does God not love me because I’m not American? Did He not love His disciples who all but one experienced martyrdom? Does He not love the cancer patient? The poor?” This argument doesn’t work when stacked up against what we know to be true about being a follower of Jesus Christ. Now, whatever you may believe about the rapture’s timing, you need to have a firmer ground to stand on than, “God loves us and doesn’t want us to experience hardship.” Yes, God does love us, but He also made it clear—to be a follower of Christ, we must be willing to carry our own cross.
“…If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Luke 9:23b-24 (ESV)
Another way the false doctrine of happiness has crept into church is through the Prosperity Gospel, which teaches that God’s desire for His followers is to be prosperous. Not once, did Jesus state in God’s Word that He desires us to be successful and rich, but He does mention He desires us to be connected to the vine.
This is a life called to holiness—through the blood of the perfect lamb of Christ—not to prosperity.
The Gospel Message:
In the Biblical illustration mentioned in John 15, Jesus Christ is the vine, our Heavenly Father is the vine dresser, the Holy Spirit is the sap, and we are the branches. We become attached to the vine by first believing Jesus Christ is the Son of God and He died on the cross to save us from our sin, and bring us into His kingdom, by giving us eternal life. We must accept His gift of salvation and repent of our sins, by confessing them in prayer to God, and turning away from them and towards a relationship with God.
Still yet, another example is making the church into an entertainment arena. I remember seeing a YouTube video where a church set up a water slide to baptize their congregation. The pastor was chanting his speech over and over, while people slid down the slide into a wading pool. It was the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen…to take such a sacred practice and turn it into a kid’s birthday party complete with loud music and flashing lights.
Need I say more on that?
Can the Pursuit of Happiness Become a Sin?
It’s not wrong to want to be happy. We should feel delight in our day. Happiness is part of the human experience. It becomes a sin when we become addicted to it and use our lives and resources solely to seek it, without regard to the costs.
For example, many wives have left their husbands in pursuit of what they deem as their happiness, putting themselves on the path of adultery; the same is true for many husbands. Those that seek happiness from material possessions may find themselves in enormous debt. The one who receives comfort from addictive vices, may find themselves in a full-blown addiction when their life goes haywire. When a woman sees an unwanted baby as an inconvenience robbing her of happiness, she may have an abortion.
We can also train our children to become addicted to their own happiness by placating them, never allowing them to feel disappointment, and constantly keeping them entertained.
Cultivation of Joy:
If joy is produced by the Holy Spirit, how can it be cultivated by us as Christians? A joy-filled heart is one that is totally surrendered to God’s will. If you have surrendered, you will know Who is in control and you will accept the hardships of His plan, experiencing peace and joy as you walk through it. You will understand that hardships or trials are never wasted in a believer’s life. It is through these hardships that faith grows.
We have a choice to make. We can allow our troubles to shackle us and cause us to turn inward and become self-focused, or we can lift them up to the Father and keep our eyes and hearts outward, seeking His purpose.
It takes hardships and tribulations in one’s life to recognize true joy.
“We can sing our cares away easier than we can reason them away.”
Streams in the Desert.
What Does Joy Feel Like?
Joy allows the believer to experience peace through difficulties. A peace you shouldn’t have in your humanness. You will feel lighthearted when burdened, hope when things appear hopeless, and contentment no matter what your situation is.
“He that is mastered by Christ is the master of every circumstance.” (Lettie Cowman)
Why is Joy so Important?
Often, I like to reflect on the lives that have gone before us. In Acts 16:16-40, Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises to God after being beaten with rods and thrown into prison. An earthquake erupted and opened the door of their jail cell, but they didn’t leave as they could have. They stayed, and the guard (who would’ve been executed if they’d left), witnessed their joy in suffering and accepted Christ.
Paul sums it up best in Hebrews.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12: 1-2 (ESV)
Jesus Christ experienced joy, hanging on the cross, as He died for you.
The most powerful lives are those lived out in praise and surrender amid terrible circumstances. Do you want your life to be a powerful representation of Christ’s? Or would you rather be known as a sad and defeated person? It is through joy others witness the light of Christ.
I got to hear my father’s wail—not at my sister’s passing (as I stated earlier, I wasn’t there when she died)—but four years later. I heard it on the phone when I called him from my hospital bed after my own double-mastectomy. God had spared my lymph nodes. They were clean of cancer.
After I told him the good news, he burst out wailing through the line, and repeated, “Praise God. Thank you, God! Ohhhh…Thank you, Lord, for sparing this one. For letting me keep my daughter. I praise your Name.”
It startled me. I’d never heard my father cry before, but there buried in the wailing…
Do you want it?
Attach yourself to the vine and go be the branch.
Tammy Carter Adams is the Founder and Editor in Chief of The Hallelujah House. She’s happily married to Jay and they have four children ages 22 to 6. They reside in Orlando, Florida. When she’s not writing, she’s painting in her studio with her daughter Bella. If you’d like to connect directly or read her full bio you can find her information at the “About Us” tab on the homepage.