Sunday, September 1, 2013

Waiting for joy

Rejoice in the Lord always,
again I will say, rejoice.
These days, I've been learning to pick up my sword (and boy, is it heavy), fighting to rejoice.

People like to make a distinction between happiness and joy. They claim that happiness is all about the exterior, superficial and fleeting, whereas joy comes from deep within, and thus somehow more spiritual, superior, and forever. Or something like that.

I am not convinced.

First, I see no such distinction in the Bible. I see no "inner joy" in Scripture. Joy shouts, and sings, and it's loud. That sounds a lot like happiness to me.

Second, I don't know how joy and happiness would look any different in the eyes of my children. When mommy is happy, she is joyful. When mommy is joyful, she is happy. And when she is not, well, she's not.

I know I am not required  to be (and I don't want to be) a chirpy, upbeat, sugary-sweet-optimist kind of a mother. But I do want to be gentle, cheerful, compassionate, patient, and kind. And it's really hard to be these things when I am not joyful.

So, how am I to rejoice—always, in my soul and with my lips—even when I don't feel like it?

I want to fight, so badly, but I don't know my weapons. Sometimes, I don't even know my enemies. I am desperate to find some answers. So, I've been scouring the Scripture for passages on joy, rejoicing, happiness — what it looks like, when it happens, and particularly, what is the cause of joy.

I still have not figured it out, but here are some thoughts thus far.

1. Happiness flows out of right worship.

The distinction is not so much between the so-called joy and the so-called happiness, but the real difference lies in the object of my worship. Whom am I worshiping?

So often, the source of my joy is also the cause of my fears and worries. What I regard to be the source of joy becomes an idol in my life, whether it is my goals, my space, my schedule, an orderly house, my children's health, their education, their happiness, my family's approval of me, my husband's happiness, his affection — whatever it is. When the pedestals of my idols are threatened, when I feel that I may lose them, fear and anxiety are sure to follow.

So when I am discouraged or fearful or worried, when I have no joy, the thing to do is not to force myself to be happy (it doesn't work! I've tried it). What I need to do is to shift the object of my worship. I need to stop looking to my idols for hope and salvation, and fix my eyes on the cross.

2. Happiness is the response of those who are no longer afraid.
(Psalms 27; 31:7; Isaiah 41:14-16; 42:5-13)

Fear is such an obstacle to joy. When I find myself discouraged or anxious, it is helpful to ask myself what is it that I fear, or why am I afraid? Then, I would ask myself, is my Lord bigger than these fears?

The battle is often not a fight against my circumstances, but it is a fight to see the Lord for who he is. My Lord who calmed the sea and quieted the storm, fed the thousands, healed the sick, raised the dead. My Lord who created everything out of nothing, laid down his life, and reign over death and sin and me with mercy and compassion.

This Lord. Does he know? Can he see? Is he bigger than this fear that grips my soul?

Yes. Praise be to God. He is.

3. Happiness follows repentance.
(Psalm 32-33)

Whether it be with my husband or my children, tremendous relief and gratitude follows when they forgive me for the wrongs I have done. Such liberty is found after being bound up in my own little world of guilt, remorse, and self-justifications. Happiness is when I am able to come up to the surface and breathe again, knowing that they have forgiven me, that they still love me and want me.

This is all the more true with God. He always forgives. He always forgets. And his love is unchanging.

4. Happiness comes to those who dwell in the Word.
(Psalm 1; 119; Joshua 1)

The Father has given us the Word. He has given us instructions on how we may receive grace. If we do not place ourselves in the way of grace, it must be because we don't want grace.

Meditate on the Word day and night. Live there. Let that world become our reality. Let that world define how we perceive this world.
The point is this: I saw more clearly than ever, that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not, how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished. For I might seek to set the truth before the unconverted, I might seek to benefit believers, I might seek to relieve the distressed, I might in other ways seek to behave myself as it becomes a child of God in this world; and yet, not being happy in the Lord, and not being nourished and strengthened in my inner man day by day, all this might not be attended to in a right spirit
Autobiography of George Mueller, compiled by Fred Bergen, (London: J. Nisbet Co., 1906), 152-154.

