Between the skype bible studies, japanese lessons, travel nursing jobs, and adventures in foreign lands how am I? The times after or between where it all stops, what's going on? Personally, there's a spectrum where I find I either fill up the time meaninglessly or go, go, go nonstop after countless minutes creating and reorganizing my to do list. But in all of this, is the heart smiling remembering the unbounded grace and beauty of the Great God I am blessed to call my Father? Or is the smile waiting for everyone else to be happy or my current load of problems to go away?
Maybe you never ask those questions, being constant in the joyful attitude that should be in, out, and permeating every bit in the Christian life. I'd love for my life to be perfect like Job, wouldn't we all. But just in case you occasionally lose the smile on your heart, my brother Bryan wrote a beautiful piece about joy recently. In which I learned much more than just the difference between happiness and joy. So I've posted it here for all to enjoy. If your heart is not smiling already, just read on.
Joy, me, and the divide between
Written by: Bryan S.
Somewhere deep. Have you ever been with someone that every time you leave, you just feel like you’ve
had an energy drink, are smiling a bit wider? One of my unofficial mentors (I have many of them) was
discussing one of these people and made the statement “they are an energy-giver. You know what I
That thought held me like glue and I suddenly realized we’re all drawn to energy-givers and keep
checking the time whenever hanging out with the energy-takers thinking “dang…I know your life is
terrible and I’m really sorry about it and I need to think of some reason to get out of here.” So when
talking about joy, you should have a visual image of what joy looks like in other people, because that
matters…it really does, contrary to people acting like you can’t tell what’s in their heart. You can get
an idea of a book by its cover and you can get an idea of people by their cover (and I’m not just talking
about their style of dress – probably because mine is terrible.).
I’ll probably be keeping this as a fairly short essay, and really want to explore a few questions as
thoroughly as possible in 4-5 pages.
I suppose it’s impossible to really introduce the topic without taking a hard look at the definition. I really
think most arguments I have with Ash come from us not taking the time to really understand each other.
So I’ll begin with the obvious thing that people understand mentally and completely miss practically…joy
is not happiness.
It seems that we intuitively understand joy and happiness are not the same, but can we ever be happy
pursuing happiness? So don’t miss this because this is probably the most distinguishing separator
between joy and happiness. Happiness looks inward and joy looks outward.
The phrase “happy hour” describes it really well. Happiness (and large amounts of alcohol) provides
brief periods of ecstasy followed by a hangover and thirst for that feeling of ecstasy again. And the long-
term effect is to leave us broken and corrupted in every way: physically, mentally, emotionally, you
name it. Happiness is where we think completely about ourselves. Ok, I’ll stop beating a dead horse.
So about joy looking outward. I think you get that but I like the idea of thinking about joy looking to
something beyond ourselves. Think about it like the term legacy. There is tremendous respect and
almost a jealousy to be part of a legacy. Why? I really think the reason is that a legacy means someone
did something outside human nature (looking inward) for something greater…that draws us. I want to
be a part of something beyond myself…don’t you?
In taking part in something beyond ourselves, we find a sense of wonder. G.K. Chesterton made the
statement that he knew his philosophy was correct when it caused him to look at everything in the
world with a spirit of wonder. The reasoning for this is simple: children see things as magical and
incredible and “this is my Father’s world.”
But lest we miss it and just continue to look at differences between joy and happiness, it should be
noted that if your joy is full, happiness is just around the corner. As I dive into something beyond myself,
the thought of it will cloud internal fears and deception. Happiness, being fleeting and looking inward,
will be tainted by internal fears…it’s tough to enjoy the last day of vacation because you know you need
But when joy is wrapped with it, sipping on a good wine or tasting a Denny Sy steak yields unfettered
happiness because the rest of the world is filled with beauty as well…you can enjoy the rose even if
touching the thorn.
To wrap up this section (probably too long already) the definition of joy can be seen as the result of
helping with something valuable beyond one’s self. A few notes:
- It is not the same as happiness (alcohol vs legacy)
o happiness looks inward, joy looks outward
o happiness is temporal, joy has longevity
- Joy helps us to be happy
Why is it important?
