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