We all want to be happy. We consider it our God-given right here in America to pursue happiness, and many blur that into a belief that we have the right to be made happy. Happiness is entirely circumstance-oriented. The opposite of happy is sad. If things are going well, if you get what you want, if you are enjoying what you are doing, you are happy. If things are not going well, if you do not get what you want, if you are not enjoying what you are doing, then you are sad. Typically.
Joy can be misunderstood as a synonym for happiness. Webster even defines joy, in point 2 as “a state of happiness”. And yes, the two can be intermingled and misunderstood, but there is a deeper root to joy, and it is a peace and satisfaction within the soul. Joy can see the big picture. Joy takes comfort in unpleasant situations by being able to see the end result. Thus we have verses which sound ludicrous at first glance:
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
– James 1.2-4
Do you consider it joy when you encounter trials? Paul and the apostles actually rejoiced when they were imprisoned, beaten, and persecuted for the name of Christ:
“…and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.”
– Acts 5.41-42
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.
– Col 1.24
Here’s the deal: God uses persecution, suffering and trials to test our faith and to produce endurance. You cannot build endurance if you do not run. Likewise, you cannot build faith if you never have to exemplify and rely on it. God offers us the free gift of salvation through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus. When we come to faith we are made a new creation, given a new heart and brought into the family of faith, and then God sets about the task of sanctifying us: making us more like Jesus. That means removing the sin, and replacing it with righteousness; removing the flesh and replacing it with Spirit; removing worldly desires and replacing the with eternal desires. The path of sanctification can be painful, but it is full of joy because we can see the big picture.
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
– Rom 5.1-5
We can understand it, then, that our joy will always be “in spite” of something. If we can cultivate a truly Godly perspective, we may come to the point in maturity that we truly do rejoice in our sufferings like the apostles and like Paul did, but while we are still growing, we can strive to have peace, comfort and joy in our eternal salvation while our Earthly situations are difficult. If your joy is not being tested and never has been tested, then I would get on my knees quickly because God promises that He will discipline and test us to produce sanctification (Heb 12.6, Prov 3.12, Rev 3.19).
What is the will of God for your life? To be sanctified and made like Jesus. Period.
For this is the will of God, your sanctification
– 1 Thess 4.3
And our sanctification results in eternal life, eternal salvation. Freedom from pain, suffering, sorrow and loss. Seeing and knowing God as fully revealed, for eternity. And in order to get us there, we go through trials, tribulations and sorrows. If you are growing Spiritually, your joy will be in spite of something. Embrace it today. Embrace Him today. And look to the future.