I recently took my first trip to Washington, DC. During the bus trip to and from Washington I was reading Dr. David Jeremiah’s book “A Life Beyond Amazing.” One of the chapters was titled “A Life of Joy.” While on the trip I got to view the Declaration of Independence.
In this document, Thomas Jefferson wrote:
“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
That got me thinking what is the pursuit of Happiness? And after reading the chapter “A Life of Joy” I had to ask myself: As Christian should my pursuit in life be for Happiness or for Joy, or are Happiness and Joy the same thing?
Your Dictionary online defines the “Pursuit of Happiness” as a “fundamental right mentioned in the Declaration of Independence to freely pursue joy and live life in a way that makes you happy, as long as you don’t do anything illegal or violate the rights of others.”
So I am entitled to pursue a life of happiness as long as it is not illegal or violates the rights of others. So what makes me happy? Things? Friends? Money? Something new? A birthday or holiday? I could say, “I’ll be happy when…” or “I’ll be happy if….” If or when… I get married, have a new house, am healed, have more money, my favorite football team wins… .
Just imagine each Saturday, as YOUR team takes the field to play. You are so excited. You wear your team colors. You plan to watch the game either on TV or in the stadium. You are yelling your teams chant! Your team takes the field. You can’t sit down. Your team scores! You are so Happy!
But how do you leave the game? Do you leave happy, sad or mad? If you team win you are happy. If you team loses you could be either sad or mad? Your happiness only lasted as long as your team was winning. Once things started to change, either the offense or defense wasn’t performing or someone go hurt, or circumstances around you started to deteriorate, your happiness seemed to disappear. Your happiness was about what was happening to you, how you felt. Happy is an emotion and is dependent on your circumstances, your behaviors, and your attitude.
So what about Joy?
Is joy the same thing as happiness? The world would have us believe it is, but the Bible tells a different story. The Pursuit of Joy is about a relationship with a person – JESUS. It’s something we have access to, but it’s also something we must choose. Joy is what we receive when we believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior. It is part of the Fruit of the Spirit. The Greek word for joy is Chara and it means joy, rejoicing, gladness, enjoyment, bliss. Lewis Smedes wrote: “You and I were created for joy, and if we miss it, we miss the reason for our existence.” Joy is cultivated by the Holy Spirit. Joy makes us strong. Joy has to grow and mature. We must choose to cultivate joy that will remain even when our circumstances, behaviors and attitudes are affected by changes in our life.
Dr. Jeremiah in his book tells the story about a Headmaster at a London Boarding school who was always joyful.
“One day a student would remark he thought the headmaster must go to heaven each night because each morning when he saw him the headmaster had such a wonderful smile on his face. The student figured the only place he could get that kind of joy was by checking in with heaven at the end of each day. When the headmaster was asked about his joy his response was: ‘Joy is the flag that is flown from the castle of your heart when the King is in residence.’ … In other words, joy is determined by whether or not Jesus Christ is at home in your life. … Since our joy is in Jesus and Jesus never changes, the joy of Jesus never changes either. Christian joy is continuous, never-ending, constant joy. In it not hinged on happenings; it is perfected in a person.”
Look at Paul, he spent a lot of time in prison, but in Philippians 4:4 he says “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Paul faced many difficulties and chose to rejoice even when he faced the worst of circumstances. In Acts 16:25 we find Paul and Silas at midnight “praying and singing hymns to God” after being beaten and severely flogged. They chose Joy! We also have to choose Joy when things are at their worst. Joy is knowing that Jesus will see us through.
In Luke 6:22-23: Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” And Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 1:6 “you yourselves became imitators of us and of the Lord when, in spite of severe persecution, you welcomed the message with joy from the Holy Spirit.” We have to choose Joy when we are persecuted and mocked for our faith! Joy is knowing that Jesus also faced what we are going though.
Rob Morgan said: “We may not be able to rejoice in our load, but we can rejoice in our Lord. We may find no joy in our situation, but we can rejoice in our Savior.”
The Declaration of Independence may give us the right to pursue Happiness, but I don’t want to settle for a temporary happiness that is here then gone based on what is happening to me or around me. I want to choose a life of Joy that is constantly maturing as I become more like Jesus. Joy that will be there even when life circumstances might be loading me down. I want people to see the Joy that I have in Jesus radiating through the storm clouds of my life.
So are you just settling for Happiness or are you choosing JOY?