Everyone wants to be happy. They look for the right person to make them happy – or a better job or a bigger house. The bad news: happiness is fleeting. Good news: joy can last.
What’s the difference? Isn’t it just semantics?
According to God’s Word, the difference is huge and it’s about more than semantics. God never uses joy and happiness interchangeably in the Bible. They aren’t synonymous.
Jesus told his disciples: “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them” (John 13:17). The “things” he referred to were the things he had been teaching them over the past three years. Specifically, this statement applies to serving others.
What? I’ll be happy if I serve others? I’d rather they had to serve me.
Here’s the catch-22, if you’re surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ and they are obeying Christ’s command to serve others, you will be serving each other. Crazy, I know. How does God come up with these things?
Merriam-Webster says happiness is “a state of well-being and contentment.” So if we’re like Paul and have “learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Phil. 4:11) we should be happy.
Notice happiness relies on physical conditions. I guarantee I am never happy when I wake up to another day of rain. The state of the weather affects my mood. Happiness is an emotional state. I think if we’re truly content no matter what physical conditions surround us, we’re experiencing joy.
“These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (John 15:11). Jesus is talking about “these things” again. In the context of this verse, the “things” he refers to are keeping his commandments, loving God and bearing fruit.
Notice how joy isn’t conditional on what’s happening to us but rather on what we make happen around us. If I’m busy loving others by meeting their needs in some way, I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself because I have a headache (or it’s raining – again).
Joy arrives when we depart to take care of the Lord’s business. Happiness can be a byproduct of this, but is generally a more fleeting feeling we experience when something good comes our way.
When the doctor gives us a good report, we’re happy. We could just as easily be sad or scared if the report is negative. Happiness is conditional on our surroundings or on things happening to us.
I say forget trying to find happiness. Go after joy. You can actually do something to find joy in life. Happiness is a parade awaiting a thunder cloud.
“The joy of the Lord is your strength” – Nehemiah 8:10