Is it possible have joy in a world filled with sorrow and brokenness? We come into the world crying, and leave with weeping loved ones seated by our bedside. On one hand the Bible declares that the joy of the Lord is our strength (Neh. 8:10) and on the other hand we often feel like the Jews who found themselves in captivity, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” (Psalm 137:1-4).
The circumstances and events of life have a way of putting us in a “strange land” and our tears water the willow trees and our harps remain silent. Is it possible to have joy amidst so many tears? Is it possible for one to sing a joyful song in a “strange land?” How can one sing the Lord’s song when the warmth of His smiling face seems to be hidden behind storm clouds filled with rain? We associate the words “sorrow” and “pain” with that which is negative, and we associate the word “joy” with that which is positive. The Bible tells us that joy is the power by which we should live, which enhances love, awakens our senses, and energizes our body and spirit. Is such joy only an elusive butterfly which flutters about us but can never be captured…..and if we do it vanishes like a shooting star in the night sky.
From many years in the pastoral ministry it is the observation of this writer that too often people confuse happiness with joy. There is a huge difference between the two. The terms “happiness” and “joy” are thrown into the same blender, blurring the difference between the two. Tossing the terms around like salad in a bowl, there needs to be a clarification of the meaning of the two terms for they are not the same. One can be happy but have no joy, and one can experience joy even when they are not happy. What is the difference between the two?
You see, happiness is based on circumstances. The word “happiness” is related to the Latin “happenstance.” Broken down you have “happen” (lucky, happy) and “stance” (short for circumstance). So, happiness is associated with temporary circumstances of elation. Happiness is determined by outside stimulus. If circumstances happen to be favorable then one is happy, if circumstance are contrary then one is not happy. Happiness is associated with good fortune and is based on that which is outside one’s self. Happiness is often temporary since it depends on circumstances outside one’s inner-self.
Biblical joy is not based on circumstances. Christian joy is anchored in a healthy relationship with Jesus Christ and is an inner state of being rather than a fleeting emotion. Joy, from the Greek word chara, means “to rejoice, be glad, full of joy.” The word chara is related to charis which means “grace.” Such joy is an everlasting reality of exceeding cheerfulness or gladness anchored in the grace of the resurrected Christ. Joy resides in the inner-self of a person and is connected with the life source of Jesus. Joy is not fleeting like happiness, but is derived from one’s relationship with Christ. One can have joy even though circumstances may prove contrary. While such joy enhances ten-fold one’s encounter with happiness, it also anchors the soul when tears cloud the eyes.
It says of Jesus as He faced the cross, “For the joy that was set before Him He endured the cross, despising shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2). This verse is a enigmatic mystery, as it speaks of joy and the agony of the cross in the same sentence. The key word in the verse is “for.” The Greek word is anti, which has several meanings…one being “in exchange for” in the sense of “to obtain.” This means that Christ willingly endured the horror, agony and shame of the cross in anticipation of the joy of providing atonement for the sins of humanity. Christ endured the shame of the cross for the joy of bringing salvation to fallen humanity. In spite of enduring the worst capital punishment devised by man’s cruel mind, He did so with joy that was anchored in His fellowship with the heavenly Father and in union with heaven’s will for His life. As one can readily see, the joy Jesus experienced was not based on favorable circumstances, but was a deep-seated joy that resided inwardly from His relationship with His Father.
Yes, the universal symbol of Christianity is the cross, a symbol of horrific suffering and death, but behind the cross of Christ the shining sun of the resurrection arises. Christianity is a faith uniquely characterized by joy…joy in the celebration that Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross was perfect provision for the vilest of human sin; joy in the celebration that Christ arose from the dead, joy in the celebration that Christ has sent His Holy Spirit to abide with us and in us; joy in the celebration that Christ will never leave us or forsake us no matter how dark the night; joy in the celebration that all things, good and bad, work together for our good; and joy in the celebration that when we draw our last breath we will find ourselves dwelling in an Eternal City whose Builder Maker is the God who became flesh and dwelt among us. It is a joy that sustains us when our ship is tossed about on the raging waves of life’s fiercest storms.
It is His joy Christ desires to impart to all who will embrace Him. On the night of Jesus’ arrest, as the disciples were about to face the most difficult circumstance of their lives, the Master told them, “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (Jh 15:11). Circumstances were about to become unfavorable, but Jesus assured His disciples that by being in union with Him, His joy could sustain them in their darkest hours.
The Apostle Paul exhibits this joy in his writings to the church at Philippi. Some seventeen times he talks about joy while writing from a dungy and dirty prison cell. His unfavorable outward circumstances were not conducive to happiness, but because of his daily, personal relationship with Christ he had an inward joy that transcended his circumstances (1:4-5, 18-19, 15, 2:2, 17-18, 28-29; 3:1; 4:4; 4:10). Paul had discovered the only lasting and eternally sustaining joy flowed from Christ’s cross and resurrection. It was a joy he told his readers was available to all who were in union with the Savior.
This joy which Paul wrote about, I know of no one who would not long to experience such deep seated joy in the midst of contrary circumstance. Such joy resides in Christ alone. However, the key is not making a priority the pursuit of happiness for the sake of happiness or joy for the sake of joy, for to do so is to chase a temporary mirage. Our priority is to pursue Jesus Christ, to develop an intimate relationship with the Risen Lord, then all these other “things” will be added unto us (Matt. 6:33). Such joy is a byproduct of one’s relationship with Jesus Christ.
Joy which is found in Christ is enduring and affects one’s attitude in living. While in suffering we want our pain to disappear, because of joy in Christ we can victoriously endure. Why can we victoriously endure, because by the death of Christ and His glorious resurrection we find strength and the radiance of His splendorous presence enables us to embrace our humanness which our God identified with in Christ who fills our hearts with an eternal hope by Him “who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim 1:10).
So, let us embrace Christ wherein lies a supernatural joy which He desires to impart to us. And let us remember, that someday all suffering and brokenness will be swallowed up in His eternal presence, all despair clothed with hope realized, and death abolished in victory.
O, what a Savor!