Joy is like a life vest. A life vest does not keep you out of the waves, but keeps the waves from overwhelming you.
Happiness depends on avoiding a difficulty, but joy is deeper than happiness. One can infer from the word “happy” that it is dependent upon circumstances for the good feeling. The word happenstance comes from the same root. Happiness depends on what happens to us. So, to be happy, I need life to go well right now.
Joy, on the other hand, comes from a long-term view and an understanding that it all comes out well in the end. This is why Paul, in 2 Corinthians 7:4, can write:
In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy.
What I’m learning is that joy does not keep you from the trial, but it can sustain you through the trial.
For the Christian, joy is not rooted in some vague, self-generated sense of well being. Joy is rooted in the character of God and an understanding that Jesus has made a provision for us. Jesus makes a way through the trial, reminding us that it is God who is at work “to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
This is not a pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps self-will, nor is it a Pollyanna-like refusal to take the trial seriously. Joy is realistic about the difficulty and its consequences. but not willing to let the difficulty have the last say.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to be spared from a trial; only a masochist would actually want to suffer. But there is everything right with asking God to show you how to have joy in the midst of the difficulty.
Why ask God for this? The best reason is that Paul tells us that joy is one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit. Joy is something that God wants to produce in us. When we pray to receive joy, we are asking for something that we know is according to God’s will.
Because we are broken people living in a broken world, there are only three categories of people:
- Those who have come out of a trial
- Those that are in a trial
- Those are moving into a trial
So, in the likely event of a water landing . . . put on joy as your life vest to keep you above the waves.