How to Have Joy & Happiness in an Unhappy World
Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
Let me ask you a very important question –
Are you happy? Be honest! Right now, at this very moment are you happy? If not, then can you think of when and why your happiness left? What caused the change? Did some life crisis steal your joy? If we are honest, we know life (and people) can be cruel and attempt to steal our happiness and joy. Before we begin our study, let’s agree on what happiness is and is not — from a biblical point of view. First, joy and happiness are interconnected. People who are joyful are more likely to be happy people, cheerful and friendlier. They usually smile a lot and are great people to be around.
Let’s consider Esther 8:16, “For the Jews it was a time of happiness and joy, gladness and honor.”
Some translations use the word ‘light’ which is often used for ‘gladness or happiness’ as in 2 Samuel 22:29, and Job 18:5-6.
When Mordecai’s enemy had been exposed, the King sent Mordecai out in royal apparel – dressed in blue and white which was used for a sign of greatness deserving respect among the Persians. As the story goes, when Mordecai was exalted and the Jews set free, the people had happiness, joy, and the light of gladness (Psalm 97:11). Just as Mordecai wore the King’s royal colors, so we too as God’s chosen people wear his robes of righteousness. We too can walk in the light of his love, joy and happiness. Just as God exposed and removed Mordecai’s enemy Haman, God has exposed and given us power and authority over our enemy the devil.
But do our circumstances control our joy and happiness? The Jews had joy and happiness because of a reversal of their circumstances, while Paul and Silas had joy and happiness in the midst of horrible circumstances (see Acts 16:16-40). Have you considered these two schools of thought? Some believers live on the fringe of an intimate relationship with God; therefore, they live with the illusion that joy and happiness with come ‘someday’ when their external conditions change, while other believers who are totally sold out for Christ (like Paul and Silas) go through a trial and their joy and happiness is not affected.
We need to stop here and ask ourselves the question – which camp am I in? Do my circumstances dictate my level of joy and happiness? And if it does, what are my options for change? Can I become more like Paul and Silas and less like those whose joy and happiness only comes when things are going right?
Consider for a moment the story In John 15. Jesus was huddled up having a one-on-one with the 12 men he chose to carry the Gospel-baton after he leaves. The time of his arrest and crucifixion was drawing close. He was telling them how important it is to remain in Him. The key word here is ‘remain.’ To keep his commandments and to love one another, but note, then Christ gives them a promise if they (remain, abide to stay stable) in verse 11, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” Notice the word “complete.” Other translations use the word “full.” The Greek word here is plerothe – meaning complete, perfect or whole. Jesus was saying you cannot be full or have complete ‘joy or happiness’ until they were filled with him. We need to take it a step further; we must also ‘remain’ in him. Other words, we must constantly be on our guard to make sure we never leave his will, his presence and purpose in our lives. We can only find our ‘completeness’ and be ‘whole’ in Christ.
Am I the only one who finds it fascinating that on the eve of Christ’s crucifixion he is discussing joy and happiness? He could do so because of this one important key: Jesus had an unbroken communion with his Father! All his thoughts, emotions, plans and purpose was bound in his relationship with his Father. The same should be true with you and me. When the ‘divine’ touches our humanity – we become satisfied with the simple things of life rather than searching after that which the world offers – which, under certain adverse circumstances, is here today and gone tomorrow. Since Christ is —the ONLY REAL source of Joy and happiness, he is devoid of and excludes nothing less than that which has the power to satisfy the void in our lives. Christ is supreme because He’s the image of God, the firstborn over creation and the head of the church.
So as believers and follower of Christ Jesus, we have so much to celebrate over. As blood-washed Christians, God’s desire is that we walk in true happiness. But what is happiness? Based on the Bible, it is a profound, enduring feeling of being captivated and content because of what Jesus did on the cross and knowing that our final destination is eternity in heaven. When I survey the wonders of the Gospel, my life becomes fulfilling, meaningful and pleasant, despite external circumstances. Happiness is about realizing one’s eternal value because of his shed blood. Happiness is not luck, or good fortune, or winning the lottery, but a life of being absorbed in his presence, where I live joyfully because I am an adopted child of God (Eph 1:5).
But can I become happy and joy filled if I am not? What does true happiness consist of and look like?
