It’s been said that happiness is fleeting and that joy is deep down and lasting. Joy is a choice and happiness an emotion. Some suggest happiness is trivial and should not be pursued. After all, joy is spiritual while happiness is, well … not.
For North Americans, happiness sits at the top of the “want list.”
So, what is happiness anyways? Why does everyone want something so badly that doesn’t seem to last?
We want what we can’t have. We can’t have real happiness without Jesus.
The Hebrew word in the Old Testament for happiness is ashre, translated as “well-being,” “flourishing,” and “happiness.” This word carries the idea of someone experiencing authority, peace and rest in God. It is used through the Psalms and Proverbs to describe the happy state of those who know God. Tim Keller teaches that happiness is indeed an emotion or a feeling and it happens deep down in the soul. Bible scholar Jonathan Pennington writes, “This flourishing can never occur fully apart from a proper relationship with the creator God.”
For those who want some, listen … Jesus shouted nice and loud for the crowds gathered near the mountain just off the shores of the Galilean Sea… Can you hear Him?
3 “You’re happy when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God …”
4 “You’re happy when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
5 “You’re happy when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
6 “You’re happy when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
7 “You’re happy when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
8 “You’re happy when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
9 “You’re happy when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
10 “You’re happy when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. – Matthew 5:3-10 msg
Recently, I went along with a brave girl to deliver cards to elderly friends with words from Jesus scrawled inside. The words were gems of hope and produced happy hearts. What stood out to me though, weren’t the smiles of the elderly, but of that girl … that selfless girl who has been spending days in palliative care with her family as cancer wages war against her dad. Her warm smile. Her peace. As we walked out of the building – she smiled wide with tearful eyes and said, “That made me so happy.”
Happy is she. No one can steal that kind of happy. No one can explain it. Everyone wants it because it makes smiles in the wasteland. Jesus’ famous echoes from the Mount take us right to it. It’s there waiting for us.
No, happiness is not shallow or superficial. It is deeply spiritual – in fact, it’s born in the Spirit – in the very place your life is connected to Christ through the cross – if you believe the cross was enough. Through relationship with Him. This kind of happy is starkly durable. Paul writes about it saying, “Happy are those who are declared righteous without working for it…” – Romans 4:6 NLT paraphrase
Kay Warren says, “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of the details of my life.” Maybe joy and happiness are not that different after all – maybe choosing joy – a settled assurance – brings feelings of happy – peace and rest.