It’s been a looonnng break my friends! A few weeks too long! I picked up a second job this summer and it has sure kept me busy. Unfortunately, my work schedule hasn’t left very much time for blogging.
Also (a little random) can we just pause for a moment to recognize the greatest holiday ever to come into existence? (Okay, that’s a leap. One of the greatest holidays) I’m talking about national ice cream day!! Bless the person who decided to dedicate an entire day to this beautiful food. I know it was Sunday but I feel it deserves a little shout out from this blog. It’s a national holiday right?
Ice cream aside, today I’m talkin ’bout joy and 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
“Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
When I began dealing with my voice issues in high school, I would cringe when a friend would offer 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 as encouragement. It is a wonderful verse but I couldn’t bring myself to be joyful always, not in the midst of the pain and grief I was experiencing. The verse seemed a little too simple and perhaps even trite when my circumstances were considered.
Without a doubt, I believe that the Bible is the inerrant and infallible word of God, but I also believe that we have to be careful in how we understand, interpret, and cite scripture. What if sometimes we get it wrong? Maybe we misunderstand the call to be joyful always.
It’s Okay to Not Be Happy
We were made to experience a range of emotions and it is okay to process through them, if this is done in a God honoring way. Throughout scripture we see that some of the most faithful men and women were not always happy. Job tore his clothing when he found out his family had died (Job 1:20). The Psalmists often expressed confusion and sorrow (Psalm 13:1-4). Jesus wept (John 11:35).
There are times when grief and tears are appropriate, necessary, and even good. Even righteous anger and frustration have a time and place. Your inability to experience happiness on all occasions is not wrong nor is it a sign of spiritual immaturity. It’s okay to not be happy.
Joy Does Not Equal Happiness.
There’s a difference between joy and happiness and we need to take this into consideration when thinking about what being joyful always means.
The difference between joy and happiness lies in the depth and duration of the emotion. Happiness is typically a surface level emotion, brought on by worldly pleasures, and never satisfies a longing to be fulfilled. Happiness comes and goes but rarely remains. It is temporary. Joy is more deeply rooted and may be better understood as a mindset. Joy is eternal and is not dependent on possessions, pleasures, or success. Although joy often leads to an outward display of happiness, true joy will remain when happiness ceases and grief and sorrow flood in.
Joy Does Not Exist Apart from the Cross
How do we obtain joy? Going to the Source of joy.
Joy was won for us on the cross and cannot be secured anywhere else. A joyful person is not necessarily happy all the time but is someone who lives with the hope and knowledge that beyond the sorrow, suffering, and heartache of this world a far greater glory awaits. A non-Christian may experience happiness that endures for a while but any attempt at “joy” apart from the cross will be fleeting and ultimately unsatisfying.
Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians were not trite encouragement. Paul spent years in prison suffering for the gospel yet remained one of the Bible’s most joyful believers. His encouragement to “be joyful always” was a call to the church to never forget the deeply rooted and eternal joy that was won for them on Calvary and to live in light of this hope. In the midst of his suffering, it was Job who said, “I know that my redeemer lives and that in the end he will stand on the earth.” (Job 19:25). Job possessed a joy that exceeded his circumstances because his hope was built on the knowledge of future glory and victory.
Does God expect us to be happy all of the time? No. Are we expected to be joyful always? Yes. Joy sometimes leads to an outward display of happiness but it is okay if the two don’t always coincide. For Christians, our joy does not come from a new car, acceptance into college, or having a successful career. Our joy comes from the source, the God of love who accomplished the greatest act of mercy and grace the world has ever and will ever know. And that is why we can and should be joyful always.