Why Resting in Joy is Better Than Pursuing Happiness
My wife, Kasi, and I became fully involved in counseling a couple, where the wife wanted to leave her husband and child to live the single-life once again. We tried everything we knew to help save their marriage. One night, my beautiful, normally glowing bride looked completely dejected and exhausted. “Shane, it’s over. She is leaving him.” I replied, “Kasi, what do you mean it’s over? Are you certain? How do you know?” I’ll never forget Kasi’s reply: “I know because of what she said: ‘I know that God just wants me to be happy!’”
And there it was. The statement that is always the card people play when they want to justify their actions, or the excuse people give for ignoring what the Scriptures have to say about their particular breach of ethics: “God just wants me to be happy.”
Is our happiness really the determining factor for everything? Is happiness really the greatest good in the world? Is that what God’s main priority for our lives is—to just be happy?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-happy. I’m a big fan of healthy happiness. What I’m talking about is the world’s definition of happiness or, even more relevant to each of us, our own view of happiness. The world’s idea of happiness is directly tied to circumstances. If our circumstances are favorable, then we’re happy. If not, then we’re not.
But here’s the deal. Our circumstances change all the time. Many of us allow these vacillating circumstances to dictate our happiness. It’s an extremely dangerous scenario when outward forces control our inward feelings.
Does God have something more in store for you and me than just happiness? Okay, here is the wonderful answer to that question. Three little letters: J-O-Y. God desires that you and I experience joy, that settled state of contentment, confidence, and hope that comes only from trusting Him.
Here are three reasons why resting in biblical joy is better than chasing after worldly happiness.
Joy Is a Fruit of the Holy Spirit
Joy is the second fruit of the Holy Spirit listed in Galatians 5: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy . . .” (verse 22). God is continuously giving His followers His very best—Himself! This is also the greatest news of the gospel. You get God!
In the Bible, fruit is a symbol of character. The list of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5 is a list of characteristics that should naturally flow out of Christians’ lives when they have God inside them. And, one of the most distinct markers that the Spirit of God dwells in you is the presence of joy in your life. If you have the Spirit, you will have joy! This is one of the fundamental differences between biblical joy and worldly happiness. We attempt to find happiness from favorable circumstances, but we receive joy only as a gift from the favorable God.
Joy Is Not Built on Circumstances but on a Person Named Jesus
Joy will always be wherever Jesus and His Spirit are. “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). These beautiful truths are yet another indication of why joy is truly greater than happiness. Joy is not built on outward circumstances but on Christ dwelling inside believers. If the Spirit of Christ is always inside me and will never leave me, then my joy will never leave me. No matter what I go through, I can have joy because my God is with me. Good days—joy. Bad days—joy. Suffering—joy. When everything goes my way—joy. When nothing goes my way—joy. My joy remains because my Christ remains.
Now, just so we’re clear, joy is not always laughing, smiling, and being silly. Don’t confuse joy promised in the Bible with upbeat feelings. Remember, feelings come and go, but genuine Christian joy remains.
Joy Is a Command from Scripture
Isn’t it sad that Christians are often the most miserable people around?
Nothing is more confusing to the world than for God’s people to say they have joy in their hearts while they have misery on their faces. I love the command from Holy Scripture that specifies when we are to rejoice—always. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). Notice that the verse does not say, “Rejoice when everything is going your way. Rejoice when everything makes sense. Rejoice if you feel like it.” But rather, the command is to “rejoice in the Lord always.” It’s almost as if the writer, the apostle Paul, was saying, “In case you missed it the first time, let me say it one more time— rejoice!” It’s not a suggestion. It’s not even something to do in response to some good fortune in your life. Rather, this is a command to rejoice at all times, no matter what is going on in your life.
If you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired from the pursuit of happiness, might it be time for you to start resting in joy? Maybe you find yourself in a circumstance that doesn’t always make you have happy feelings. Remember, God is with you. If He is with you, then joy is with you too.
When everything makes sense, rejoice. When nothing makes sense, rejoice. When everything is going your way, rejoice. When nothing is going your way, rejoice. When you’re rejoicing, you’re walking in freedom. You’re walking in freedom because you’re walking in obedience to your great God!
Find out more about my new book, 9 Common Lies Christians Believe: And Why God’s Truth is Infinitely Better at shanepruitt.com/9commonlies
Shane Pruitt is the author of 9 Common Lies Christians Believe: And Why God’s Truth is Infinitely Better. Shane has been in ministry for more than 17 years as a denominational leader, church planter, and traveling communicator. He holds a B.S. in biblical studies and a PhD in Christian counseling. Shane serves as Director of Evangelism for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. A popular blogger, Shane has written for Relevant, Christianity Today, the Christian Post, ChurchLeaders.com and other online journals. He and his wife, Kasi, live near Dallas, Texas, with their five children. For more information, visit shanepruitt.com.
Excerpted from 9 COMMON LIES CHRISTIANS BELIEVE AND WHY GOD’S TRUTH IS INFINITELY BETTER. Copyright © 2019 by Shane Pruitt. Published by Multnomah, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.