First, we must grasp that God is always happy and filled with joy. These (his) attribute are eternal. As a follower of His, I understand that true joy and happiness are mine to the degree that I know God; that I am found in-Christ being his servant (Phil 3:9). As John Piper writes, “As a convert, when we seek to honor God – for him to be our ultimate source of joy, meaning and satisfaction, our burdens are lifted and happiness follows.” You see, our true source of happiness is GOD HIMSELF. If we seek happiness and joy in what we own, the car we drive, and the size of our house, we can lose sight of the fact that possessions can be lost, stolen, burned, destroyed or removed at any given time, but God is constant, stable, trustworthy and unmovable. When we speak of joy and happiness as just some of the attributes of God, we are referring to those qualities of God which constitute what he is. They are the characteristics of his divine nature. Joy and a state of constant happiness are inseparable from his being. As his spiritual off-spring, his children, we too should seek ALL of that which he has for us.
Second, happiness and joy can fill the gap between striving to find it in the size of our bank account and actually realizing that the riches of knowing Christ is far more rewarding. “The rich young ruler went away sorrowful…” Jesus offered him eternal happiness if he would but follow Christ, but his money was more important (LK 18:18-30). Could it be that there are some specific reasons why some Christians are not truly happy? I believe so! Shouldn’t God’s love and grace – that he extends to us every day – be more than enough to fill our hearts with joy? Shouldn’t his redemptive work and the presence and the power of Christ be more than enough to bring happiness into one’s life? Are there not additional joys God has for his children that can be found in the triune God who created heaven, and joy that comes from experiencing the awesomeness of his creation? Is not Christ, the creator, the true fountain of happiness and joy in a dry and unhappy world? Yes, a million times yes! And since Christ is a part of the fullness of the Godhead, he too has received the fullness of that joy and seeks to “pay-it-forward” to his children. The joy Christ enjoys as being the Son of God is the same joy we inherit as His Beloved.
So joy and happiness is that which we store in our hearts, bodies, souls and mind because of our right relationship with God’s son. It is happiness over – even the unanticipated crises that life can throw at us. It is a pleasure not known or understood by people who know not the Lord. Just as the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaped within her and was filled with the Holy Spirit, we too should leap with unbridled enthusiasm in the presence of our King and God. Just as Mary birthed the Messiah, we too, as King’s kids, should be birthing ‘joy’ and ‘happiness’ that flows with virtuous character to an unhappy world. Our lives should be contagious – filled with virtue, peace and contentment. Since we are aware of the tricks of satan (he comes to steal, kill and destroy), let us, who are mature minded, raise up a standard of happiness and joy as our banner and beacon of light. Only we ourselves can let down our guards and allow adverse circumstances to steal what is rightfully ours.
During the early church we saw expressions of joy and happiness as God moved miraculously throughout the church and the world at the hands of the disciples. Then (as it should be now), the expression of Christian joy functioned as a sign of belief, faith and sanctification and was a banner of hopeful union between the believers earthly passion and an anticipated heavenly knowledge of ultimately spending eternity with their Lord. Their happiness and ours should be the result of our hoped-for-joys of heaven and our Father’s bestowing grace upon our lives. You and I, as modern-day seekers who thirst for Christ, should be free from the strait-laced, dull, and life-less religion and revive a sense of God-honoring, life-enriching joy and happiness because of the goodness found in, knowing, serving and remaining steadfast in the arms of our sovereign God.
While it is true that this world is plagued with unsatisfied people (is it because their desires are misplaced?), it is also (and more true) that the child of God can live above (as much as it is possible for him to do so) the scourge of lost humanity, because he ‘chooses’ to be guided by the biblical narrative and the life and teaching of Jesus who, in our times with him, mentors, leads and guides us to still waters and green pastures (Psa 23). In times of chaos and turmoil, it is your heavenly father and mine who will pour in the oil and the wine bringing times of refreshing (joy and happiness) each and every day. This month, let’s go deeper and allow God to fully possess us – and we him.
Meet the Author
Alan Bullock has a BA in Biblical Studies, a Master’s Degree in Biblical Counseling, and an earned Doctor of Theology. In addition, Alan is a Certified Pastor Counselor, a member of The International Association of Christian Counseling Professionals (IACCP), and also a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC).