Today as I was journaling, I wrote the sentence, “I'm unhappy....” and then I proceeded to write a list of things in my life that are causing my unhappiness such as poor health and a difficult marriage. As I wrote these things, tears began to gather and spill. I am not a crier, .but I realized my unhappiness must be addressed. Because of my diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder I can become suicidally depressed -- so I know that buried, unrecognized depression is life threatening for me. It will open up its cavernous mouth and swallow me whole if I don't deal with it in its infancy.
So on my computer I proceeded to look up every instance of the word “Joy” in Scripture, and in m notebook, I jotted down the cause or source of Joy in each verse. And because repetition indicates emphasis in Scripture I will here list those that made frequent appearances.
One of the most common factors which result in joy is the Presence of the Lord. This was true in both the Old and New Testaments. The presence could be experienced as fire, as the Ark of the Covenant, as the Shekinah Glory of God in his temple....etc. In the OT also the celebration of the festivals of God and the rejoicing following victory in battle were also mentioned. Being spared from danger, rescued from captivity, the rewards of a righteous life, joy in being declared innocent, and similarly confession, repentance and forgiveness result in joy. Obedience, the fear of God, humility, God's Laws, salvation --all bring joy. God's creation responds with Joy to him as well, and there are at the end of the OT many, many references to the joy we will experience in the New Earth and also during Christ's millennial reign and at the resurrection of our own bodies. The OT ends with a number of references which describe the removal of joy at the withdrawal of God's presence from his people due to their sin....and this preceded a long period of silence from God between Malachi and Matthew at the onset of the New Testament period.
In the New Testament, again, joy came as a result of being in God's presence. The presence of the infant Jesus, the culmination of centuries of promise; brought all those who recognized him for who he was, immense joy. Joy came as a gift or fruit of the Holy Spirit. Joy comes as a result of our trusting in him (Rom. 15:15)...the apostles took great joy in the joy of their converts to the faith and at the evidence of the strength of those early churches. Our own faith brings us joy (Phil 1:25)...the love evidenced by other believers brings joy.
And there was a new cause for joy never mentioned at all in the OT. And that is that suffering brings us joy. In the OT, when God's people suffered it was because they disobeyed the Lord God. However, the NT...people were being killed for their obedience. Persecution entered the scene for the believer and it has not stopped since then in some part of the world or other. And as we all know, it is now on a world wide rise as thousands of Christians are being tortured and slaughtered and enslaved as a result of their love for Jesus.
Peter and James and even the words of Jesus himself addressed this new threat and they oddly enough, listed it amongst the reasons for rejoicing and as an ingredient for joy. And we are told, as Jesus did, (see Heb 12:2)...to endure suffering because the joy that is to come far outweighs any present pain we may have.
I then did something I maybe should have done in the beginning of my study and I looked up the words “joy” and “happiness” in an older edition of Webster's Dictionary...and this is what I learned:
Happiness is good luck, prosperity, or “the enjoyment of pleasurable satisfaction attendant on welfare.” in other words, Happiness depends on its current set of circumstances. Circumstance dictates happiness or lack thereof.
Joy on the other hand, is the emotion excited by the acquisition or expectation of good. It is gladness or delight, or that which causes happiness.
Joy then comes before Happiness and can give birth to it. Happiness cannot exist apart from Joy. However Joy can exist without happiness....if “good” is anticipated as a result o f the current unhappy state of affairs Joy is the steadier of the two emotions. As Nathaniel Hawthorne once said, “happiness is fleeting” and he compared it to a butterfly. Joy is stronger and more morally pure than is happiness.
In Scripture Joy is never mentioned apart from God himself or apart from the gifts he gives us (such as our children, riches, the Creation) Joy is all wrapped up in God. If I find God; I find Joy. If I am joyless it is because I am seeking Joy apart from God...in my circumstances rather than in the One who designed them. I'm looking for joy in all the wrong places.
Am I confusing joy and happiness? Or have I allowed the Presence of God to diminish in my experience? I do greatly anticipate heaven. I long for the coming of Justice on the earth. I have great suffering...but am I allowing it to steer me toward bitterness, or am I rejoicing in the fellowship of Christ and his suffering? I have lately been very thankful of late, that I serve a God who knows the meaning of pain and of suffering...but have I felt like “poor, poor pitiful me” whom God has decided to deal with the hard end of shepherd's staff rather than by his loving embrace? I think my problem today has been that I've kept my eyes on my suffering rather than on the God who allowed it and on the benefit which will come as a result of my pain.
As I write and blog, many people have thanked me for either coming alongside them as they too suffer, and giving words and meaning to their pain; or for teaching them the lessons of pain which they may have never learned as they are living lives of blessing and have never even thought about the questions that we who suffer deal with daily. I need to refocus my eyes on the work that God is doing in me and in others as a result of my pain. I will renew my joy in that....and in the reward that will come to me as a result.
So: refocus and re-shine that gold which the Father is refining in me....and therein I will find my misplaced Joy. If I meditate on what I truly deserve and on what God in his mercy and grace is preparing for me, Joy cannot help but spring forth in me. My experiences here on this earth are not unfair. Considering what it is I really deserve as a consequence of my sin and the end result of my life which I shall receive....I can really have no complaints. In fact, all I can do is to rejoice.