Summary: Joy and happiness seem to be the same thing. But there is a profound difference. Joy is a virtue because it comes from within and is not contingent upon the circumstances around us.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., was a member of the U.S. Supreme Court for 30 years. His mind, wit and work earned him the unofficial title of "the greatest justice since John Marshall." At one point in his life, Justice Holmes explained his choice of a career by saying: "I might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers."
Somewhere, people have gotten the impression that Christians are not to have fun. We are not to indulge in any pleasure. Many Christians do not live lives that display joy. So, people pursue everything but a relationship with God. They erroneously think of God as kill-joy. God is the source of joy. God is filled with joy!
Psalm 104:31 (NLT)
May the glory of the LORD last forever! The LORD rejoices in all he has made!
Isaiah 65:18-19 (NLT)
18Be glad; rejoice forever in my creation! And look! I will create Jerusalem as a place of happiness. Her people will be a source of joy. 19I will rejoice in Jerusalem and delight in my people. And the sound of weeping and crying will be heard no more.
In Luke chapter 15, Jesus told three parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. In each of these stories, there is exceeding joy when that which was lost is found. Jesus concludes by saying that all the angels in heaven rejoice when one lost sinner is found.
If the God we worship is filled with joy, then why are we so sad hearted? If the Lord of all the universe rejoices, why do we lament?
We confuse joy with happiness. The two are very similar. Yet, they are so different. Listen what King Solomon learned about happiness and joy in Ecclesiastes.
Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 (New Century Version)
1I said to myself, “I will try having fun. I will enjoy myself.” But I found that this is also useless. 2It is foolish to laugh all the time, and having fun doesn’t accomplish anything. 3I decided to cheer myself up with wine while my mind was still thinking wisely. I wanted to find a way to enjoy myself and see what was good for people to do during their few days of life.
4Then I did great things: I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. 5I made gardens and parks, and I planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. 6I made pools of water for myself and used them to water my growing trees. 7I bought male and female slaves, and slaves were also born in my house. I had large herds and flocks, more than anyone in Jerusalem had ever had before. 8I also gathered silver and gold for myself, treasures from kings and other areas. I had male and female singers and all the women a man could ever want. 9I became very famous, even greater than anyone who had lived in Jerusalem before me. My wisdom helped me in all this.
10 Anything I saw and wanted, I got for myself;
I did not miss any pleasure I desired.
I was pleased with everything I did,
and this pleasure was the reward for all my hard work.
11 But then I looked at what I had done,
and I thought about all the hard work.
Suddenly I realized it was useless, like chasing the wind.
There is nothing to gain from anything we do here on earth.
Solomon learned that true joy is not found in pleasure, possessions, and hard work. Joy comes from some place other than these. On another occasion, Solomon wrote these words.
Proverbs 14:13 (NLT)
Laughter can conceal a heavy heart; when the laughter ends, the grief remains.
I remember a woman I knew who was always laughing. She seemed to be so happy. She joked. She kidded around. She was always smiling. As Lisa and I got to her, she slowly removed her mask to reveal all the pain and sorrow in her life. Her beautiful daughter was now mentally handicapped due to an ATV accident when he daughter slipped out at night to go riding with some friends. Her first marriage ended in divorce and we soon discovered that her current marriage was anything but good. Not long after that marriage ended, and her ex-husband married her best friend, we lost all contact with her. She continued to try to hide behind her mask. In fact, she moved out of the community to a new place where she could continue to play her masquerade. We were so saddened to hear that her son from her second marriage raped his half-sister who was mentally handicapped. Beneath her laughs, smiles, and God-talk, she was a broken, hurting woman. She seemed so joyful. But it was all a façade.