What are some things that bring you happiness in your life? What about these things provide you with that feeling of happiness? As you briefly stop and contemplate these things, it’s fairly easy to start coming up with multiple answers ranging from spending time with family or friends all the way to more simple things like enjoying ice cream or a good meal. Now, with that list made, what are some things that bring you joy? Is there a difference between these two emotions and the lists that should be under each one of them when asked: “what brings you happiness and/or joy?” This coming week the campers at Camp Inagehi will not only be presented with this question but also will look into all the different aspects of joy and happiness that can be found in the Bible as we study our theme entitled “Joy Story.”
This past Friday Pixar debuted the final installment in one of their most successful series of movies, Toy Story 4. This series has spanned nearly twenty-five years and includes four blockbuster movies each with an all-star cast of actors. The original Toy Story’s plot focuses on the relationship between an old-fashioned pull-string cowboy doll named Woody and an astronaut action figure, BuzzLightyear. We watch them evolve from rivals competing for the affections of their owner, Andy, to friends who work together to be reunited with him after being separated. In Toy Story, the toys “come to life” every time Andy leaves. It’s at this moment that we get to really understand what the characters are truly like. Rex, the big green dinosaur, is a great example of this. When Andy plays with him, he is used as a menacing dinosaur that terrorizes villages and rules the land but, when Andy leaves, Rex turns into a gentle giant that lacks self-confidence in whether he can be scary enough or not. What does happiness and joy look like when they “come to life” in our lives? When we define the two and look at the differences between them, what do we have more of in our lives? Most importantly, between these two emotions, which one is God more concerned with us possessing as we live and walk with Him?
The dictionary defines happiness as “a state of well-being and contentment, a pleasurable or satisfying experience.” We’ve all felt happiness throughout our lives, it’s something we feel from time to time when we get to experience things we enjoy or when something works out in our favor. When we look to our Bibles, we are met with an absence of the specific word happiness used in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Although the word is not used, the emotion can be seen undoubtedly all through the Word. We can assume that happiness was felt when Adam met Eve, when Abraham had Isaac, when David defeated Goliath, and we can safely assume that the apostles probably felt happiness with Jesus calmed the storm that night on the Sea of Galilee. One of the first differences one can find between happiness and joy is the fact that one can also receive happiness from things that are not as good or wholesome. We as humans can feel happy when we see others whom we deem as irritating or ones whom we are jealous of for various reason “get what they deserved” or get knocked down at work. One could derive happiness when they “cheat the system,” either on taxes or in some other way and don’t get caught. The feeling of happiness can be experienced by some in situations that are clearly seen as sin in the Bible such as wrongful relationships, focus on material gain, “mature” entertainment, and by the consumption of alcohol or illegal substances. This is why the philosophy of “do whatever makes you happy” is detrimental to our society and extremely dangerous for one to follow.
Turning to joy, we see it defined as “a state of mind and an orientation of the heart. It is a settled state of contentment, confidence, and hope. Can be something or someone that provides a source of happiness.” Most of us have felt joy as well, it’s less of an emotion we get from something during the moment but more of a state of mind we receive from something more permanent in our lives. Joy is a feeling we carry with us at all times through all walks and aspects of our life. God’s Word has plenty to say about joy and what it is, where one can find it, and how we can experience it in our lives. Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:8-9 that we receive joy directly from Christ and the result of His ministry in our lives, “…though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.”Paul expounds on this by stating we receive joy by trusting in Christ. In Romans 15:13, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Another way Christians can find lasting joy in life is by helping others connect closer to God. John mentions in his writing in 1 John 1:4, “These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.”John is describing how he and his fellow Christians, at the time, would receive joy by writing these instructions and encouragements to this specific audience in hopes that they “may have fellowship with us; and indeed, our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”
By examining the nature of happiness and joy, one can easily find a difference between the two. While both of them can stem from things that are inherently good, happiness alone can also come from things not so “good.” Therefore, as Christians, we must examine our lives and see where we are finding happiness and whether true godly joy is present in our lives at all. As you reflect on the questions asked in the very beginning, “what brings you happiness in your life?” and “what brings you joy in your life?”, what makes your list? Which aspects listed will help you weather the trials of life, overcome obstacles, and ultimately receive the eternal reward promised to those who are found in Christ?