“Following Jesus could end very badly.” I heard Matt Chandler make this statement as he discussed
John’s (the baptizer) question to Jesus. John was in chains and sent some of his cronies to ask if Jesus if
he really was the one. Jesus responded with quoting Isaiah and said “tell John what you see. The lame
walk and the blind see.” Sounds good, right? He left off the last part of the verse that says the captives
will go free. It’s like he’s saying to John, “yes, I am the one, and you’re going to die.”
John has 2 options: joy and fear. He can take joy in that Jesus is saying he is the one (yes, through a
riddle, but did Jesus ever say anything not through a riddle. That’s what I thought…get off me.) or fear in
that he knows he’s going to die.
My father-in-law had pancreatic cancer. When he told us, he said he would need all of the family’s help.
So we bought the Rocky anthology and Braveheart for him. In the next few days, he was overjoyed by
the encouragement he received from the church, family, and friends. Overjoyed. He was miraculously
saved and now says it was that moment where he learned what was in his heart, and other people. They
were helpers of his joy.
When you’re knocked down hard, do you find joy or fear in your heart? And are you preparing your
heart for a day like that? We’re all going to face a time like that…are you ready?
Ok, so assuming you don’t buy that we need to prepare our heart for tough times and life seems pretty
rosy right now, check out Galatians 5:22-23. The fruit of the spirit…and the first thing to remember
is this is singular, not plural. The “fruit” of the spirit. Meaning, you’re not going to be an expert at
meekness & not have any self-control. It’s just a way to know God’s working in you.
Anyways, joy is #2 on the list. So, Paul is saying, if you’re a Christian, you’ll be experiencing these things
(he was trying to let the Galatian people know what was important in following Jesus and what was not).
So if you’re not experiencing the fruit of the spirit (specifically joy for this essay) in your life…what does
that mean? What’s up with your life?
And let’s think, what really buys people into Jesus? Maybe I’m just old-school, but I see people buy Jesus
because they buy the people, not the logic. Their question is “if I become a Christian, I’d probably look
something more like you…do I want that?” And shouldn’t joy that’s changed you be your argument
anyways? People have argued truth for a thousand years, but no one argues a changed life. People
never buy the argument; they buy the person making the argument.
How do we measure it?
It’s great that we care, but how do we measure it if it’s not happiness? And now some guy will tell me
that there is no way to measure our joy until it’s vital and needed…to me, this is giving up hope. I will
not believe this as it will diminish my joy. Though it may be tricky, I’m going to say I can measure my
level of joy…and the first step toward lasting action is taking inventory.
If looking back on prior sections, my first inclination is that I measure my joy by how often I am thinking
about myself. And if my experiences with multiple-choice exams are correct, my first inclination is
probably the right one that I will again overlook and choose “C”. When I’m thinking about myself,
Mr. Obvious says your thoughts are inward…joy is outward and you’re not finding joy there. There’s
always something or someone else (both of which are more important than me) to think or pray for and
thinking about myself typically wastes my time and throws haymakers at joy.
Another question is how often am I worried? Maybe this is the same as the first, but worry seems to last
longer than selfish thoughts do and thus, I’m going to keep it separate until my brilliant wife tells me
that is ridiculous. But worry DOES last for a while and takes physical effects as well. Meaning, my eye
will twitch. If my eye is twitching, my immediate response should be toward prayer. I think we miss it
when we say, work is hard, finances are tough, my dog died. When these things happen, yes, it sucks.
However, I don’t picture David having a twitch in his eye after he cried out to God for forgiveness after
committing a heinous crime against God, himself, a beautiful lady, the kingdom, and one of his best
men. But I do picture it twitching in the between time when he was trying to cover up the mess. And
before you tell me David was sinning and work being hard is not a sin. I’ll give you that. But idolatry is a
sin, is it not? I will say no more.
Work being hard is a manifestation of the curse. It’s Biblical. And yes, we’re all going to screw up at this,
but I really think you have more joy in your life when you’re able to say, “even if this is really difficult,
I’m going to give it to God and pray for someone else while I’m at it.” Ok, I should probably be picked up
for loitering on this one…moving on.