5. Happiness is gift—for which we fight.

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. The work is ours—to water, to pull out the weeds, to guard our hearts, but it is the Lord who makes the garden grow. We cannot attain happiness on our own, yet we must strive after it with our entire being.

In order to receive joy, we must keep ourselves in the way of joy. Like many promises in Scripture, we must seek ye first, and it shall be given. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you. Pursue wisdom, for the Lord gives wisdom.

Sometimes, joy comes. Sometimes, it doesn't. So while it is night, we weep, we mourn, we sing in the dark. For the nights, too, come from God.

We sit, and we wait. For joy comes in the morning. We wait in meditation and repentance, with prayer and worship. Thankfully, faithfulness is not measured by fruitfulness.

We remain in the way of joy. So when the Savior passes us by, we would recognize him. We would be ready to receive him.

Here is the link to a follow-up post, Sorrowful, yet Always Rejoicing.

An obligatory picture of my happiest baby. His joy is contagious.

Photo credit: Vivian Wu! Thank you for a happy day in your garden. =)


jviola79 said...

Beautiful photo of your baby! And yes, there is joy on that precious face! I am visiting from Gracelaced. I wrote on a similar thought this I love when God works this way in my life. So glad that I read your post this morning!

Emma said...

This is thought provoking and needs to be shared tenfold! I have been thinking similarly on the joy versus happiness stuff. Thank you for voicing your thoughts with a such insight and clarity. May we all rejoice with a smile as big and beaming as your beautiful baby's!

Natalie said...

Ah, THANK YOU for this post, so right on and uplifting today, a perfect reminder! Going to share with my husband as well! :)

Jean Tsen said...

*Sigh* Thank you jieji...This really hit the spot for my soul's appetite today. And it's such good food. I love #3 (actually I love all of them) but #3 esp resonates with one fresh out of a time of discipline from the Lord. I love #2 also, the George Mueller quote. I've heard it before in Piper's biography of Mueller (one of my top fave's) but reading it in your post just gave it more weight--the wonder that God wants me happy in Him and to make that my first daily priority. So easy to forget that God created to spread delight in His glory. That's what I'm here for, that's why I exist. I am so happy to exist to be happy in this God!

If it pleases God to open this door, I hope you can expand this post into a book someday; it'll be the next Biblical Counseling book on joy/happiness. :D And spread healing to the broken.

Vivian Wu said...

You are most welcome! Come anytime!!! =)

E! said...

Irene, does your hair have highlights in it?

What about the mourners, who weep, but not without hope, as they know that a day of peace is coming? Is there not something to be said for comfort and stillness, that comes from hope in truth, even when the exterior circumstances remain in shambles?

I do find the joy/happiness distinction rather unhelpful. because both have to be inworked and outworked, but the joy/sadness dichotomy is false... right? I think that's what people who say happiness != joy are getting at.

Is singing in the dark also joy? I guess I am asking if "waiting for joy" is the same as hope.

Swansea Mo said...

thank you, Irene. I needed this.

estherliu said...

sorry, I meant joy/grief or joy/sorrow dichotomy. I'm not so sure. Email coming soon Mrs. Sun.

Hope the school days are beckoning you to deeper joy.

Irene Sun said...

Thank you for the encouragement, everyone. You blessed me.

Dearie Esther, I'm writing a follow up post to respond (i.e. not answer) your questions. =)

Serenely said...

Thank you for writing this, dear friend. It took some digesting. I don't think I'm at all ready to be able to fully achieve the type of everlasting joy you talk about. Because it isn't always easy to remember to put one's focus back on heavenly things. It definitely IS a 'fight' as you put it. The verse "the joy of the Lord is my strength" is taking on a whole deeper meaning now. Because fighting for 'joy' or 'happiness' requires this strength.