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.