Are you truly happy? ’Cause the Holy Spirit wants you to be.
- Joy /dʒɔɪ/ n. Feeling of great happiness and pleasure.
- [Joyful /'dʒɔɪ.fəl/ adj.; joyous /'dʒɔɪ.əs/ adj.]
You’d think I wouldn’t need to include a definition of joy before writing on the subject. You’d be wrong. Not everyone agrees with, or even approves of, this definition.
Joy’s a feeling. An emotion. A positive emotion, one which God wants us to feel. He wants us to experience joy on a regular basis. He wants us to be filled with pleasure and happiness. It’s how his kingdom’s meant to be. No more tears;
But there are a large number of joyless Christians who claim it’s not a feeling of happiness; it’s not an emotion whatsoever. Instead it’s a “state of well-being.” Once you decide, regardless of your circumstances, you’re gonna be okay with things—despite suffering, chaos, or general suckitude, you’re gonna tamp down those feelings of despair and just tough it out—that’s joy. God gives us the power to slog out any circumstances, and psyche ourselves into feeling hope instead of despair.
Yeah… that’s not joy they’re describing. It’s patience.
And patience—or if you wanna call it by its King James Version word, “longsuffering”
This redefintion has even slipped into dictionaries. One of my Greek dictionaries defines hará/“joy” as “gladness, cheerfulness”—which is correct; or “a state of being calmly happy or well-off”—and no it’s not.
Bust out your concordance and look up all the instances of hará/“joy,” number 5479 in Strong’s dictionary, and you’re gonna find joy hardly sounds like being content no matter the circumstances. Sounds more like being tremendously happy because of circumstances. Here’s a bunch of examples from the New Testament.
Luke 1.13-15 KWL
B“Your wife Elizabeth will give birth to your son, and you’ll name him John.
- 14 He’ll be happiness and joy to you,
- and many will rejoice at his birth, 15
Afor he’ll be great before the Lord.” John 3.29 KWL
- “The groom’s the one with the bride.
- The groom’s friend, joyfully standing and listening, rejoices at the groom’s voice.
- So this joy of mine is full.”
Luke 10.17 KWL
- The 72 students returned with joy, saying, “Master, even demons submitted to us in your name!”
Luke 15.7 KWL
- “I tell you, because of it there’s joy in heaven—over one repenting sinner.
- More so than over 99 moral people who don’t need to repent.”
John 16.20-22 KWL
- 20 “Amen amen! I promise you: You’ll all weep and mourn—and the world will rejoice.
- You’ll all grieve. But your grief will turn to joy!
- 21 It’s like a woman giving birth. She has grief because her time’s come.
- When she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the tribulation,
- because of joy: A person was born into the world!
- 22 You all have grief now. I’ll see you again—and your hearts will rejoice,
- and nobody will take your joy from you.”
Matthew 28.8 KWL
- They quickly left the sepulcher in both fear and great joy, and ran to announce it to Jesus’s students.
Acts 8.6-8 KWL
- 6 The crowds were unanimously paying attention to Philip’s teachings,
- listening to him and watching the miracles he performed,
- 7 for many had unclean spirits—and they came out, screaming with loud voices.
- Philip cured many paraplegics and injured people, 8 and much joy came to that city.
1 Timothy 1.4 KWL
- I really want to see you—I remember your tears—
- because I want to be filled with joy.
Get the picture? Any of this sound like mere contentment?
Why redefine joy?
Why invent a whole new definition for joy? Simple: These Christians don’t have joy.
Now, there are all sorts of legitimate reasons why they might lack joy. They’re new Christians and haven’t learned it yet. Or their legalistic parents beat the joy out of ’em. Or they’re suffering from clinical depression, and the only way to turn the joy back on is medication. Or they’re just plain suffering; they have an illness which makes ’em unhappy, or they’re surrounded by terrorists who kill ’em for being Christian.
And there are all sorts of illegitimate reasons. Like being the joy-snuffing legalists who beat the fun out of your kids, who believe happiness implies Christians aren’t taking God or the Christian life seriously. Like being full of bitterness—it’s really hard to be joyful when you feel like you’ve been shafted out of things you were due.
Many Christians have accepted this false explanation. In so doing, they’ve bent a lot of Christians into thinking joy is patience, patience is endurance, endurance is suffering… and suffering is any little inconvenience. Everything gets redefined till there’s nothing authentic about our Christianity. Well, other than spelling everything correctly. (Assuming we don’t mix up “your” and “you’re” on Twitter.)
As a result, Christians don’t look for joy as evidence of God working in their lives. In fact we dismiss joy. “All those Christians in that church are so happy—but that proves nothing. Any pagan can be happy.” True. But what quality will we find in pagan happiness? Is it about discovering something new to love, or about putting things down so we can pull ourselves up? Does it jibe with the rest of the Spirit’s fruit, or is it based on mockery, ridicule, sarcasm, and intoxication?
As another result: Christians consider joy something frivolous, worldly, and wasteful. Don’t seek it; that’s self-indulgent. Don’t accept it; it’ll pass away like grass in an oven. Ignore the fact we’re not actually happy, or joyful; that we’re miserable, expect God’s kingdom to be likewise miserable, and aren’t looking forward to Jesus’s return. The only reason we stick with this Christianity crap is ’cause it’s better than hell. (Or whatever other Christianist reason works for us.)
So, such unhappy Christians never pursue real joy. They may experience it by accident; they’ll know it’s happiness. They won’t recognize their ability to feel it comes from the Holy Spirit—that it’s evidence we’re following God, proof we have a secure relationship with him, a byproduct of God becoming the focus and priority in our lives, a reflection of God’s own joy made complete in us. We’re always gonna be happy when we do what God’s always meant us to do. The opposites of joy—unhappiness, uncertainty, fear—come from not doing as God wants, and not knowing whether we’re following God’s plan.
My point is simple. If you’re not enjoying your Christianity—if God doesn’t make you happy—something is wrong. I’ll write that again, louder: SOMETHING IS WRONG.
Now to the other extreme: Many people have told me the “happy Christian” is the most annoying creature on God’s brown earth. I don’t disagree. Some folks are just so chipper, you wanna stuff ’em into one. Feet-first, so it’s slow.
This irritation comes from the big difference between true joy and the fake stuff. Truly joyful Christians are contagious. You don’t hate ’em. You can’t. They brighten every room they’re in. They exhibit it with positive behavior: Acts of love, generosity, patience, kindness; pretty much all the fruits of the Spirit. You can’t help but be happy for them, and it quickly turns into being happy with them.
In comparison, the annoying “happy Christian” isn’t contagious. They’re faking it. They’re trying to psyche themselves into joy. That’s why the fake-happy person has to demand happiness out of us, like cheerleaders: When they see a Christian who’s not happy enough for them, their response isn’t the proper “What’s wrong, and how can I help?” It’s, “Smile, Jesus loves you!” They’re the ones who demand more enthusiasm, more excitement, more exuberance, more demonstrative behavior. They’re the worship leaders who get on our cases for not worshiping hard enough.
That’s not authentic joy. God wants, and produces, authentic joy. We don’t have to struggle to manufacture positive feelings every time we have to fulfill some Christian obligation. We don’t have to mask our true feelings with a joyous façade. If that’s Christianity to you, you’re doing it wrong. You’re fooling no one, and killing yourself.