What’ll Ya’ Have… Happiness or Joy?


Happiness is fleeting and can fade easily when circumstances change. Joy is a state of mind that comes from satisfaction and contentment.

Yesterday I had a conversation with my wife about the future. She said she wanted more joy in her life. That sounded pretty good to me, so I started making a plan. What can we do to bring more joy? Where can we go? What projects can we take on? Yada. Yada. Yada.

“Tell me what that looks like,” I said. Being brilliant and all, I know people are more committed to their own ideas than to mine. I’m thinking I’ll snag something from her, put it on my “to do” list and make it happen. That’s what I do. I’ll bring us both a little joy.

But she immediately screws all that up. She says, “It looks like this very moment. This place. These sounds. The fresh air we’re breathing. Think about how God has blessed us. The joy of the Lord is right now!”

She knew where I was going. She reeled me back in.

Joy isn’t something you get. It’s not something you create.

It’s something you receive.

Joy isn’t the same as happiness. The word “happy” comes from the root “hap,” which is the same prefix as in the word “haphazard." Happiness is spurious. It’s situational and somewhat circumstantial. Just like the saying goes, “A mom can’t be happier than her least happy child.”

But joy…"the joy of the Lord" is there all the time. Joy isn’t dependent on circumstances. It’s intimately connected with God’s love. We just have to step into it. Acknowledge it. Reflect on it. Receive it.

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Neh. 8:10)

In the New Testament, Luke connected joy with the Holy Spirit. “At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.’” (Luke 10:21)

Paul said it in 1 Thessalonians 1:6: “You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.” And again in 1 Thessalonians 2:19: “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you?" 

The Holy Spirit is the presence of God right here, right now. That’s where joy comes from. When we recognize His presence, His awesomeness, His truth, His beauty, and His amazing love for us, we can find ourselves right in the middle of an outbreak of joy.

So are you telling me to have a “quiet time?”

How can we experience the presence of God if we’re not quiet?

Are there "magic words" we need to say to call down the Holy Spirit?


What I’m suggesting, and what I’m trying to do (in the midst of a bunch of phone calls, emails and texts) is focus my attention on God. Focus for more than 30 seconds. Pray out loud, write out a prayer, shut my door and kneel in the dark, put in earplugs--whatever it takes to bring 100% of my faculties to focus on the God of the universe. His power, His goodness, His love. When I praise Him for the beauty of His creation, thank Him for His goodness and grace, and surrender myself, my will, my stuff, my ambitions--all of it--to Him, there’s a sensation that’s inexplicable. When I’m emptied of all my stuff, His joy shows up and fills me. Calms me down. Makes me smile.

Just like my wife, I want more joy. I need more "off ramps" that end at the "feet of Jesus," where joy is found. But it’s not happening with a checkbox on my "to do" list. It’s takes putting the "to do’s" aside in favor of stillness, solitude, and quiet. Focused gratitude, surrender and genuine worship. That’s where joy hangs out.

Question: When’s the last time you experienced the joy of the Lord?

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