It always has begun with, always will begin with, and currently does begin with faith. No matter if you’re
talking about proving the existence of God, Jesus being God, how our sins can be forgiven, or why a
loving God allows suffering right now…faith is what it’s always going to come down to. It’s fascinating
to me that one of my friends can tell me he can’t believe the Bible is true but picks up evolution and
willingly takes it as his cornerstone to sorting through life. We are all going to have faith in something,
and that faith will determine your level of joy.
If we live with the realization that we’re not going to be here forever and God just wants us to be about
others, we will find joy there. In fact, you will never have joy until you live like you’re not going to be
here forever. This is walking by faith. And if you can do it consistently, tell me how. But the effect is
definitely a detachment from the world. Hebrews 11 says things like “they acknowledged that they were
strangers and exiles on the earth.” They found joy is something greater than them, something greater
than this earth.
So that tells me to increase my joy I have a responsibility to build my brothers’ faith, and in doing so,
their joy. By building my brothers’ faith, I will build my own and find joy. If I try to build my own…well,
I’m not sure exactly how to build my faith without turning my full attention to my God and my brother.
I guess all that to say though I’m sure I’m missing several, I feel comfortable measuring my level of joy by
monitoring my selfish thoughts and worry.
What would increase your joy?
Only a few questions still to hit. First off, do I always have joy (just increases and decreases) or is it like
a light switch, on or off? As I study scripture, a few key verses have swayed me. I look at joy like the
sun. Sometimes it will be so bright you can barely see, sometimes you’ll watch it rising or fading, and
sometimes it feels like it doesn’t even exist…but it’s always there.
But the verses, yes. The verses are Paul and John writing to several different churches, making
statements like “I write this to you that your joy may be full,” and “we are helpers of your joy.” I read
these verses and realize God has given us the ability to affect the joy of those around us. Isn’t that a cool
thought? It’s easy to think we have no effect on people around us. And if you think it’s not a big deal, re-
read the verses. The entire book of I John was written simply so that others’ joy could be full. That’s a
HUGE deal. And I guess kids have something that we’ve forgotten. And I guess that’s how I can know I’m
right – when I come back to looking at life like a child.
But man, it’s like the writers of the New Testament had 2 reasons to write – preserve the gospel and
increase others’ joy. Why I miss that is beyond me. I think God has given a special ability to Poppy to give
joy to other people. With all that is within me, I need to carefully think about how I can parent to help
So, we’ve hit the idea that Joy can increase and decrease, and as long as we have Jesus, it may seem
dark but not gone. Think about it. It can’t be gone as long as we have Jesus…even if we’re ready to
commit suicide, we come back to Jesus, His love, and just that hope, that reminder, we continue on.
But what does really give us joy? Hmmm…thinking back over the essay, I think this question has been
answered earlier. What gives us joy? Diving into Jesus…what does that mean? Diving into things beyond
me…and trying to increase their joy. So I guess the answer is if you need your joy tank filled up, try giving
someone else some.
CS Lewis made the statement in the Screwtape Letters that the point of all theology was application.
Ever since becoming a Christian, I’ve always felt this and get frustrated if a long talk changes nothing.
Sometimes many conversations need to occur for change, but we need to fight for it ALL THE TIME…or
are you perfect? And doesn’t it just waste time talking for 2 hours and nothing is different? If it is firming
who you are, that’s just as powerful. The key is, get something out of your time. Time is the most
valuable gift God has given and when we don’t use it properly, the only result is regret.
So to get back to joy, I need an action plan…you need an action plan. What triggers are you going to set
up to catch yourself when thinking selfishly, worrying, or not focusing efforts toward our brothers.
My action plan is as follows:
- Stop getting mad at myself for not being joyful when really, I’m just not happy.
- I have printed out some statements and put them up in front of my computer and I end up
reading them several times a day. Get a quote that will break you out like this one: “You will
never have joy until you see that you’re not going to be here forever.”
- Accountability – I need to allow myself to have close friends that kindly say annoying
things…like “I think you’re probably just being selfish” and “you seem really down and are
dwelling on small things.” Those people are frustrating and I need to be a friend like them…I’m
very thankful for my wife here.
- Charge! I need to take inventory often and see examples of where I am leading my family
(individually and as a group) toward doing things for others and God. If I don’t see spots, it’s
time to put your thinking cap on and make some changes – seriously.
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