|JOY||“I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of My joy within them.” John 17:13||Contentment
I have been reflecting on a number of conversations recently that have centered on the concept of happiness. Many times, people have finished the conversation with phrases like, “It’s OK as long as they’re happy.” Or “All that really matters is their happiness.”
Is it OK to want to be happy? Of course it is. But is happiness the greatest goal? The problem with happiness is that it’s not a big enough purpose; generally, it is self centered and it has a habit of being temporary.
It’s no coincidence that “happiness” and “happenings” come from the same origin. So when “happy” things “happen” we have happiness. Happiness is therefore always related to our circumstances, how we view those circumstances and how we are affected by them. If we are happy then it’s because life is going well for us. We have no crises, we are healthy, we have possessions, we are well fed – life is good.
The word “happiness” appears very rarely in the Bible; the Scriptures instead major on the concept of “joy”. Where happiness is related to our circumstances; joy is a gift from God.
Many of our young people live their lives in the pursuit of happiness; it is inevitable that when circumstances don’t please them, they will be unhappy. Those that have discovered that joy is the secret to “enjoying” life are notable for their far greater level of contentment and security. So how do we move our young people on from the search for happiness to life-changing joy? Well, firstly, we who teach them and who spend our days with them have to know for ourselves the eternal joy of knowing Jesus Christ rather than a temporary confidence in happiness.
Philippians is known as the “Letter of Joy”
Was Paul, or were the Philippians, in a “happy” state? Probably not. Paul was writing from prison and not far away from death. The people of Philippi were about to become animal food! Nero would soon be providing sport by pitting Christians against Lions, and when the sun went down, he’d be turning Christians into garden flares by covering them with tar and setting light to them. There would be pain and torture and grief . . . and Paul tells them to rejoice. This is not some mantra, or self-help statement that will cause happiness, but a deep truth that joy is to be found in the eternal security of a loving God.
Whilst the opposite of happiness may be unhappiness; the opposite of joy is unholy fear. Joy in Jesus Christ and His promises drives away fear. It is knowing the deep truth that God’s purposes can never be thwarted; our eternal destiny with Him is never in doubt.
It would be absurd to say that the crucifixion was a “happy” experience. It was about torture, cruelty, unfairness, sin and death. The joy for Jesus was that He was accomplishing the will of His Father. Our understanding of joy must be the same. It’s a strange thing but we are more likely to see joy when we give up our claims to happiness. When, by the grace of God, we understand that we are called to be instruments of God’s love, grace and peace rather than to grasp our own selfish comfort then we are close to joy.
Let’s bring our students to the joy that is far greater than happiness. Let them see that our trust is in the One who is the origin of all joy.
 Philippians 4:4
 Hebrews 12:2